Category Archives: Mobile Tech

Mobile Technology, Smartphones, Apps, Gadgets, LBS, SNS, and such.

Google Glass: Are we ready for wearable computing peripherals?

I think the technology and the consumer are mostly ready. The society, not so much.
Pros:

  • Wearable computing peripherals are convenient since they don’t occupy your hands and usually stay at the ready.
  • Wearables can enhance your ability to capture and review your experiences.
  • Each wearable peripheral can stand alone to add something to your experience depending on what environment you’re entering for the day (hiking day vs. working day)
  • Wearables can work together in an cumulative or even additive way, giving us more information about our daily habits and experiences.
  • They’re geeky!

Cons:

  • People will be uncomfortable with being monitored by others, especially by video capture.
  • Lots of time will be wasted reviewing all the new personal data logs.
  • Social media will be further overloaded with data about others.
  • Expensive wearables may be vulnerable to theft.
  • Dead batteries become the norm.
  • They’re geeky!

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HTC Ultrapixels vs. Megapixels: Where Experience Design and Marketing Clash

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HTC’s latest flagship smartphone, called the HTC One goes against the megapixel trend in smartphone cameras. They have introduced the new Ultrapixel Camera in the HTC One that promises to achieve better pictures with a 4 megapixel camera than the competing flagships from Apple and Samsung with higher megapixel specs. They have decided to focus on actual image quality. While this is noble and certainly could benefit the HTC customer, it could be a big challenge in the sales and marketing department.
 
The Megapixel Myth
When we Product Planning Pros market a new phone, we always want to promote some differentiating features so that the phone stands out in the crowd. Sometimes, we have to include certain features as ‘entry tickets’ just so the market will recognize it as a credible contender for the market’s mighty buck. Since camera phones entered the scene in 2005, the push has been for ever-higher pixel counts. For a while you wanted to claim a megapixel camera, then it needed to be more megapixels, and now, 5 to 8 megapixels is the entry standard in smartphones, with some offering up to 41 megapixels.
 
Many in the mobile device industry, including prominent reviewers and bloggers, have pointed out that there is more to a camera than the megapixel count. Yet, that is exactly the main thing that has been marketed to consumers. Like clock speed or cores in processors, more megapixels sounds like more to the consumer. What other information do they have when they visit their local shop to compare phones.
 
Is Ultrapixel a Better Camera?
The first distinguishing factor is the pixel size in the image sensor. It’s simple physics that a larger sensor can capture more light in less time given the same lens. So, HTC claims that each ‘pixel’ in the sensor collects 300% more light than certain competing 13 megapixel cameras.
 
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Second, the Ultrapixel camera achieves the largest aperture in the smartphone market at f/2.0 which is 44% more than iPhone 5’s f/2.4 aperture. Capturing more light overall means that the camera will offer better contrast and color in low-light conditions and will show less blur when capturing fast action since the shutter speed can be faster. It also results in less noise in the image since more light is measured to even out the gaps.
 
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Another advantage touted by HTC is the ISP (Image Signal Processor) to fully accommodate real-time video and image processing. Since there are less pixels, it is easier to achieve the processing throughput to keep up with the signals coming in from the camera. This means the camera can capture full-size images in the video capture without compression or other lossy techniques that degrade the image.

 
So, if we ignore megapixels for a second, we can see that this camera module is more in line with a compact digital camera than even the best camera phones. The pixel size and the aperture both set it apart from most smartphone cameras. It remains that the biggest downside is that it doesn’t compete on megapixels.
 
Will It Matter?
Megapixels matter according to most of the consumer research that I’ve been privileged to participate in or review. Most consumers are familiar with the term and equate it with a better camera. In fact, most consumers don’t differentiate the megapixel camera rating from the video capabilities, which is definitely recorded at a much smaller resolution (Full HD video is only about 2 megapixels).
 
The extreme megapixel example in the market was the Nokia 808 with a 41 megapixel camera. Nokia used the megapixels to deliver oversampled images (combining data from multiple pixels into one in the final image) and to allow for a better digital zoom experience. The reviews for that camera were pretty strong overall, with little complaint about the image quality, and much exposure due to the extreme megapixel rating.
 
Marketing Reset
I think that HTC recognizes the uphill battle they are taking on and have decided to try for a marketing reset for the camera. They seek to re-frame the customer’s decision process regarding smartphone camera expectations.
 
Their marketing reset starts with the Ultrapixel Camera name for their solution to sound like it’s better than the standard megapixels that other cameras offer. They have created a website to explain the camera and are trying to educate the consumer about their design efforts. I have also seen some mainstream press already discussing Ultrapixel as a departure from the megapixel myth, so likely they have executed a solid PR effort to achieve that.
 
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Finally, they have paired the updated camera with their HTE Zoe shooting mode. The Zoe shooting mode captures up to 3 seconds and 20 full-scale images by pressing the shutter once. The photo gallery will animate the Zoe captures after a short delay so you get an active gallery with more pizzazz than a typical smartphone grid. Finally, the phone can group them into highlight videos with a selection of themes and it’s easy to share any of this created content to social networks. So, they have tried to emphasize more than just raw picture quality in their value proposition for the Ultrapixel Camera as part of the HTC One.
 
