Cliff Kuang at Wired has the scoop and some insight into how the app was developed, along with some sample videos that are just stunning:
Eventually the duo uploaded video of the app in action to Instagram’s internal message board, where it received the ultimate blessing: a single comment from Instagram co-founder and CEO, Kevin Systrom. It simply declared, “This is cool.” This, in turn, egged them on to present their project to the wider group, at the company’s first “pitch-a-thon” for new creative tools, held last January.
Of course the fact that it’s even a separate app at all begs some questions to those who debate the merits of the single-purpose app/app constellation phenomenon:
The honchos at Instagram figured some users would grok the possibilities immediately and become obsessed with it. But most would ignore it. To built it into Instagram, you’d have to hide it, to keep the core app simple for its millions of users. This would be a double bind for Hyperlapse: Power users would find it annoying to use, if they found it at all, and everyday users would simply never look for it. So they split it off into its own product. “We didn’t want to create a special use that would just be hidden,” says Mike Krieger, Instagram’s co-founder and CTO.
Marc Andreessen (among others) has spoken of services that were at one point the exclusive province of the rich and well-connected that are now accessible to the masses. Even over the last ten years this philosophy bears itself out. Blogging platforms made everyone a writer. Social media made everyone a broadcaster. Smartphone cameras (and by extension, software like Instagram) made everyone a photographer. Will this make everyone a film producer? We’ll see.
It’s not getting any easier for app developers. We’ve cited some of the more sobering statistics previously: app store revenue disparities, consumers’ unwillingness to give new apps a shot etc. Some folks, however, are trying to help their fellow app developers gain more insight into their apps in order to try and break through the discovery bottleneck. Two such apps debuted on Product Hunt today: Reviews for iOS and TestNest.
Reviews for iOS allows developers, marketers or anyone curious to compile all of an app’s reviews, filter them by various metrics (e.g. number of stars) and translate reviews in a single language. This can provide insight into how a particular app is performing, whether you’re a developer looking for actionable information on how your app is doing or whether you’re simply looking at competitors across a particular category or segment. While iOS provides this information already in iTunes Connect, one of the co-founders, Patrick Balestra, argued in the ensuing discussion that the information provided isn’t as valuable as it could be:
We used iTC for a lot of time and we thought that it wasn’t good enough. Reviews are one of the most important place to get user feedback. There is no way to see all the territories reviews all in once. You can filter by number of stars too. Translating reviews is a tap away and you don’t need to copy and paste multiple times. And one of the most important thing, you’re not notified at all when a new review is published.
The founders are currently selling the app directly for $2.99 rather than going the freemium route….at least for now. We’ll see if they change their mind in the near future.
The other app, TestNest, allows app developers to split-test landing pages with different images, copy & pricing to see which combinations might appeal to the widest audience. The biggest hurdle is that these are landing pages only, as opposed to actual App Store listings. This is because neither Google or Apple allow developers the ability to do formal split testing in their respective app stores. So testing a landing page with traffic garnered from a paid acquisition program like Google Adwords or Facebook Ads may yield a different set of results than if you were able to test that same copy on the app store itself. Still, if you’re targeting folks who regularly download apps, it’s a way to get at least some idea on what kind of headlines and/or copy might be enticing to people and what may ultimately induce a download. Founder Neek Kurat posted a screenshot in the discussion below of what a potential landing page would look like using Angry Birds as an example:
TestNest is currently in beta and you can sign up for an invite on their landing page.
h/t Product Hunt
Product-market fit is elusive in general, and acutely so on mobile, where distribution pipes are either constrained or flooded. I’m seeing too many teams building for Android too early. Unless there is a huge foundation under the iOS apps, building for Android is likely only to result in a few spikes in user growth and then a lifetime of hair pulling — too much for a small startup to handle.
This is going to upset Android loyalists but but I think Semil’s right here. For most SV startups and those targeting primarily a Western audience, this is all true. You can always start with a baseline of iOS users and then scale from there, even if it’s a social/communications app which, at scale, you anticipate having say about 75% of your users running Android. The only exceptions to this might be localized apps that are targeting a developing market in particular, in which case the amount of iOS users will be so small as to be meaningless for testing purposes.
