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

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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. 

On Android & the Nexus 7

At the beginning of January I purchased a Nexus 7, partially because I wasn’t eager to spend on a non-Retina iPad Mini and partially because my lack of Android fluency was beginning to become a liability in my work.

After nearly a month, here’s what I think of Android:

Tablet screens are made for widgets.

A phone’s smaller screen is really ideal for one function at a time, which means the optimal home screen should present you with any many paths to functions as possible. On the iPhone, iOS’s grid system works well in this respect1. But the additional real estate on a tablet allows for widgets while still providing a sufficient number of shortcuts to apps. Seeing your schedule, a few headlines, and the weather on launch is great. As is having a search box to dive into. The iPad’s grid layout suffers because it assumes a greater screen size doesn’t change the home screen’s use case.

Most Android apps are horrendously ugly.

There is a huge opportunity for Android developers to hook up with talented designers and take over lucrative categories. To illustrate, here is a screenshot of what is widely regarded as the best Android Twitter client, Falcon Pro:

FalconPro

It appears the Android App ecosystem is governed by the tastes of tweakers, rather than everyday users. For those who haven’t experienced the Play store yet, please note: relatively speaking, Falcon Pro is showing admirable restraint. Other Twitter clients on Google Play are more likely to feature customizable scrollview background images than responsive design (Falcon Pro, while ugly, is relatively responsive.)

If we take the Google Play store as a representation of Android culture, we might assume that goal of apps is user empowerment not utility. Hence searches like this one:

Battery Drain

Android users want more battery stats on their screen but they’re generally sacrificing battery to do so.

The fact that the Google Play store is so heavily influenced by this relatively small group of tweakers must contribute to the discrepancy between iOS and Android device usage, as discussed on Branch recently. If provided with apps that appeal to their tastes and needs, I’d wager the bulk of Android users would use their devices more frequently, in more varied ways, and even pay for applications more often. It’s a pity the fashions of modder forums are felt strongly in the Android ecosystem, and that Google doesn’t better encourage and feature developers outside this niche.

Android’s scrolling animations are horrible.

Scrolling in Chrome stutters like sliding sheets of sandpaper. The stickiness of the physics hinders every web app and native application. It’s no wonder that some of the most polished Android apps avoid scrolling at all costs, embracing pagination. Feedly, Currents, and Flipboard have huge fan bases on Android and I’m sure it’s partially because of the pagination in their apps. Even Tumblr’s app, which is head and shoulders above the pack, stutters and sticks due to scroll. Facebook’s in the same boat and Instapaper was nearly unusable until a recent version added pagination.

Scrolling is a major problem that Google should be fixing now2. It affects every app and every website.

But: I’m happy with the device (or rather: appliance).

The Nexus 7 is capable, has a crisp display, and app support is almost there for most everything I did on my iPad. Support for Google accounts (which for me is work as well as personal) is fantastic. As a subway reading device the Nexus 7 is great.

The danger, for both Google and the user, is that after the grueling task of finding the apps to address my needs I stopped looking. Finding good apps in the store is so painful that I have little incentive to change my habits once they’re working. After just one month, the Nexus 7 became a reading and basic web appliance for me. I’m not pushing it, I’m not browsing the store, and I’m not wondering if it might handle tasks that I’m performing elsewhere.

I’m in a rut. A contented rut, but a rut nonetheless.

If Google wants people to use their devices more often and for more tasks, they need to facilitate exploration and discovery better. Unfortunately for them, discovery in Android cannot be fixed by a redesign of the Play store’s UI. It can only be fixed by raising the overall quality of apps so users don’t sour on the exploration experience during the set up phase.


  1. Though it is getting creaky. Folders are a solution that should have been dropped two OSes ago. 

  2. This is a fantastic explanation for Android’s scrolling problems

You Don't Have to be a Location App to Use Location 

Ad Age has posted a video of the talk Darren Herman and I gave at their Digital West conference:

The first phase of a new technology usually imitates an existing product in digital form. Only later does it become, in the words of PlaceIQ’s Drew Breunig, “something wholly new that couldn’t exist before the technology.”

That’s what’s happening today in location-based technologies and services. Darren Herman, president of KBS Ventures and Mr. Breunig, senior director of product at PlaceIQ, gave a view of where location is headed at Ad Age’s Digital Conference in San Francisco. In short: location technology isn’t just for location apps anymore.

