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


Posts tagged Tech
To Foursquare’s credit, the default recommendations you see upon opening the app are more personalized, as they’re largely based on the “tastes” you’ve picked prior. Which is a nice feature, certainly. But in all the times I’ve used Foursquare over the past few years, the one discovery feature I favored over all others was the ability to only search places where friends had previously checked in. Now that that filter is gone, the best you can do is impotently scroll through places the people you follow have “recommended.” It may sound like a technicality, but the lack of control makes the entire process feel more distant.

From Gizmodo’s review of the new Foursquare.

Per our analysis yesterday, FourSquare isn’t even at Trust Level 2: recommendations are not trusted blindly, only with outside qualifications which the human trusts.

Gizmodo’s review of the new Foursquare app highlights a problem: we never trusted Foursquare recommendations, just the recommendations of our friends. This doesn’t bode well for the two-app strategy.

On Convenience-Tech and Trusting Technology

Time for more Yo thought pieces (and you thought they were done!) as the one-touch design model spreads. Today Push for Pizza, an app that does exactly that. Watch the usually well-made Sandwich video:

The current wave of convenience-tech products (Uber, Push for Pizza, all 1-day delivery applications…) suggest that our technical capabilities outstrip our ability to package them.

It feels like 1999 all over again. Suddenly anything can have a webpage, so it can. Suddenly anything can have an app, so it can. Suddenly anything can be on-demand, so it will be.

This phase of the tech industry is what I’d like to call the Malcolm Phase, named after a wise man who once commented that people become “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And we all know what happened next.

But unlike cloned dinosaurs, all of these applications are inevitable. The question is are they inevitable right now.

Think about 1999. Pets.com died a fiery death, but now we have Wag. WebVan failed but FreshDirect thrives. Kozmo’s business model dusted off the ashes and was reborn as Seamless, Grubhub, and more.

Why the failure then and success now?

As I see it, while technology may advance quickly, human behaviors are sluggish. We are advancing slowly on a road towards complete faith in digital transactions. Using pizza as an example, here are the phases of trust we’re advancing along:

  1. Trust in Digital Purchases: “If I pay for pizza on a website, will they receive my money and actually delivery a pizza to me?” (this wasn’t present in 1999)
  2. Trust in Digital Recommendations: “Does this service know of a better place to get pizza than I do?” (we’re barely at this point now)
  3. Trust in Digital Completion: “Does this app know a great place to get pizza from and how to get it to my house?” (Push for Pizza is aiming here)
  4. Trust in Digital Instigation: “Does this app know when I’m going to want pizza?” (Some are already planning for this)

Another good way to think about this is the various job we’re hiring the app or service to be:

  1. Cashier: Take my money, give me goods.
  2. Concierge: Give me a few ideas, let me make the choice.
  3. Admin: Go research and complete a transaction for me.
  4. Proxy: Anticipate my purchase needs and execute them.

Obviously these trust levels are related to disposable income. If you have a ton of money you won’t mind if an Admin or Proxy screws up every now and then. But for most people, we’re only at trust level 1 and 2. Yelp and other’s recommendations have a high enough hit rate that we’re willing to spend money on an untested restaurant regularly.

But Push for Pizza jumps to trust level 3. And I’m not sure we’re ready for the commitment.

To their credit, they’re taking a smart approach: the risk costs are low for the user (pizza is cheap and relatively commodified), the audience is focused and impulsive (did you catch the brief shot of one of the kids exhaling smoke in the video above?), and the trust precedent is set (Uber has paved the way, which was handled cleverly in the video without being tired). We’ll have to wait to see if these tactics will be enough. Best of luck to them1.

  1. The biggest reason I think they won’t succeed, beyond slow user adoption, is that these three strategies (commodified product, focused audience, early adopter customers familiar with the business model) are rarely all aligned. Pizza is not a commodity in affluent, tech-savvy markets like New York, San Francisco, and LA. The core audience will never try again if they hit the button and Dominos arrives. 

Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.


Another reason backing off from that always-on Kinect was a sound decision.

An Explainer Regarding Apple's MAC Address Updates 

There’s lots of handwringing going on. Hoping to bring some context to this news and why it’s an important change:

So Apple was faced with a challenge: their users’ devices were being logged without their knowledge, without their consent, all while using a hardware-based identifier. Apple’s adherence to standard network practices – broadcasting MAC addresses to WiFi hubs – created an environment where this situation could occur. So Apple made moves to change that standard practice.

Starting in iOS 8, iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches will broadcast random MAC addresses. In Apple’s words, “The MAC address for WiFi scans may not always be the device’s (universal) address.” Companies that log MAC addresses won’t be able to connect individual visits to a single device. They’ll know someone is there, but not where else they’ve gone. >

Some have suggested that this move is a play to get more people using Apple’s own iBeacon API. This may be true. But iBeacons are much more user friendly. To see a company’s iBeacons, users must install an associated application and grant it the appropriate location permissions. Applications that use iBeacons are opt-in and users are always able to opt-out by managing their location permissions in their device settings.

Read the rest here.

On Apple & Beats

Perhaps the best way to think about Apple’s acquisition of Beats is to think about Disney’s acquisition of Marvel. Here’s what The New York Times had to say:

The brooding Marvel characters tend to be more popular with boys — an area where Disney could use help. While the likes of “Hannah Montana” and the blockbuster Princesses merchandising line have solidified Disney’s hold on little girls, franchises for boys have been harder to come by.

Disney bought an audience to which their current products did not speak. When you’re selling content, there are no tech specs. Appeal is based on emotion, culture, and fashion. Disney bought Marvel in order to buy the attention and devotion of comic book fans, an audience which is strong in demographic segments where Disney was weak.

I believe Apple bought Beats largely for this reason: Beats is popular with the same 14-25 year olds that care less about Apple products. It is no mistake this is the audience Samsung, Motorola, and HTC have been addressing. Each of these firms did their market research and realized Apple was weak with youth.

Consider this and feel ancient: the first iPod or iPhone this youth audience had access to was likely their parents. The ways in which Apple was cool do not apply to this segment (U2 iPods anyone? Alicia Keys announcements?) Cool is fickle, and only very rarely does one remain in vogue across two consecutive generations1.

Compounding Apple’s waning cool is the trend of technology products to be evaluated for qualitative reasons. This is a trend Apple itself kicked off, starting with the first Bondi Blue iMac. The features and specs of a technology product are becoming less and less important. Read Sam Biddle’s excellent back-room history of Beats to see this in action: the alleged technical brains behind the original Beats were literally ousted and the company didn’t miss a step.

As technology becomes wearable, this trend towards quantitative assessment is exacerbated. People hesitate to buy a gadget they keep in their pocket or bag if they don’t like the way it looks. People will never buy a gadget they keep on their wrist if they don’t like the way it looks. Period.

If Apple isn’t fashionable, any wearable they launch is dead in the water. Regardless of it’s technological abilities. Apple is cool for the older, “U2” audiences. If it is even questionably cool for young audiences, a wearable product will never become a mass success. Young people are crucial for new product categories. They have high disposable incomes and lots of disposable time (to take on learning curves).

Apple’s purchased Beats for it’s demographic appeal. Without this appeal, all wearable product lines were at risk.

  1. Though generation-skipping cool is the norm. (We’re just borrowing our grandfathers Filson bag, scotch, and facial hair.) 

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.

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