While the apps are going to be specific to the platform, my main goal is to select apps where the data resides outside the app in a cloud service I can access from any app. Byword, for example, uses Dropbox to store its files. If the app doesn’t allow the data outside of its comfy little silo, my second guideline is the app should be cross-platform. The Kindle app is available for most devices, as is Comixology. I have a lot of magazines in Zinio, and, again it’s cross-platform.
I try and do this as well. Even though I’ve become more or less an Apple loyalist, I do still use a Windows PC on occasion so it’s important for me to be able to access my data anywhere. The only area where I’ve really screwed myself is with the productivity software I’m using. I use Things, which, while a fantastic program, is Apple only. So while it has syncing capability across all Apple devices, it’s difficult to export anything to a Google Calendar or something cloud-based.
Oh, the ‘ol padlock. At this time of year it is on the back to school shopping lists of millions of students. It’s also the inspiration behind the Noke by Fuz Designs, the latest runaway success project on Kickstarter.
If this sounds similar to another Bluetooth lock Kickstarter project, that’s because it is. A Canadian company called Total North started a Kickstarter project last year for its Teo lock. Unfortunately, the campaign fell short of its funding goal.
What are the differences between Teo and Noke? Several, according to the article: mostly related to design and price:
Total North’s Teo has a decidedly unorthodox design, looking more like the unholy offspring of a door handle and a large Ikea hex key than a traditional padlock. Not ugly by anyone’s standards, just a little odd. Gibbs thought so too, saying, “Their design missed in a few areas. They show a clip in their video with it on a locker and it just doesn’t look quite right.”
Fuz Designs’ Noke on the other hand, is a kindred spirit to the Nest Thermostat in the sense that it distills the classic combination lock down to its simplest elements: A round body and u-shaped shackle that latches vertically and swivels side-to-side.
“I think price point is huge difference. Ours is much more in the range that is acceptable for product like this. Also [the Teo] was based out of Canada so anyone in the U.S. who wanted one would have to pay the $15 in shipping,” Gibbs points out. No question about it — $59 with shipping included is easier to swallow than $79+ $15 for shipping. Unless you’re Canadian.
The Kickstarter can be found here, if you’d like to donate. The campaign has already reached it’s funding goal and is at just over $145k as of this writing.
Like a lot of you, I’ve become a big fan of Product Hunt over the last few months as a place to find out about new startups, apps and other web-centric products. While I still frequent HN, beta.list, Springwise as well as the traditional tech news outlets, I’m finding that the listings on Product Hunt manage to maintain an air of high quality while the listing process appears to be a little more democratic and not just confined to those with connections in the Valley. And while I’m not a huge fan of such heavy curation of comments (and more specifically, commenters) I get the rationale behind it; the level of dialogue between those invited to comment and the founders behind the listings creates a lot of positive engagement and has clearly contributed to a healthy amount of buzz around the community itself.
The one part of the PH experience, however, that may be served a little bit better is on mobile. Sometimes, the list format gets to be a little too much to take in on the small screen.
That’s why a Product Hunt super fan has built ProducTind: an app that leverages the Product Hunt API to show cards of PH products with the familiar Tinder-like swipe functionality that’s become a seminal UI feature among the top mobile apps. Simply swipe right to register that product as a “like” and you can use the list view to see all of your likes in one place. You can also click on the card itself to view the same information you’d see on PH.com: how many people up voted that product and who they were, as well as the threaded comments section. For this, the app simply opens the traditional PH mobile web experience in a pop-up window, which could probably be customized to a more elegant, in-app solution. But it’s a great start and as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time looking at information on new startups (and citing them in posts like this!), it’s incredibly helpful.
Additionally, the Product Hunt API is being rolled out to other interested parties. So if you’d like to sign up and build something on the back of the PH API, founder Ryan Hoover has set up a Typeform form here.
Almost a third of smartphone users do not download any apps for their devices in a typical month, according to a report by Deloitte that predicts the volume of app store sales is hitting a ceiling.
The average number of apps downloaded on a monthly basis has decreased considerably in 2014, the firm found in a survey of people in the UK. As smartphones saturate mobile markets in the US and Europe, developers must rely on customers continuing to download new apps for their businesses to grow.