It gets a little ad-wonky at the end, but here’s the gist of the argument:

  1. Location is cheaper to use these days. Now we just need to figure out why we should use it.
  2. Innovating apps like News.me, Instapaper, Now, Dark Sky, and Square use location as part of the UI, not as a connected map.
  3. When location is a UI component, it can be used by more applications. You don’t have to be a ‘location app’ to use location.
  4. When location is more ubiquitous, it can be used as a rich metric to understand and value your audiences, which can help better pay for content and support larger mobile businesses.

(Via AdAge)

Mobile Design So Far

  1. Apple makes the Table View the default design framework in iOS.
  2. Loren Brichter implements stacked Table Views in Twitter for iPad, allowing users to see hierarchies and page back and forth between them naturally.

And that’s it.

I firmly believe stacked Table Views, as a framework, will be more important than the more tangible ‘pull to refresh’, which was likely inevitable. They’re designing whole OSes out of stacked Table Views these days.

Why a Prepaid Credit Card Company Bought Loopt

The Next Web reports, “Low cost banking company Green Dot Acquires Loopt For $43.3 Million In Cash”:

Green Dot, which provides low-cost banking and payment solutions to U.S. consumers, is putting $43.4 million in cash on the table for the company, which includes roughly $9.8 million to be set aside as a retention pool for ‘key’ Loopt employees.

Green Dot expects the transaction to close by the end of this month. It seems like an unlikely buyer for a company like Loopt, but Green Dot says it expects to put its products to good use, to improve customer acquisition and retention, drive the adoption of new banking and payment products and to become a leader in mobile wallets, rewards and payment solutions at retailers nationwide.

Seems like an odd move, but it’s a canny purchase. Green Dot acquires an experienced mobile team with expertise in a low-income market.

Keep in mind: Loopt’s main engine of growth for years was integration on Sprint and Nextel’s network. As a result, Loopt became an often touted feature among a number of prepaid cell services which ran atop these networks: Boost (most notably), Virgin, etc.

Despite a Keynote unveiling for Loopt’s iOS app, Loopt is notably absent from the location app wars on smartphone platforms. Only rarely is it mentioned in the same breadth FourSquare, Google Latitude, Facebook, Path, or even Gowalla. But Loopt has plugged along, fueled by low-cost prepaid network promotion. These networks like Loopt because locking a customer’s phone to an account decreases churn, the #1 concern in pay-as-you-go land.

To illustrate this core audience (because if you head to Loopt’s site, they’re still plugging the iOS app, which we can only assume was bait for buyers) head over to Quantcast and check out Loopt’s demographics. True, the webpage has low volume (since it’s a mobile service), but those are not the demographics of Foursquare or other early adopter markets: Loopt’s is a very young, low income, no college (which, yes, is affected by their young age), and multicultural audience.

Green Dot got a bargain. They get a proven mobile product team with experience working with their core audience through iOS, Android, and feature phones. On its own, such a pitch-perfect team is nearly worth the $43 million. But Loopt also has very close ties with low-end cellular carriers, with whom Green Dot would kill for the privilege of being bundled on their devices. Throw in some patents and an active user base, and Green Dot made out like bandits.

What a Carrier Branded, CES Demo Says About the Non-Apple Smartphone Market

Orange's Intel Phone

While showing off their new Medfield platform for mobile at CES, Intel said devices would be available to consumers in 2012. At the event Lenovo showed off a device for the Chinese market and Motorola made a few vague commitment, but there was no word on when a notable handset maker1 would actually ship a Medfield device.

Two months later and HTC, Samsung, and Motorola still aren’t touching the platform. And yet, a Medfield device is about to ship: French Telecom brand Orange is slapping its logo on Intel’s reference design. This move speaks volumes about the state of the non-Apple smartphone market.

It doesn’t look like Intel has sold Medfield to handset makers.

Shipping a reference design is a highly unusual move. In the hardware world, reference designs are usually buggy, proof-of-concept sales tools meant to woo potential customers. I can’t remember ever seeing one released to the general public. Anandtech does caveat, “unlike other mobile reference designs, Intel’s Medfield [Form Factor Reference Design (FFRD)] is not just indicative of what the underlying hardware can do but it’s also a polished phone that is apparently good enough to be sold directly to end users.” That “apparently” is worrisome.

Even if Intel’s device is good (let alone stable), shipping a reference device through a carrier is bound to piss off handset makers, the customers a FFRD is designed to woo. Either no handset maker was biting or Intel badly needs some short-term mobile penetration ticks to show investors (something Orange can deliver by highlighting the phone in store). Neither of these scenarios are good.