Missed Opportunities?
I think that HTC could have done even more to emphasize the experience advantages of their Ultrapixel camera configuration. Ultimately, their website ends up trumpeting f-stop and pixel size as the new specifications to compare, but consumers are already trained that megapixels matter. For example, they should put the low-light and motion capture performance advantages more to the forefront. I fully expected to see some comparisons on their website showing similar images with and without the Ultrapixel sensor. They should show images of the same scene taken with HTC One vs. competitive flagship smartphones.
 
HTC should, and still could, tap into the social network community with photo contests on Instagram or Flickr featuring low light or motion capture as the theme.
 
Finally, they could have invoked some brand or celebrity to endorse their efforts. If they were to attach a popular camera brand or a popular photographer’s name to the effort, that could help them offer credibility to the consumer that they can relate to instead of f-stop and pixel sizes. They have had success with this approach by partnering with Beats for their audio solution.
 
Drew’s Conclusion
I think that HTC has made a decision to follow the path of designing for the customer experience, followed with the best marketing efforts they can deliver. I hope that the market is ready and receptive to a change from valuing cameras only on megapixel ratings. The whole smartphone industry would be better for it.
 

Instagram “Feeds” Its Followers

Instagram has now made the feed accessible to the web. Check it out at http://www.instagram.com
You can see your normal Instragram feed along with comments much as in the mobile app.
Instagram on the big screen
The first thing that I notice is that the display on my laptop is much bigger than my phone. This is both good and bad. The flaws in the image are much more apparent, but you can more fully enjoy a truly epic shot. I think overall this is a net plus vs. the phone experience.
Keep Your Comments In-line
Similar to the mobile interface, the poster’s first comment and a few of the most recent comments are displayed below the image. This is a good alternative to forcing an expand to see comments or listing all comments in line. You get a flavor for the interaction, but can scroll on by without a challenge.
Like and Comment All You Want
The web interface makes adding a [heart] or comment to a photo about as easy as the mobile interface. You can click a nice-sized icon or double click the image to like it. A comment bar is always accessible below the current comments, so you can click there are start typing. Of course, for most of us, typing on the computer is much easier than entering comments from the phone, but adding emoji will be quite tricky.
Proper Profile Page
This one isn’t as obvious at first, since you will just be in a normal feed, but once you click on an Instagramers avatar, you will launch their profile page. This page is great. Much like the mobile version, it shows your avatar and your profile text, along with your number of photos, followers, and followings. Fortunately, the banner is more than just the text. Instragram creates a collage of your images that will slowly transition to different images in a grid pattern.
InfiniteEye Instragram Profile
This is a much better way to highlight an artist or user and I hope to see this in an IG update of the future for the mobile version.
How Will a WebFeed Impact the Community?
It seems that this is another example of Facebook effect on Instagram. I like that I can access from the web and it gives me a place to send people other than Tumblr or Flickr for my Instagram photos. Of course, on the other side, the community becomes just a little bit less cozy and intimate. I honestly miss the early days of Instagram and all of the community that was fostered by the mutual activity in their carefully confined garden. But, that hasn’t been the reality for awhile and certainly not since Facebook acquired the service. So, we might as well enjoy the convenience of having easier access to our feed and easier presence for our followers and new fans.
Check it out and let me know what you think. Will it change Instagram? Is it better than the mobile experience?

Amazon to hand out some serious coin

Amazon announced their new virtual currency, to be called Amazon Coins earlier today. Coins can be used to purchase apps, games and in-app items for Kindle Fire. They also pledge to give away “tens of millions” worth of the coins starting in May when the new service/product launches. See Introducing Amazon Coins.

I think it is smart for Amazon to provide another way to ease the purchase of content in the Kindle Fire ecosystem. Also, I imagine that they will give Coins away with purchases of Kindles and probably with lots of other goods, too. It will be interesting to see where Amazon ultimately goes with this, but here are some of my initial ideas.

Fire Halo Effect
I could see a small kick-back on purchases whether you have a Kindle or not. Soon enough, you’re going to want to have a Kindle so that you can cash in all of your earned Coins. Could be a serious draw for the ecosystem. I know that I spend a fair amount annually with Amazon. If they give me a small percent of credit toward virtual goods on their platform, it could make that seem more attractive.

Coins Aren’t Real Money
I also believe that they will make it easy to buy Amazon Coins or give them as gifts or in-app incentives. Once real money is translated to Coins, Amazon wins! You will spend it at Amazon on virtual goods giving Amazon an easy 30% commission. Also, you’re likely to have some residual coins drawing you back to add or earn some more. Finally, it seems much easier to spend virtual credits than real dollars and cents.

