Archive

Posts Tagged ‘bells and whistles’

Ask Slashdot: Good Books and Tools For a Software/Hardware Hobbyist?

July 31st, 2012 07:06 admin View Comments

Education

postermmxvicom writes “I have a friend who is a mechanic, but enjoys tinkering with software and hardware as a hobby. I want to get him a gift that will either broaden his horizons or deepen his understanding in these fields. He is proficient at soldering components and removing them from circuit boards. His programming experience is with a wide variety of scripting languages. He recently used teensy and arduino boards and an accelerometer to add some bells and whistles to a toy car he made. He also used his knowledge to help a friend find and correct weaknesses in his shareware (that would have let ‘customers’ share more freely than intended). He is fascinated that people can create chips to modify existing hardware. Do you know of any good books or kits (or even tools of the trade) that would appeal to a hobbyist and allow him to grow? Is there anything that might also play off of his handyman/mechanic abilities?”

Source: Ask Slashdot: Good Books and Tools For a Software/Hardware Hobbyist?

SnipSnap: How a Newspaper Vet Aims to Remake Paper Coupons For the Mobile Era

May 29th, 2012 05:30 admin View Comments

It all started with a pack of diapers. Ted Mann, then a regional digital director for Gannett and a new dad, was waiting in line to pay for diapers when he realized he hadn’t brought the coupons. Like so many coupons clipped from the local paper, they sat in what Mann refers to as the “bowl of shame” – that repository of unclaimed discounts that so many households know all too well. Mann knew there had to be a digital solution to this classic, analog problem.

He started by using his iPhone’s camera app to take pictures of coupons he and his wife found in the paper. As crude as it was, this approach worked. When other customers started asking what app he was using, Mann knew he was onto something.

In August 2011, he quit his day job managing digital operations for six newspapers in southern New Jersey to launch SnipSnap, a mobile app that helps consumers drag paper-based coupons into the 21st century by scanning and organizing them. 

Just how widely used are paper coupons? With print media in decline and the rapid rise of mobile commerce, you’d think that traditional coupons would be headed toward extinction. But they’re not. 

Last year, about 3.5 billion coupons were redeemed by consumers, according to research conducted by collaborative commerce firm Inmar. After a few years of declining, the number of overall coupon redemptions starting increasing again in 2006. It has climbed 34.6% since then. 

From Print to Pixels: Coupons Evolve into the 21st Century 

It was in his role at Gannett that Mann first became interested in coupons and how they could be adapted for our new, digital world. 

“I wasn’t all that thrilled with the existing apps,” Mann says. “One day I started to wonder: What if I could just take a picture of one of the printed coupons I have?”

That’s precisely what SnipSnap does, but with some handy bells and whistles tacked on. It doesn’t just take a photo of each coupon, but rather picks out and properly digitizes pertinent details, such as the face value, expiration date, barcode and name of the store. The app notifies you when a coupon is about to expire and reminds you about it when you’re near the store.

Mann enlisted iOS developer Kostas Nasis as the company’s CTO and mobile designer Kyle Martin as VP of Product. The trio were brought on by DreamIt Ventures startup accelerator program and then went on to Project Liberty, a startup incubator launched early this year by the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

After a successful soft launch that included a stint as one of Apple’s featured apps, SnipSnap was demonstrated at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York this week. 

The app’s user base has continued to blow up. “We have phenomenal amounts of structured coupon data, redemption data, coupon clipping data and location data,” says Mann. “We’re now focused on putting all that data to work.”

Other plans for the immediate future include reponding to feature requests and building in more social features, so users can more easily share coupons with friends and family. They’re also beginning to forge a business model by selling paid coupon placements to big-name brands. The first such arrangement, with clothing retailer Aeropostale, just went live during the weekend.

SnipSnap is currently available for iOS, but an Android version is in the works for later this summer. 

Lead photo by MissMessie.

Source: SnipSnap: How a Newspaper Vet Aims to Remake Paper Coupons For the Mobile Era

Meet Apple’s Secret Feline App Tester

May 14th, 2012 05:30 admin View Comments

What goes on in Apple’s app testing lab? Just ask Dive Apple. She may be a cat. She lives in San Francisco. She takes lots of photos of Apple products. And her Facebook posts are publicly visible. Let’s take a look at what she has to say.

Is Dive Apple Legit?

We were introduced to Dive by a reputable developer, whose identity we will protect. The developer discovered this account through unusual activity on an upcoming iOS app while it was in review by Apple. It wasn’t released yet, but here was Facebook user Dive Apple trying it out, mostly by taking pictures of Apple hardware.

Why is Dive Apple’s profile public? That’s a reasonable question. The account has eight friends, and they all have various levels of account privacy. To rigorously test the Facebook components of apps, Apple would have to try out all the various privacy levels. There’s nothing too juicy here, but unreleased apps are definitely represented, as well as photos and videos of a few square feet of an Apple office.

