I'm Drew Breunig and I obsess about technology, media, language, and culture. I live in New York, studied anthropology, and lead strategy at PlaceIQ.

These are reactions to things I feel are important.


Posts tagged Tech

PlaceIQ Raises $15M 

In 2013 we grew by more than 70 (bit over 5x) and ended the year in the black.

In a little over month we’ve announced our Rentrak partnership (which allows us to tie TV viewing behaviors to mobile audiences), revealed a great round of funding, struck another agency partnership, and have literally outgrown our office (we move into our second floor in about a month).

And there’s so much more brewing we can’t wait to share.

Reporter is now live in the App Store.

Will write some more later, but in the meantime be sure to check out the amazing site Felton built and read Ellis Hamburger’s review on the Verge.

Rolling your own crypto currency has become the first tech trend of 2014, driven by Mastercoin who’s built a platform atop Bitcoin’s chain. And custom coins is proceeding like clockwork along the adoption path.

Let’s review.

  1. Technicians interested in a proof-of-concept: The people who built Bitcoin and then traded with it out of curiosity. Nothing major was sold. What was appealing was that you could sell.
  2. Outsiders interested in a land without rules: The Silkroad denizens. The people who badly wanted to do something but had been blocked out of existing platforms due to cultural norms and laws. Major things were sold. So major, that the inconvenience of a new platform was an acceptable overhead.
  3. Entrepreneurs interested in a land without competitors: Those who bought mining machines and purchased reserves of coin.
  4. Bored teenagers interested in something illicit yet accessible: See above. These people put up with the inconvenience overhead (a) because they have time and (b) for the lolz.

Who’s next? If videotapes, digital music, radio, the internet, and smartphones are any indicator, next up are: legitimate businesses, your friends, your parents.

The State of Technology in 2013: What We Learn from Cameras

As for as technology and digital culture is concerned, 2013 was likely the year of the camera.

Cameras demonstrated that we have so much technological capability than we can’t efficiently use it all.

Don’t think I’m upset with any of the above – they’re not judgements and are presented as observations.

In fact, I think every one of the bullets above can be traced to one fact: our technologies for viewing photos are significantly worse than our technologies for taking photos. For example, there is not a single Mac or Apple monitor which can show you a complete current generation iPhone image at full size. Despite this viewing bottleneck an entire industry has marched nearly to it’s doom in a race to improve a product which the ( average, non-professional) consumer couldn’t care less about.

Hence the awkward, inefficient situation we’re in. For about $200 you could purchase an amazing camera who’s quality you’d likely never fully experience. I don’t think other industries are dissimilar.

But there’s a corollary to this innovative stagnation.

Cameras have shown that to succeed in stale markets pay attention to the goal not the metrics.

  • The Instagram and secondary camera apps like VSCO Cam focus on helping users take what they consider a ‘good’ picture. Accuracy is secondary.
  • The iPhone 5S held the line with the current megapixel count and worked on making a faster, more sensitive camera (better lens, larger sensor) that creates more information for a more powerful CPU and GPU. Rather than bigger pictures, it takes more and stitches them together for perfect exposure and composition.
  • GoPro has become the most stable camera company in the world by selling a camera built for the most photographic moments and experiences you want to share (that you could never bring your smartphone to).

The most important innovative features in cameras today are their editing UI, their computing power, and their use case. Lenses and sensors are secondary. A camera company could be launched today with lenses and sensor tech from 2008, a focused use case (the camera for hanging out with friends outside, the camera for taking selfies, the camera for parties and bars…), and a well designed way to edit and share. What’s interesting is the lens and sensor is the easiest bit.

Which brings us to sharing.

Cameras have shown us that the stream is something we’ll fight to control.

This is the state of modern consumer technology: we have so many capabilities we can’t efficiently use them all and we certainly can’t control them. This awkwardness drives us to seek out those which empower us to tame technology, making them mold to the things we do and want to do anyway (SnapChat let’s us manage our stream, VSCO helps us appear talented, and GoPro simply straps on to ourselves1 or our ride of choice).

  1. I saw at least 5 tourists walking around with GoPro’s strapped to their chest this holiday season. 

Introducing Reporter, an app which helps you track your life so that you might understand it better.

Nicholas Felton and I have been working on various iterations of this app since 2011, testing and tweaking it to capture the most data with the least amount of hassle and present it in the most insightful way.

Click through and sign up if you’d like to be notified when Reporter is available.

Stay tuned for more details.

Nintendo believes in a standard. Our standard.

Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who died September 19th, expressing the key to Nintendo’s successes – and failures.

From David Scheff’s excellent history, Game Over.

7% of all adults use location check-in services, according to a newly released PEW study.