The Sense is a sleep tracking device that measures temperature, humidity and ambient light.It goes for $99 with the campaign starting today, but pre-orders will start at $129. Proud’s company Hello is aiming for a $100,000 goal. He hasn’t disclosed external venture funding, but you could assume there’s probably some significant round given that they’ve been working secretly on the product for about a year.
In addition to tracking temperature and light, his device has a particulate sensor that can detect small particles like pollen that can disrupt sleep for people with allergies. A “smart alarm” can wake a person up at the right time in their sleep cycle, like early forerunners in the space from several years ago like the Zeo.
This is cool although probably very imperfect in determining what wakes a person up in the middle of the night, since there are plenty of things that go on internally within your body that impact sleep habits that a device like this won’t likely be able to pick up on.
There is also obviously a lot of competition in this space from health wearables (e.g. Fitbit) and other software companies. It’s funny, in trying to categorize it as a product, it’s competing against wearables but it isn’t really a wearable.
As of now, they’re up to a little over $150,000 on Kickstarter.
Great concept, pain point is there re: cost of TOEFL tests, distance to travel, weeks to get results back etc. Question becomes how to push past the hurdle of perception that the tests can be gamed, cheated on easily, etc. Looks like they’re trying to address that:
Duolingo plans to combat cheating by using proctors — real people — who will supervise test takers through the device’s camera and microphone. Before the test starts, the app asks you to take a picture of an official government identification document.
The other issue is the reliability of the test itself:
Duolingo has worked with Carnegie Mellon — which is currently looking into accepting the certification for college applicants – to demonstrate the scores are closely correlated with the TOEFL. Having taken a number of standardized tests, I don’t find it hard to believe that a well-designed computer-adaptive test could produce statistically similar results in a fraction of the time.
Apple reported earnings earlier today for fiscal Q3.
(The company reported) $37.4 billion in revenue, $7.7 billion in net profit representing $1.28 per share. Compared to the year-ago quarter, it corresponds to a growth of 5.9 percent in revenue, and 19.6 percent in EPS (adjusted for the7-for-1 split).
This was slightly below analysts’ expectations. From Re:code:
Analysts expected Apple to report earnings of $1.23 a share on revenue of $38 billion. Looking forward, Apple said to expect revenue of $37 billion to $40 billion for its July-to-September quarter. Analysts had been forecasting a revenue projection of around $40.4 billion, with per-share earnings pegged at $1.34. Apple didn’t give a per-share earnings forecast but did say to expect gross margins of 37 percent to 38 percent.
Of those numbers, the most strikingly off belonged to that of the iPad. It’s the second quarter in a row that iPad sales have taken a significant dip. Predictably, some are predicting gloom & doom punctuated from cannibalization by the smartphone: a threat some are certain to accelerate with the introduction of a larger iPhone 6 model in September.
The overall tablet market has been shaky, and many people think it’s because smartphones with more powerful processors and bigger, better screens make them seem less necessary. Whenever Apple does release its new iPhones, they will likely be both bigger and more powerful than the iPhone 5S. That’s likely to be good news for Apple as it tries to claw market share back from Samsung. It could also be bad news for the iPad, as it tries to sell iPads to people with big phones in their pockets. But Apple has never been shy of cannibalizing its own products, so the iPad’s loss could be the company’s gain.
Of course one thing that hasn’t been mentioned very much that may be contributing to the growth slowdown is that the product’s lifecycle may be more in line with that of the PC (or Mac) than the smartphone. Back in March, Fortune published information from a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners study that found that:
Replacement: Eight out of ten lost or broken iPhones are replaced within two days. Owners of a broken Mac or iPad may not get to it for a week or more.
Recycling: iPad owners are more than twice as likely as iPhone owners to give their old tablets to a friend or family member.
First-time buyers: Only 1-2% of iPhone buyers purchase their very first phone. By contrast, the percentage of first-time iPad buyers was 78% in December 2013, down only slightly from 84% in March 2013.
Even though people might not be buying as many new iPads as Apple might have originally hoped for, they continue to dominate the overall tablet market. So I don’t think there’s much to worry about. And while tablets may be in flux, iPhone sales jumped another 12.7% from the same time a year ago.
