Would You Use Your Own App?

Before launching your app into any application marketplace, you should test for demand. That’s business 101. But before doing that, there is an easy way to pre-test the market for interest: honestly ask yourself, “Would I use my own product?” It amazes me how few people ask this question. We are all parents of our creations, so of course we’d say yes. But like parents raising children, we can’t all realistically say our children are physically fit and attractive. Some can. Others would have to make a case. It’s the same thing for products and services. We can’t all say that our tools are useful, amazing or accessible. If that were always the case, failure wouldn’t exist.

When designing a piece of software, put yourself in a user’s shoes. How hard is it to get started using the app? How much privacy must I compromise? Is it fun to use? Will my friends think I’m cool if I use it? Is it better than another app I use that does the same thing? If you don’t like the answers to your own questions, your users won’t either. Do not be afraid to return to the drawing board, especially when you cannot completely endorse your own product. Save yourself the time and shame if, deep down, you know the truth.

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New iPhone Summary

For my readers who are not plugged into tech news every waking minute, here is a quick overview of Apple’s keynote this morning. No big surprises in Cupertino today:

iPhone 4S

  • No iPhone 5 yet, mostly performance enhancements: improved processing (A5 chip, 2x faster than before), graphics (dual-core, 7x faster than before), battery life, and download speeds (14.4 MBps).
  • Improved camera: eight megapixel, 3264 x 2448 resolution, 73% more light, faster capture speed, Hybrid IR filter for more accurate color and uniformity, sharper lens elements, wider aperture, face detection, and better white balance.
  • 1080p HD video camera with image stabilization, noise reduction.
  • The phone will be a GSM / CDMA hybrid, working on Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint.
  • AirPlay Mirroring: mirror your iPhone on television sets, wired or wireless.

The most notable announcement was the iPhone integration with Siri, a personal voice recognition assistant. Hold the home button on the iPhone and Siri will listen. Ask her anything you want, and she will return information, a search query, schedule a meeting, send a text message, set an alarm, perform a function on your phone, and more. She can also dictate for you. Siri was started as an iOS app in December 2007 and acquired by Apple in early 2010. Nothing new here.

Pre-orders for the iPhone 4S start Friday. The phone will be available October 14th in black or white casing. Pricing as followings (with a two-year contract): $199 16GB, $299 32GB, and $399 64GB.

Other Announcements

  • Cards App: make your own greeting cards, $2.99 per card
  • iPod Nano improvements to the fitness experience and timekeeping faces (Nano = your future watch)
  • iCloud will launch October 12th
  • Find My Friends feature: similar to Google Latitude, anyone on a GPS enabled Apple device can open their location up to contacts and share where they are. It is unclear how integrated this feature will be.

Overall? Underwhelmed. The iPhone 4S met none of my needs for a next-generation phone, except perhaps performance enhancements. This new model will no doubt outsell the rest, but I’m not sold yet.

My Next Smartphone

A challenge to the smartphone market: I expect my next smartphone to have three things:

  1. Near Field Communication (NFC) for mobile transactions
  2. 4G data connection
  3. Quad-core Processor (minimum Dual-core processor)

I am putting my money on NFC (no pun intended) and the future of mobile transactions. I also expect the hardware to help streamline user interface interaction and application processes. Until these expectations are met, I will stick with my aged BlackBerry Bold 9650. I will likely invest in the first device that meets these standards.

Bring it on, Apple and Samsung!

Tower Defense

Tower DefenseAll I can say today is “Tower Defense: Lost Earth.” A friend from USC, Joe Spradley, and a team of guys in Korea authored this amazing, addicting, and challenging iOS mobile game. I’ve been playing it all day and cannot stop.

For all you iPhoners, download this baby, support these guys, and play it to your heart’s content. You won’t regret it.

Conquering the Augmented World

Have you ever wanted to tag public monuments with graffiti? Cockfight pet velociraptors? Bomb your neighbor’s house? Debate philosophy with a British rabbit? Experience hallucinations without psychotropic drugs? Or perhaps adventure with the Mario Brothers in your own backyard? Well, my friend, I bring great news: that future is near.

Recently, there have been exciting developments in the augmented reality space. Unlike virtual reality, which replaces the real world with a simulated one, augmented reality enhances your real-world environment by embellishing it with computer-generated graphics and sound through the lens of a mobile device (tablet computer, smartphone, etc.). As the processing and sensory input hardware of these devices improve, engineers and designers are able to render more and more compelling images to your live feed. Perhaps the most sophisticated demonstration I have seen to date was engineered by Sony:

The future of augmented reality knows no bounds.

There is room for AR in marketing and commerce – imagine discovering a Groupon discount or checking Yelp ratings while walking down the street with your camera.

There is room for AR in health – imagine researching the nutritional value of your meal by scanning it with your phone or charting physical therapy improvement automatically through mobile video recordings.

There is room for AR in games – imagine interacting with characters or battling friends in real space.

There is room for AR in education – imagine pulling encyclopedia articles on an object by scanning it or embarking on digital scavenger hunts in real environments.

There is room for AR in art – imagine tagging your surroundings with artwork or navigating a collage of photos captured in your present space.

And there is room for AR in social – imagine leaving messages for friends on physical walls or seeing through walls altogether to locate your friend on the other side.

Imagine several worlds layered on top of the real world, brand new reality spectra to explore and conquer. The opportunities to create and discover await. I encourage you to watch this sector carefully. 

How to Track Your Sleep And Earn A Better Night’s Rest

The key to a higher quality life is through self assessment. To improve performance, break habits and adjust personal behavior, one must quantify his or her life with gadgets, apps and spreadsheets that help track personal trends and identify areas for improvement. I am very much on board with the Quantified Self school of thought. I maintain spreadsheets galore.

I have never been able to track my sleep in spreadsheets. Why? Well, because I am asleep.

Enter Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock. My friends Drew and Nicole introduced me to this rather handy iOS application that graphs your sleep phases. Place your iPod or iPhone on the bed next to you at night and the accelerometer will monitor your every move to determine which phase of sleep you are in. The main purpose behind the app is to wake you during your lightest sleep phase where you feel rested and relaxed (in a specified time range rather than a hard alarm time), but I have found it more useful for the sleep graphs.

Sleep Cycle Graph

Above, my graph from Friday – went to bed at 1:40am, woke up at 9:59am and slept a total of 8 hours and 19 minutes (believe it or not, college friends – I actually sleep now!).

With only a week of data, I can already see trends. I am taking notes on pre-sleep activity, successful bed times, successful waking times and more. Apparently, a glass of wine within an hour of bedtime has helped me to sleep quicker. Uh oh!

Keep track and you can unlock self improvement.

An Interesting Statistic About iPhone Users

While backing up my BlackBerry yesterday, I analyzed my SMS history and discovered something noteworthy.

91% of my texting contacts with iPhones (76 total) take an average 48% longer to respond to my texts than the rest of my texting contacts.

I blame this on iPhone’s notification layout or AT&T’s service.  I’d rather not blame my friends for being lame.