A few caveats and points:

  • PEW asks people if they use check-in services. So ‘geosocial’ services are only mentioned if their geo-ness is apparent. (Which is probably why only 1% of geosocial users cite Twitter)
  • Facebook is the top cited app, at 39% of geosocial users. FourSquare comes in second, at 18%.
  • PEW data is based on a tracking survey administered to 2,252 people, which are demographically representative but still just a sample. So these numbers certainly skew a bit from reality.

But while geosocial is shrinking, location services are growing. PEW says they’re flat at 74% of smartphone users, but we’re seeing the number of apps capturing location steadily increase1.

The divergence between geosocial and location-services apps supports what I said just over a year ago: location technology isn’t just for location apps anymore. These functions are no longer the specialized domain of location social networks or map apps. Location intelligence can and will apply to a vast array of applications and use cases.

  1. I chalk up this difference to PEW asking respondents if they use ‘location-based information services’, so apps which don’t clearly integrate location information but capture location (like chat apps) aren’t identified and cited. 

The big announcement today is the M7. Ars summarizes:

The chip “continuously measures motion data,” and includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass, Apple said. The chip measures and captures data from sensors without waking the A7 up, while a new API named “CoreMotion” identifies the user’s movement and makes “optimizations based on contextual awareness.”

A few thoughts:

1. There’s no greater argument for a watch than the introduction of the M7.

Being able to keep the A7 spun down while monitoring movement history is a big win for the ever battery impacted smartphone. However, the M7 isn’t a benefit but an enabler for a smart watch, which will require a multi-day battery life (I would be shocked if Apple shipped a watch with anything less than a 5 day battery life.)

Further, Apple has a history of piloting tech in niche products (which I imagine the 5S will become compared to the 5C) to weed out bugs and build reliable, scaled assembly lines without mass pressure. Consider the SSD in the initial MacBook Air, the large Retina display in the clumsily named MacBook Pro with Retina Display, or the pre-Bondi transparent plastic in the eMate. Shipping the M7 in the 5S boots up and scales the fab lines, begins accruing test data, and weeds out software bugs – all factors Apple would like mitigated prior to the big splash launch of a watch.

2. Fitbit needs to start acting like Netflix.

Consider the intro Austin Carr wrote in Fast Company wrote about the birth of Roku:

It was December 2007, and the device was just weeks away from launching. Yet after all the years and resources and talent invested in the project (a team of roughly 20 had been working on it around the clock, from ironing out the industrial design and user interface to taking trips to Foxconn to finalize production details), Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was having serious second thoughts. The problem? Hastings realized that if Netflix shipped its own hardware, it would complicate potential partnerships with other hardware makers. “Reed said to me one day, ‘I want to be able to call Steve Jobs and talk to him about putting Netflix on Apple TV,’” recalls one high-level source. “‘But if I’m making my own hardware, Steve’s not going to take my call.’”

To the surprise of most employees at the company, Hastings decided to kill The Netflix Player, and spin the team out as a separate company. His decision, made almost exactly five years ago this month, was one of the riskiest moves in Netflix’s history. But it also proved to be one of Hastings’ most prescient. By shelving its hardware and remaining an agnostic platform, Netflix was able to transform itself into a digital powerhouse and become the dominant player in subscription streaming video. Its service is now ubiquitous, accessible on computers, smartphones, tablets, Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, and video game consoles.

Every morning I pocket my keys and wallet, strap on my Pebble, clip on my Fitbit, and grab my phone. Three out of the five objects I carry everyday can count my steps (though the Pebble’s ability is currently latent). If Fitbit wants to survive going forward they should abandon hardware and build the best software for Android, iOS, and whatever is next. The M7 will spur apps upon apps which will put pressure on Fitbit. That it was Nike on stage and not Fitbit is worrying.

3. Human-Machine interfaces are being further blurred.

Apps can now more granularly utilize a person’s movements. Not just where they are, but how they’re moving. Context from around the device is bleeding through the hardware.

The iPhone 5S takes your fingerprint every time you wake it.

Siri is getting better and can now utilize Wikipedia as a collective brain. Talking to the 5S might eventually become practical.

It’s not hard to imagine a future where the line between human and device becomes softer, especially as Apple emphasizes health applications with the 5C.

Will the next home button log my body temperature? Will movement processing become more nuanced, able to tell when my step alters beyond my habits to notice a pulled muscle or worn down shoe? Will the new facial recognition APIs translate smiles into emoji within iMessage?

Our phones know more about us every year.

"A new camera from Ricoh allows users to take spherical shots with one snap." The photos are then synced to an iOS app. Ars Technica has the write up.

Very happy that this concept camera is being made available. The rapidly declining camera market is spurring bold moves and smartphone companions, like the QX line from Sony and this entry from Ricoh. It’s an exciting market to watch.

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