I know this is really going out on a limb but I think Apple’s going to be OK, despite what some alarmists (and Wall Street analysts) think.
Steven Tweedie from Business Insider penned a piece this morning ripping into Apple’s App Store saying it sucks, is outdated etc. It’s a well-researched piece with some good quotes and I agree with most of the concerns.
Of course Google Play is ancient and outdated as well. The most common complaints involved here relate to both major app stores. Search is probably the biggest one:
Fixing how search works within the App Store is a tough issue to tackle. Due to the App Store’s sheer size, many apps share a similar name, spelling, or keyword, which makes sifting through pages of obscure and aging apps a pain, especially when you have a specific app in mind.
On personalized search specifically:
Just as Google draws upon a user’s past search history to personalize search results, Apple could also introduce some sort of personalized recommendation feature that could directly feed into search, adding a wealth of context.
So why hasn’t Apple attacked these problems sooner? I’m just not sure it’s such a huge priority for them. Take this quote from the article as a starting point:
From Apple’s perspective, it needs to keep developers happy lest they run to Google and the Play Store. As Apple competes with Android, one of its key advantages is the the ability to retain developers who are making brilliant mobile applications. Without those people, Apple risks losing the platform war to Android.
Except the truth is it’s actually the other way around: developers build applications for users, not themselves. So long as users remain loyal to iOS, then developers will continue dealing with an imperfect App Store just to reach them. What do most users want? Their favorite apps, available to them at any given moment. And most of those are the same apps that have been in the top 30 for years and are easily reachable through the App Store. They don’t use very many and they don’t have very much patience for new apps.
So in that sense, Apple has very little incentive to make wholesale changes to the App Store. It’s not the open web where anyone can type in a query (e.g. traditional Google search). It’s a closed ecosystem with a great deal of inherent lock-in thanks to this availability of apps, as well as continuity between devices and a litany of other considerations. Smaller app developers looking for traction have a much greater incentive to push for a more equitable app store than platform operators or indeed major app developers.
The harsh truth is that Apple (or Google, for that matter) doesn’t need them to make huge profits from their respective app stores. The discovery problem is only a problem for one segment of the app ecosystem: and it’s not the segment that’s making Apple the most money.
Nielsen looked at app usage of about 5,000 U.S. adults in the fourth quarter of 2013. Including all age groups, people spent 65% more time each month using apps than they did two years ago, Nielsen said. But the average number of apps they used each month increased slightly to 26.8 from 26.5 a year earlier and 23.2 two years earlier.
No single age group used more than 30 apps each month. The youngest group used 28 apps, while the next-highest age group — 25-34 — used 29.5.
For some perspective, a study conducted in 2010 showed that the average user looked at 89 websites per month, although that number has almost certainly changed since then as more content has migrated into the app layer.
Some fantastic insights here.
Storm8’s Toufeeq Hussain:
The App Constellation strategy works when you have a core resource which can be shared across multiple apps. Slingshot and Poke are attempting to create a new resource (reply-to-view-images for Slingshot and disappearing images for Poke) and hence isn’t really leveraging whats core to Facebook (social graph and shared photos). In the case of Slingshot, even the social graph had to recreated from scratch. So even though these apps get huge media attention when they launch, they slowly slide down the charts as there is nothing holding them up.
Pinterest’s Casey Winters:
You don’t have the advantage of iterating and starting small and working your way up to popularity like most apps do. It’s very tough to launch new apps this way and be successful because a ton of people try the app the moment it’s launched before you have any market feedback. Typically, people try it, discard it, and you don’t get another shot. So what ends up happening is that popular apps buy newly popular apps instead.
These are fair points although in Facebook’s case, the perceived non-utility or “blah factor” of these apps may have just as much to do with their falling down the charts as any perceived connection to Facebook’s core product.