Dive Is Almost 4 Years Old

Dive was born in 2008, and the first thing she did on Facebook was test Naked Touch, which is apparently some kind of touch drawing app.

Dive Apple and Friends

Dive’s friends are mostly animals (or Mon Calamari, an alien species from Star Wars), and most of them have “Dive” in their names. That makes sense for accounts designed for diving into apps and testing all the little Facebook-related bells and whistles. The various Dives all have different levels of Facebook privacy. Dive Apple is the least shy.

Hanging Out in Cupertino

Dive lives in San Francisco, but she spends a fair amount of time a 45-minute drive south in Cupertino. Her favorite place is the Duke of Edinburgh Pub and Restaurant, conveniently located between areas of Apple’s main campus.

The Duke has pretty solid Yelp reviews, and it’s located smack-dab in the middle of the techie part of Cupertino. After an Apple employee famously left an iPhone 4 prototype in a bar, The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch called The Duke a “likely candidate” as a place to happen upon the next Apple lost-and-found prize.

Dive Loves Apple Stuff

Dive spends most of her days testing apps with names like Telefir Login and Zliq. Many of the apps on her Timeline don’t appear in the App Store. Maybe they’ve been rejected; maybe they just aren’t out yet.

Dive takes tons of pictures of her desk, which is covered with Apple hardware. There are iPads still in boxes, iPhones and iPods littered among the Magic Mice, and one tantalizing shot of an iMac with a sticky note and a sheet of paper visible. 

The page is clearly an app review checklist. The header is hard to make out, but it seems to say “App Review Checklist.” It’s easier to make out the text at the bottom: “…storing an app from complete, make sure to claim the app back,” it says. The last visible line reads  ”…complete until sonar is sent.”

There’s also a shot that shows Dive’s suspiciously human (and male?) legs.

Dive frequently posts little snippets of video from various apps, but they don’t give anything away. They’re not embeddable either, but here’s a post you can view on Facebook.

Dive doesn’t leak any top-secret Apple devices. But she does test lots of apps, even ones that don’t officially exist yet, so her feed is fun to watch. Even though it’s mostly keyboard pics, Dive’s Timeline offers some rare insights into Apple’s app testing process.

You can find her at facebook.com/dive3452.

Source: Meet Apple’s Secret Feline App Tester

NPR’s Music App For iPad is What Radio Should Look Like in the 21st Century

February 16th, 2012 02:00 admin View Comments

Before the rise of smartphones and tablets, it was hard to imagine Internet audio content ever supplanting radio. The limited Web programming that was available may have been convenient to listen to at one’s desk, but it didn’t do much good in the car, on a jog or otherwise on the go.

Today, traditional radio is still far from being displaced, but streaming audio from mobile devices sure does offer an attractive, personalized and more interactive alternative. For some of the strongest examples, look no further than NPR’s digital efforts. The historically radio-centric news organization has wasted no time building a bridge to the future with its digital products, including a few rather impressive mobile applications.

Most recently, NPR has expanded its music-focused iPhone app to the tablet screen. NPR Music for iPad, which went live yesterday, takes their voluminous archive of music coverage and live performances and packs them all into one very well-designed app.

The content is broken down in a few different ways, which makes it easy to browse depending on what users are looking for. It can be viewed by content type (articles, videos, etc) or by genre or individual radio programs. There’s also a search utility if you’re looking for a particular artist. If the band or musician you’re looking for has appeared on any NPR program in recent years, they’ll come up in search results. This could be an interview on WXPN, video of a live “Tiny Desk Concert” performance, a feature on “All Things Considered” or just about any other kind of music coverage NPR does.

The interface is fluid and intuitive, with blocks of content sliding and falling into place when you make a new selection on the navigation. When you pull down and release to reveal additional content, the page blurs quickly blurs in and out of focus, which is a nice touch. They could have simply sized the iPhone app up and made it fit on the iPad without any bells and whistles, but they didn’t. It’s evident that the team put some thought into the user experience on this one.

If the app has a single feature that makes it worth downloading, it’s probably the playlist builder. As you come across audio clips and shows you want to hear, whether it be via search or by browsing, you can add queue them to play one after another. This ends up working like a sort of personalized radio station, not of songs, but of NPR’s best in-depth music coverage.

Source: NPR’s Music App For iPad is What Radio Should Look Like in the 21st Century

The Squarest Black Friday Deal Finders: Foursquare, Poorsquare

November 23rd, 2011 11:05 admin View Comments

Foursquare-Poorsquare-150.pngEven though Black Friday might be happening on Thanksgiving Day after dinner, there is obviously still an offline component to the whole ordeal. Location-based check-in service Foursquare, released an infographic on its blog yesterday that includes tips for finding deals. Users who are looking for an additional option can try Poorsquare, an app that uses Foursquare data to surface nearby locations where you can score free stuff.