Orange might have turned to Intel because handset makers are finally pushing back on carriers.

During recent earning calls we caught a glimpse of handset makers’ frustrations with carriers as Moto and HTC shifted some of the blame onto the networks, whose demands for custom interfaces and numerous products weaken manufacturers focus. Moto CEO Sanjay Jha put it best while speaking with the Verge, “Verizon and AT&T don’t want seven stock [Ice Cream Sandwich] devices on their shelves. The vast majority of the changes we make to the OS are to meet the requirements that carriers have.” Carrier requests dilute manufacturers’ focus in return for providing carriers with one or two differentiating feature, which weekly promotions demand. Long-term, they’re not sustainable. If Motorola and HTC are starting to reject carrier requests we might see AT&T and Verizon steal a page from Orange, who’s turned directly to Intel for their custom needs.

So now we have two spurned parties (Orange and Intel) teaming up to bring us something I thought we vanquished in 2009: a carrier branded device. Remember this beast? At one point your phone said AT&T, Verizon, or Cingular not Samsung, HTC, or Motorola. Device makers’ customers were the carriers, not you and me. To appease networks, manufacturers aimed to build phones that would stand out in newspaper inserts and on shelves, rather than building devices that would work well.

The iPhone’s success changed all that. Apple proved that devices made for users could dominate the market place. Companies like HTC shed their carrier logos, invested in their own brand, and started trying to build devices for people, not carriers. For awhile they succeeded, before caving to a different form of carrier requests. If they’re pushing back again (and I really hope they are), this could bode well for users.

No matter how badly Orange wants it to be 2009 again, taking advantage of Intel’s bad position isn’t going to turn back the clock.


  1. I don’t count Lenovo as notable as they’re primarily a PC vendor and likely financially benefited from existing Intel experience and purchasing volume. Costs, not the platform, might have won them over. 

In India, a "Missed Call" is Ad-Hoc Infrastructure 

More on the growing toll-free missed call ecosystem in India:

This week Pluggd.in, an Indian site focused on Indian entrepreneurs and startups, profiled a startup called RealTech Systems which has developed an irrigation control system for farmers that uses cell phone networks and missed calls. Essentially a farmer installs the company’s Real Mobile Starter Control product at an irrigation pump, and the device uses a SIM card and a missed call to turn the pump on and off remotely.

The problem, as Pluggd.in puts it, is that many farmers have to walk many miles to get to the pumps for their farms, but once they reach the pump sometimes the power to run the irrigation system isn’t available — unreliable power is one of the biggest infrastructure problems throughout much of India. The farmers can use the product to check to see if power in the area is turned on, and then run the irrigation accordingly — from miles away.

(Via GigaOm)

We’re getting more subscribers coming on the 3GS…than other devices…We [are also] sold out of that device.

AT&T Mobility CEO, via asymco

In the mass market, free matters.

OS4’s behavior might be best characterized as latertasking. Rather than putting apps away entirely, they remain close by but inactive, like a dogeared book on the desk rather than a closed book on the shelf.

Ian Bogost suggests a new term.

Trying to pin language to new devices and usage is like nailing Jello to a wall. Usage may vary, and there’re are a lot of tricks an engineer may grasp that are functionally invisible to the user.

Plus, the term ‘multitasking’ is a bit odd for a mobile device. Given the screen size, true multitasking is guaranteed to not occur 99% of the time for 99% of users, under the best of conditions.

Despite this, people want multitasking. At least they want the word, whether or not they want the function is another matter entirely. In the last 2 years, I’ve surveyed and focus-grouped prospective smartphone buyers in several cities. Multitasking was overwhelmingly desired, but when people were pressed to describe why the wanted multitasking or what they would use it for they couldn’t elaborate.

The only answer I ever received was background audio, a fine feature indeed (one I’m thrilled to have in the updated MLB app) but hardly full-fledged multitasking. 

I bet this irks Jobs more than Gizmodo:

When he says this:

[Apple is] not just a technology company, even though we have and invent some of the highest tech in this industry. It’s more than that. It’s the marriage of that and humanity. It’s the hardware and software working together. It’s not just a great new camera, it’s the built-in editing software and iMovie. It’s not just a front-facing camera, it’s a front-facing camera and 18 months worth of work to create software you’ll never even notice when you want to make a video call.

And then the blahgs immediately publish this:

Feature WAR

(Via TiPb)

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