Moreover, in Facebook’s case, I think there’s a more fundamental reason why they’ve chosen to build new experiences that don’t leverage the core Facebook experience: they’re worried about younger generations developing fatigue from the core product. While there are conflicting reports as to just how prevalent this is, these new app experiences, combined with strategic acquisitions of some of the most buzz-worthy apps on the market, give Facebook a way to reach users who may not be interested in FB the product and its leveraged dataset. So unlikely some other companies, there is more behind what they’re trying to do than simply saying “let’s build out an app constellation.”
Over the years, the number of “zombie apps” has grown, the firm found: by last month (June 2014), there were 79.6 percent zombies (953,387 out of 1,197,087), up from 77 percent in May 2014. And these figures are up from last year (June 2013), when 70.4 percent of all apps were zombies.
80/20 rule in effect, almost to the dot. Not surprising.
But Localytics also points to an emerging trend referred to as “app burnout.” Since 2011, the percentage of Power Users has always been greater than Loyal Users, and now those figures are diverging even more, the firm says. From Q1 to Q2, Power Users increased by 1 percent while Loyal Users decreased by 2 percent. In Q2, the 25,000 apps Localytics measured had an aggregate of 26 percent of Power Users and 17 percent of Loyal Users, which could be an issue for app developers because Power Users will often use an app heavily in a short period of time, then stop using the app entirely when they reach an “engagement ceiling” – like completing a game, a task or specific function.
The numbers relative to that type of burnout probably skew widely depending on vertical. Games are notorious for having short shelf lives so you’ll always see the kind of churn that most productivity apps don’t have.
A change in UK tax law that may take force at the start of 2015 would push the price of apps, music and other downloads and “e-services” higher in the United Kingdom. The legal shift would see downloads in the United Kingdom charged the value added tax (VAT) of that country. Currently, The Guardian reports, companies like Apple and other digital store owners “are allowed to sell digital downloads through countries such as Luxembourg, where the tax rate is as low as 3%.”
Twitter co-founder and Medium creator Ev Williams has posted an article about what the Medium app is about, and he says that, after consideration, the team decided to produce an app created just for reading.
“When we started working on this six months ago,” says Williams, “we debated a lot about the purpose of the app. Was it just for reading? Should you write on it? If just for reading, what would be better about it than just using the mobile web.”
Makes sense, particularly since most people end up on Medium to read anyway. Publishing content via mobile is still pretty clunky: I have yet to experience an app that’s really nailed not only the ability to write (and format) content the way you want but incorporated all of the bells and whistles that enhance the content publishing experience. Take WordPress, for example. The app is seamless, responsive and well laid out but the plugin that makes it possible for this blog to function as a “link blog” and the custom field that it renders as a result doesn’t show up in the app. The only way I can get that functionality is on desktop. And since so many articles I post are in this format, it makes it hard to justify even picking up the iPad at all when I sit down to write. Which sucks because I still do a lot of my reading on it and I’d love to share what I’m reading in a more seamless way to this site.
If you think you’ve nailed it though, you should get in touch and I’ll review it. 🙂
FireChat (free) is one of the new generation of apps that lets you communicate to nearby iOS devices without Internet or mobile phone coverage. It shows you other people who are local to you, say on the same camping trip, and you can chat or share images using Apple’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework, which can use WiFi or Bluetooth to connect two or more devices.
There are no logins or accounts required, and no setup. Everything is open, and that is the blessing and the curse of this app. You have no way to filter who contacts you, so at a venue like a basketball game you could be deluged with abuse. The range of the app is about 30 feet.
Following an in-app purchase, such as virtual coins or fake cat food, a message now appears in iOS 7.1 stating that unless changed, for the next 15 minutes, more in-app purchases can be made without needing a password. A button to iOS device Settings is also visible.
This is a reaction to some of the recent lawsuits levied at Apple in recent months from angry parents who have allowed their children to download a game, only to find out a short time later that they’ve racked up a giant bill of in-app purchases. It’s a setting that can be changed although I’m sure most parents aren’t aware of how to change it. So Apple now has additional “ass-cover” in the event of future lawsuits, although I wonder if it would be less of a headache for them if the 15 minute grace period was opt-in and not turned on by default. Speaking as a non-five year old and just looking at my own behavior when I engage with freemium games, I don’t normally make a purchase in the first 15 minutes anyway. But I guess enough people do that Apple wants to continue making that option as seamless as possible for people, parental backlash be damned.
