Category Archives: Mobile

With over 275,000 apps in the App Store specifically optimized for iPad, and what seems like a million more for iPhone, it gets a bit overwhelming to discover the apps that can benefit your life — especially when you consider the average person only downloads 60 apps to their iPad. Here’s a list of the 5 that have earned prominent positions on my home screen, never wiggling to be tapped out of existence… in other words, the ones I can’t seem to shake off:

Bloomberg TV
I’m not a big “stocks” guy, and my financial portfolio consists of lots of credit card balances and too-high interest rates. So, I’m probably NOT the target audience for this iPad app. However, I am compelled to tune in every morning — they have diverse coverage of what’s going on in business, with a razor-sharp focus on the tech industry. I find their commentary to be witty, succinct and spot-on. You can register and synchronize content across your devices, create custom playlists, and oh yeah, you can get stock portfolio updates if that’s your thing. On my iPad mini 4G (Verizon), there’s never a hiccup in performance either.

 

The Magazine
I would like to find the individual at Conde Nast that made the decision to just port their print magazines to a “pdf” style iPad edition that requires me to sit and stare at the download meter as each 600mb edition downloads. This is the experience you want to provide your end-users? I don’t want a big, thick, glossy, tree-killing tome ported to my iPad. Just when I’m about to give up and go back to lugging around magazines heavier than my grandmother’s Bible, Marco Arment steps in to save the day. The creator of Instapaper, he has redefined the “magazine” experience for us on-the-go tablet geeks. Just imagine: instant download, simple, clean design, TEXT to READ, no stuffy, 25mb .jpgs, and no intrusive ads and lame videos. Just content. Marco’s vision is to “go beyond technology” and deliver big-picture content experiences. I hope product managers, or those in charge at the Big Media Companies, will get a chance to download this app. Maybe then they’ll re-think what they’re doing… and save me some precious space on my almost-filled-up iPad.

 

TED Books
I know, I know. that annoying state. However, I found this app this year, and find it almost all-consuming. There’s a Newsstand-like UI filled up with short ebooks about the human condition and what you can do to be an active part of making things better. I find the selections to be uplifting and some quite controversial. Most are in nice, bite-sized chunks as well.

 

 

McSweeneys
Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re thinking, “Oh he’s trying to prove he’s a literary fellow”. But what I like about the McSweeney’s app is less the “liberal Mother Jones” kinda bloviation and more the diverse writing that never ceases to surprise me. Even today I was able to tap in and read about how Yoga is able to help people who are struggling with tragic circumstances in their life, learn about self-driving tractors, and laugh at the “pain” of playing sudoku. All that and then add that I get a monthly Greil Marcus column. Can’t be beat.

 

 

Tom’s Guide
There’s no shortage of tech apps and sites to get your fill of whatever it is you’re jonesing about at any particular moment. It’s a tad overwhelming, actually. How many Engadgets, TechCrunchs and Verges do I need in my daily tech news Favorites list? Well, I discovered Tom’s Guide this year. And what I like most about it is its simplicity in the face of a constant stream of information. “Tech” as a subject is big, and Tom’s Guide takes the low-fi road in presenting it. Text with a small picture, when appropriate, and a very easy navigation scheme. It’s one key app I use to get the tech news I need for my day.

 

 

Tied for 5th: Tappestry
Disclosure: I know the developer of this app. Having said that, Tappestry opens up a new way of sharing, debating, and dialoguing with communities around almost any subject. You start out by broadcasting what you’ve learned, read, tried, achieved, or want to do. Anything. It won’t take long for someone to have something to say about your post. There’s much more going on behind the scenes though: Tappestry represents what I like to call the “achievement broadcast complex (ABC)”… it’s the first app that I know of that facilitates you being able to record what you’ve learned, take it with you wherever you go, and discover like-minded people that add to your learning and offer you new perspectives.

For years I’ve been buying my phones on contract with whatever provider I’m with. For many years, that was AT&T. I got the first iPhone in 2007 on a two-year contract. I got the 8GB model, if memory serves me, and paid the subsidized price. Since then, I’ve always bought smartphones on subsidy, and just agreed to the contract. If I was fortunate, my provider would give me an “early” upgrade option… because the first problem with buying on contract for an early adopter like me is new phones are released every year. But providers make you sign two-year agreements. And if you sign a two-year agreement today on a Verizon iPhone, you’ll pay as little as $199 for the phone with the contract. However, if you want to go off contract, you’ll need to fork over $800 for a 16gb iPhone 5. At first glance, it seems like a high price to pay. But, I am finding it much more convenient to buy my phones off contract. Here’s why:

I have accepted the fact that I’m an “early adopter” tech geek. I don’t work for a company or an organization that will supply me test gadgets, so I’m on my own. I like to try new products out, and I like to have the latest, greatest. I lease my cars in the shortest contracts I can, cause I’m gonna want a new car as soon as I can get one. Bottom line. Same thing with gadgets. I’m tired of being locked into provider contracts and not being able to “upgrade” my way to the latest and greatest one. And if you consider the actual price you pay, it may be a better deal to go off contract. For example, a 16GB iPhone 5 is $199 with a two year agreement on Verizon. Verizon will charge you $30/per month to have the smartphone on your account. If you are on their “share everything” plan, your data cost is separate, based on what amount you’ll use. So at the bare minimum $30×24=$720, plus the $200 you pay up-front. That’s $120 more than the phone itself on the open market. Next year, when iPhone 6 inevitable comes out, you drop your iPhone 5 on Craigslist and get about half your money back to apply to the new, shinier one. That there is reason alone to go off contract and just buy the phone outright. Now, this works for me because I have a Verizon account with other devices. You may not get that same price if you don’t have other devices, or a “family plan”. But it’s a compelling argument to consider off contract.

