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

Looking Forward to Our Smart Watch Future

The Apple Watch feels like the first iPhone or iPod. It’s too expensive, too bulky, lacks apps other than a few example Apple entries, but is good enough to convince us that a smart watch future is inevitable.

In a few years, a sub $200 device will land in a semi-mature ecosystem and sweep the holiday season. Apple’s watch will almost certainly have it’s iPod Nano moment.

The big question is whether Apple or Google will launch this ideal device.

Apple clearly will nail the hardware, but Google will lap Apple when it comes to services, contextual data, and algorithms. Most of a smart watch’s interface is invisible. It is the health, location, movement, social, scheduled, and other context data which drives the device 95% of the time. And right now I’d bet on Google Now over Siri.

But it’s close. Google products are contextually aware but socially awkward. Apple products are socially aware but contextually awkward. Google ships a face computer. Apple ships jewelry.

I’ll be thinking about our wearable future in the coming days and weeks, but my immediate reaction to Apple’s show yesterday is an excitement for the eventual change in how we interface with technology. As wearables improve, I’m looking forward to:

  • Shorter, responsive emails that are more like conversations than memos.
  • Contextualized decisions based on health and context data. (For example, if you use your free hour between 3 and 4 to go to the gym your fitness chart will look like if not it will look like that.)
  • Biometrics based security.
  • Practical dictation tools.
  • Smartphone-format devices we mostly leave in our bags and pockets.
  • Smartphone-format devices that don’t need to manage notifications.

"New York Police Officers to Start Using Body Cameras in a Pilot Program" 

They’re not just cameras, they’re platforms:

The New York police will test cameras made by two manufacturers: a one-piece device from Vievu and a two-piece system from Taser International, in which the battery and activation switches are separate from the camera itself. The companies’ cameras were selected, Mr. Bratton said, because they provide “end-to-end” systems that include storage both on-site and remotely.

From the Vievu LE3 product page:

The high definition video evidence is managed by our free proprietary VERIPATROL™ software system to securely store and catalog video files. The LE3 camera and VERIPATROL software utilizes a FIPS 140-2 compliant Digital Signature process to prove that the video has not been altered and VidLock security prevents unauthorized access if the camera is lost or stolen.

It will be fascinating to watch the growth of video analysts and their legal affects.

Sony Marketer: “Our radical camera designed for selfies needs a name!”

Sony Engineer: “Well we called it DSC-KW1…”

Sony Marketer: “Sold!” (snatches camera and runs out of room)

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.

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