Great interview with Tim Berners-Lee by Steven Shankland of CNET. Definitely worth reading the entire thing.
On the rise of mobile and its relationship with the Web:
Q: So much development effort nowadays is going into mobile apps distributed through Google or Apple app stores, often vertically integrated with various services. It’s very antithetical to the open, interlinked world of the Web. How much does that concern you, and what can you do to reclaim the developer momentum that’s being lost?
Berners-Lee: It does concern me. I think of those as legacy applications. At conferences, I encourage people to develop Web apps. I think people notice if they take a magazine, developed as a native app, it doesn’t interact properly with the Web. There are fundamental philosophical reasons it’s less powerful. If you don’t give it a URL [Web address], people can’t tweet about it. If people can’t tweet or email about it, then it’s not part of the discourse. So your article, beautiful though it may be on a native app, is not part of the scene. It’s not part of the discourse, it’s not part of life, it’s not liked or despised. Being part of the Web is going to be important. The idea is to work toward the best of both worlds — all the advantages of a native app and all the advantages of the Web. With my fitness tracker, I want it to run all the time, even offline like a native app. But every day of my workout history will have a URL and I can link my friends to it.
As an industry, we were willing to sacrifice openness & connectivity for productivity: HTML5’s performance issues pretty much killed off the concept of the mobile web app, at least in the immediate near-term. That said, I would be willing to bet that someone will have another go at it, perhaps with a different programming language that can bridge both worlds and connect app content with the rest of the Web without sacrificing the speed and responsiveness that we’ve all become accustomed to.
This debate still has room to run and there’s a lot more that’s uncertain about how this all shakes out. As Ben Bajarin wrote yesterday on the future of mobile content & connectivity:
What stage of the mobile web are we in today? It seems as though we are out of the very early stages but are we even at the middle stages yet? What if we translate web pages into Apps? Are we still in the early days of apps? We are in the process of connecting the unconnected. For the next billion people, the web will be fresh. Apps, browsing, media, it will all be brand new. We are moving into an area of explosive growth driven by consumers who never owned a personal computer, or even any electrical gadget of any kind before.
Yesterday, I downloaded SwiftKey’s recently-released Swiftkey Note iOS app. Because iOS won’t allow for a 3rd party app to replace the keyboard at a global level, they’ve released this app to function exclusively with Evernote as a pilot. In syncing the app with Evernote, I found something interesting that I hadn’t seen before. Instead of simply connecting the two apps and allowing the user to disassociate the connectivity whenever they feel inclined, it timestamps the relationship between Evernote and the connecting app so that it automatically revokes access at a given time.
Moreover, it doesn’t even allow you the option of permanent connectivity if you’re so inclined. Here’s a screenshot from another 3rd party app, Doo (a document syncing app), when requesting 3rd party access to Evernote:
So the furthest out you can go is one year, with the option to set connectivity for as short as a day(!). But leaving aside the actual lengths of time themselves, it seems counter-intuitive to how most people make the decision to sync or un-sync their apps with a larger service.
Certainly, there are cases where 3rd party apps do things you don’t want: even if you find an app valuable on its own merits, you may find along the way that it shares data with the parent service in a way that you don’t want, etc. The canonical example of this are games that use Facebook as a central login, whereby, unless you say otherwise, detailed information from the game is transmitted to people on your Wall. Even if you find the game fun, you may choose to disassociate it with the other service if you don’t want that information being broadcast to a wider audience. Or in the case of Evernote, maybe you decide somewhere down the line, you don’t want a third party app to create a note out of something you’ve written or recorded. But most people already do this by removing connectivity manually rather than waiting for a service to do it for them at a pre-determined time.
The downside of this goes back to the lack of permanence. If you find the sync-up to be useful, you can be going about your business only to find a year later that Evernote has disconnected itself from the third-party service you’re using. I’m not sure if Evernote issues warnings prior to access being revoked: that may mitigate the impact to some degree. But it seems, on the surface, that there are very few benefits to having this timestamped connectivity versus a simpler yes/no option with a major downside risk to users who may find themselves suddenly disconnected from a 3rd party app that was enhancing their Evernote experience.