Poorsquare is built on a basic Drupal platform and, not surprisingly, boasts zero bells and whistles. It is available in 85 U.S. cities and in London. Yesterday, it arrived in St. Louis. Some call Poorsquare “Foursquare for the 99%.”.

Meanwhile, the infographic from Foursquare shows that the top 25 retailers on Black Friday last year were Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Toys R Us and Macy’s, respectively.

Foursquare-infographic-Black-Friday.jpeg

Target, Toys R Us, Best Buy and Walmart are all offering Black Friday deals online one day early, too.

Source: The Squarest Black Friday Deal Finders: Foursquare, Poorsquare

The Squarest Black Friday Deal Finders: Foursquare, Poorsquare

November 23rd, 2011 11:05 admin View Comments

Foursquare-Poorsquare-150.pngEven though Black Friday might be happening on Thanksgiving Day after dinner, there is obviously still an offline component to the whole ordeal. Location-based check-in service Foursquare, released an infographic on its blog yesterday that includes tips for finding deals. Users who are looking for an additional option can try Poorsquare, an app that uses Foursquare data to surface nearby locations where you can score free stuff.

Poorsquare is built on a basic Drupal platform and, not surprisingly, boasts zero bells and whistles. It is available in 85 U.S. cities and in London. Yesterday, it arrived in St. Louis. Some call Poorsquare “Foursquare for the 99%.”.

Meanwhile, the infographic from Foursquare shows that the top 25 retailers on Black Friday last year were Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Toys R Us and Macy’s, respectively.

Foursquare-infographic-Black-Friday.jpeg

Target, Toys R Us, Best Buy and Walmart are all offering Black Friday deals online one day early, too.

Source: The Squarest Black Friday Deal Finders: Foursquare, Poorsquare

Netflix’s New Tablet UI Does Not Solve Its Search Problems

November 15th, 2011 11:40 admin View Comments

netflix_tablet_UI_new.jpg

Netflix today announced a new user interface for all Android tablets, including both the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook. The interface displays twice as many movies to place in the user queue and is generally a better looking app than it was before. Yet, does the new UI solve some of Netflix’s problems with search and discovery on tablet devices?

One of the biggest problems with Netflix on tablets (the new UI will be coming to the iPad soon) and third-party devices like the Roku is that the search function is not as intuitive as it is on PCs and laptops. For instance, we were watching The Change Up with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds the other night on the Roku. We then wanted to find more Bateman movies or shows but the search function for the Roku (and Android tablets and the iPad) does not allow users to search by actors, directors or studios. As of this point, only the way to find those movies is to search through the browser.

Hulu Plus is the same way. The only search results that come up are TV show and movie titles. Ultimately, this may be the biggest problem with discovery on either premium streaming content service. Netflix can add as many bells and whistles to the Android tablet UI as it likes, but ultimately it is just a beefier version of the same thing.

How can Netflix solve this problem? One of the best avenues may be a partnership or acquisition. Does Netflix have the liquid capital to make an outright acquisition of the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb)? That would solve many of Netflix’s discovery problems in a snap. Currently, what a lot of users do is check IMDb independent of Netflix and then go and search for those particular titles. The great thing about IMDb is that it breaks down content by actor, studio, director etc. It is precisely the type of search that Netflix should have on tablets and third-party streaming devices.

Netflix may have had an opportunity earlier this year with the movie app and critic base Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes. Warner Bros. snapped up Flixster as part of its content collection, discovery and social network and hence turned it into an exceptionally horrid desktop app (see our review here). With Netflix’s often tenuous relationship with the major movie studios, Flixster has been closed off to them forever.

The bottom line: It is nice to see a new tablet UI for Netflix, but it does not solve the real problems that users have on devices. What kind of feature do you want to see from Netflix on tablets? Let us know in the comments.

Source: Netflix’s New Tablet UI Does Not Solve Its Search Problems

Tribesports Raises $400K To Create An All-In-One Digital Resource For Sports Nuts

June 10th, 2011 06:40 admin View Comments

It’s tough to embark on ambitious fitness plans or to learn a new sport without the help of friends or likeminded people to help coach you through the process. Trying to go from lite jogger to marathon runner or from casual golfer to shooting par: The challenges are invigorating, sure, but vim and vigor won’t necessarily carry you all the way to Olympic glory. This is one of the main issues being tackled by Tribesports, an early-stage, U.K.-based startup, which wants to help motivate and encourage sports enthusiasts online to improve in their sport of choice — and be active offline.