The other reason I like doing this is it lets me explore other options. This weekend I picked up an HTC 8x Windows Phone to give it a try. I’m able to activate the SIM on my Verizon account and switch between the iPhone and the new HTC phone without having to add another line. I can bounce back and forth to give the new phone a real tryout or I can just keep multiple phones to move back and forth with. It’s easier to do this now that all my information is not tied to one device. With my contacts and apps in the cloud, I can move between multiple devices without a lot of hassle. Most people won’t do something like this, but I’m a gadget geek… so it makes sense to me. I see off contract as more freedom. It’s not for everyone. But, just like when you lease or buy a car, be sure you understand the impact of your subsidy in the fine print. You may find it more appropriate for you to free yourself from those two-year agreements.

I was wondering why it took them so long, but San Francisco’s cabbies are now shouting out against Uber, the upstart private taxi service, by claiming it’s engaging in “unfair competition”. TNW is reporting on a class-action complaint filed by SF cabbies claiming Uber is practicing “unfair business competition and for violating California Statutory and city regulatory mandates.” Uber, which is facing similar lawsuits wherever it rolls out service (esp. in New York and Chicago), responded with this statement, “Uber complies with all laws and regulations applicable to its business. Any claim to the contrary is baseless and motivated by those who seek to deprive the public of this safe and convenient transportation option. Uber would rather compete for business on the streets of San Francisco than in the courtroom, but Uber will defend these claims in court and is confident of the outcome.”

Uber is not having a hard time capturing funding, with over $50 million so far coming its way from Tech’s most prominent VCs. We’ll see how this plays out in the courts. Looks like Uber will need to stash some of that venture cash for lawyering up — fighting cabbies won’t be pretty.

Usually Mary Meeker only publishes her Internet Trends report once a year, but she had a mini-report for the end of 2012 that she gave on Monday. In that report there were a few insightful data points. The biggest one is the surge in market share for Android: it’s increasing adoption 5x faster than iPhone. I’ve often predicted that Android would take the global smartphone market share — but these numbers are huge. If this trend continues, it puts Apple in a precarious situation. Other data points of interest include the still huge numbers of feature phones: over 5 billion. The smartphone market is growing at 1 billion — but these numbers show that the world’s people still like having cheap phones for just calling and texting.

Meeker also noted that iPad adoption is increasing five times faster than iPhone adoption. There comes a time when iPhone saturation will occur — when most of those interested in having one, actually do. Smartphone makers may have to reconsider their “planned obsolescence” designs because consumers may lose interest in replacing their smartphones yearly.

Meeker also confirms the “post-PC” era statements we keep hearing by stating “that the global smartphone plus tablet install base will surpass the install base of the PC by the end of 2013.”

Mobile payment systems are about to become real as companies introduce their offerings and technology to the world. Buying goods or services with your smartphone is almost second nature. We’re all getting used to searching and tapping or scanning to pay.

Scan and pay will be the paradigm shift that transforms mobile commerce. Combine scan and pay with intelligent apps and you have a powerhouse waiting to be unleashed: If you’re paying for something at the register with your smartphone, the retailer may offer you 25% off if you immediately sign up for their credit card, or offer you a heavily discounted scarf to go with your new fall coat. Impulsive shoppers better destroy their smartphones now and pull out the old flip-phone from 2001. The key to merchant success is instant analysis of what you’re buying so they can offer you a complementary or similar item to “buy now”.

Visa, PayPal, Square and Google have been tinkering in this space for quite some time and it looks like their offerings are about to show some fruition. Mobile transactions are already totaling $240 billion annually, but a recent study by Juniper Research reports that by 2015, the transaction totals may reach over $670 billion.

Smartphones, with their built-in carrier service and vast library of available apps, are perfect “wallets” — you always have it with you, and it can securely store your financial information. Some carriers in the US are beginning to test systems that will allow consumers with smartphones that have NFC (near field communication) chips to make purchases by touching the device to a merchant payment terminal. You may be wondering: what is NFC? NFC works like this:

  1. A simple connection between two devices is initiated with a physical touch
  2. There must be an “initiator” and a “target”. Your smartphone would be the initiator when making a purchase
  3. The initiator generates a radio frequency (RF) field with a range of about 4 centimeters
  4. The target picks up the RF field and receives the data completing the payment request

But your smartphone is not simply a payment mechanism. Remember the word “smart” connected to the word “phone”. Retailers will be able to offer you loyalty points, coupons, and redeemable items via your smartphone directly before or after your purchase. Starbucks is already doing this with their updated app: buying a latte earns you points that add up to free items.

As is typical in the tech industry, the different players are fighting it out for dominance. Verizon Wireless won’t allow Google’s Wallet on any of their devices, and AT&T was disabling NFC on phones to stop them from using Google Wallet. T-Mobile is piloting its own Isis payment system in Salt Lake City and Austin.

The tech wars will ultimately provide a winner — more than likely multiple systems for quite awhile. Once there is convergence, however, you’ll be the actual winner — and from then on you can leave your over-stuffed wallet with all that old-school paper money at home.