Kindle Everywhere
Could it also be a way to create more loyalty to their virtual goods over time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Amazon Coins accepted for Kindle Books or AmazonMP3 to be read and played on other devices, like Android phones and tablets or Apple iDevices. Could be a great way to create lock-in for their virtual marketplace. This would build loyalty toward their marketplace and not just the Fire device portfolio. Amazon’s devices have been created to support their “Long Tail” marketplace, not the other way around.

Drop Some Coin for Anything
Another obvious extension of this would be to allow Coins as payment for all kinds of goods. Want something shipped to your house? Amazon Coins could be a great way to get me to choose Amazon for real-world goods also.

What Did Facebook Miss?
Before I close, it’s worth noting that Facebook failed in their attempt to create a virtual currency for their apps and games. They ultimately abandoned Facebook Credits and just returned to national currencies. This may partly explain why Amazon has defined Coins narrowly for now and will offer only in the USA market at launch.

I wish them luck and can’t wait to see how this develops. Any other ideas or thoughts? Comment below!

See also: http://www.theverge.com/2013/2/5/3955202/why-amazon-wants-its-own-currency

Whether on the Vine?

Vine in the News
Twitter’s new service, called Vine and found at vine.co (that’s “dot company”), is already making headlines today. It seems that they allowed an explicit video to be promoted into their “Editor’s Choice” list which is automatically placed into every users feed. Fortunately, it was stopped before I experienced that shocker.
I hope they figure out quick how to eliminate that possibility cause that’s a deal-breaker for me and my family. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be a great reason to invest time on Vine other than amusement (not that fun is bad).
The Vine blog introduced the service last week as follows:
Posts on Vine are about abbreviation — the shortened form of something larger. They’re little windows into the people, settings, ideas and objects that make up your life. They’re quirky, and we think that’s part of what makes them so special.
I hope that some more “people, settings, ideas, and objects” emerge beyond the focus on quirky and humorous that is the current trend. Not that i don’t enjoy shoes walking themselves or cats disappearing, but I think the service deserves to be more than that and needs to be to hold my attention long-term.
Experience on the Vine
From an experience perspective, they did some things very well. I really like the way that new videos are created. Like Instagram for photos, Vine succeeds in making video-creation accessible to the masses. To create a video, you simply hit the camcorder icon and are presented with the viewfinder. The camera records while you are touching the viewfinder and pauses if you let go. This continues until you fill 6 seconds (or quit sooner). So, you can easily catch small chunks and form something in moments. Then you see a preview of your video looping as it will on the service. At that point you can post or discard it. The only complaint here is that if you choose not to post, it won’t be saved to your phone gallery either. I took a short clip of my daughter at lunch that she didn’t want me to post, amd it’s gone forever.
Also, I like that you can scroll through a feed and the videos just start playing. Scroll down and another one loads quickly and starts playing. Vine did 3 things that really make the browsing snappy:
  1. Short, looping video = loads quickly and keeps playing
  2. No play button = the videos play immediately, draws you in immediately
  3. Endless page feed = scroll down and find another video
These design decisions work together to make the browsing pretty effortless and tends to make you scroll down for ‘just one more’ clip.
I think Vine will find an audience. I hope that there are some artistic, content, and community values that develop over time.

Find me on Vine as @DrewWilken or check my twitter feed. It’ll probably continue to have some Vine’s crawling about.

Finally Found Evernote, My Cloud of Words

I’m a frequent victim of the ‘cult of the new’. I’m constantly on the lookout for new apps or services that will make my life better (or at least seem so). I just discovered the value of Evernote this past week. I have seen Evernote mentioned countless times, and have even checked into it a couple of times, but was never sure how I’d make real use of it.

My understanding of Evernote in my previous looks was more aligned with the productivity and organization aspects. I resisted adding another productivity ‘tool’ that would ‘help’ me organize and track better. I have found that those apps tend to create rules that don’t mesh with my dynamic way of getting it done. Also, I really don’t want the chore of filing, distraction of more reminders, or overhead of checking things off the list. I got it wrong.

Along with starting this blog, I realized that I needed a way to really track my research, reading, and writing. So, I set out to find the ‘Dropbox’ of words. I am a fan of Dropbox and have used it with my family for a couple of years. It’s a great way to keep all of the files on different computers in sync and make sure they are available wherever you need to access them, including phones and tablets. Dropbox was my first real glimpse into the value of cloud services.

I checked evernote again and realized that it seems to be the cloud of words, with some organization and media capabilities added on. So, I’ve signed on, connected Zite, my favorite news reader, and started dropping articles into my Ever-notebook. I’ve also started keeping my list of blog ideas, and used it to author my blog entries.

So far, it seems to be the cloud of words that I was seeking. I have had to work out how to get the full articles into the notebook when sending from Zite and it takes a few extra steps, but otherwise it has been quite easy to work, has a simple way to organize into notebooks, and the tagging and search will hopefully help me find things long from now when I just want to refer back to something I know I saved somewhere.

I would love to hear from others that are using Evernote and please offer some tips for where and how to make the best use of it. Also, I’m using the free version, so I’m curious if others can share why they have chosen to upgrade or not.

Word!

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