Tribesports has essentially built a social network for sports, but there are a few bells and whistles that keep its site from being a Facebook-port for sports. The startup uses a recommendation engine, based on data collected on user interests and community interactions, to serve content relevant to their interests and chosen sport. The platform also integrates game mechanics, a la Foursquare, providing leaderboards, badges, and opportunities to “encourage” (which is an actual button) friends and fellow sports fans in their offline pursuits.

The startup, which is run by 3 former execs from mydeco (a site that offers furniture and interior design tools and ideas), has also announced that it has raised $400K in seed funding led by a group of international angel investors to launch its public beta and develop mobile apps.

“I have been taking part in marathons and Ironman events for nearly 10 years now, and have played football for as long as I can remember, but there has never been a place where I could share everything about myself as a sports person”, said Tribesports CEO Steve Reid. “Tribesports allows sports enthusiasts to create a showcase of their sports achievements and to connect with others globally to share training logs, tips, questions, tactics, advice and ideas.”

Whether a user is slowly training for their first 10 mile run and enjoys the odd game of tennis or is a seasoned decathlete and captain of their basketball team, Tribesports allows users of all skill levels to build complete profiles of their sports life, like one can on Facebook. Users can join “Tribes” (like Facebook Groups) based on their favorite sports, location, playing position, and ability level. And the best part is that users can seek advice and guidance from more seasoned athletes or connect with people on their level.

You can also take “Challenges” in personal fitness (100 crunches a day, for example) or organized events in just about every sport one can think of. Other users can also donate to your challenges by using JustGiving integration and can then track your progress as you go, making sure you’re not spending the money on beer or snacks.

And because most athletes have their own tools of the trade, users can search from more than 1 million products (across more than 1K sports), adding equipment to their personal profiles, which they can then review and have other users comment on, or just add a piece of equipment to their wish list.

This is also where the startup’s revenue model comes into play. Tribesports will take a commission of all products sold through its website. It will then supplement commerce commissions by offering companies targeted sponsorship and advertising packages that reach a particular group of athletes or sports fans.

The site’s registration and interface are both straightforward and easy to navigate, and offer the familiar status update and the ability to post images, video, and links to relevant content. Users can also connect with Facebook and sign in through a mobile-friendly webpage when they’re on the go. Mobile apps, the company said, are on the way.

For more on Tribesports, check out the video below:

Source: Tribesports Raises $400K To Create An All-In-One Digital Resource For Sports Nuts

After Microcredit Loans, Businesses Owners Are Worse Off Than Before, Study Finds

June 10th, 2011 06:20 admin View Comments

microcredit

What’s the News: Making loans to small business owners in developing countries has quite the positive reputation. It has given people in poverty, especially women, a chance to bootstrap themselves up the economic ladder despite having marginal or no credit history and little work experience, as people have used the tiny loans to start businesses, purchase herds of animals, or invest in improvements to their shops or inventory. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the economists who developed the practice in the 1970s at Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank.

But does microcredit really pay off? In a study published today in Science, economists have taken a rigorous look at it and concluded that in many or its modern implementations, it’s not having the touted benefits.

What’s the Context:

  • The problem with studying the effects of microcredit is that there tend to be a lot of factors at play in addition to the money. Lenders might provide counseling to business owners—as part of a broader category of services called microfinance—or decide to give credit to only those they think most likely to succeed. This makes it hard to tell whether the money, all on its own, can have the positive effect that people generally observe: more successful businesses and happier businesspeople.
  • The distinction isn’t just academic. While the earlier generation of microlenders were non-profits that tended to loan to collectives or cooperatives, 50% of microlenders now loan just to individuals, and 25% are for-profit businesses. They are acting more like traditional lenders, and their loans aren’t cheap, with 10–100% annualized interest. Because microcredit continues to be praised as a development strategy, discerning whether such loans can have positive effects without the bells and whistles that sometimes accompany it is key.

How the Heck:

  • To get around this compounding effect, the economists randomly selected 1601 loan applicants who would receive loans of $100–$500. All had received a “marginal” rating in a credit check—the usual category of individuals who receive such loans—with First Macro Bank, a lender near Manila that is typical of Filipino microlending operations, making 3-month loans with 60% annualized interest.
  • Then, 11–22 months after the loans were made, the researchers surveyed the recipients. They found that in general, businesses had not grown—in fact they had shrunk—nor had the owners seen a boost in well-being.
  • They also discovered that the money was often used to deal with unexpected expenses, almost as a kind of household insurance policy. Perhaps the right marketplace for microcredit is as insurance, rather than as capital for investing in business, they write.

The Future Holds: Microcredit is already established in the eyes of many, especially NGOs and the United Nations, as a route to development. But before pressing forward with this strategy, the researchers say, economists should undertake more rigorously controlled studies to suss out exactly what microcredit can accomplish, what situations yield the best results, and what’s an unreasonable expectation.

Reference: Dean Karlan, Jonathan Zinman. Microcredit in Theory and Practice: Using Randomized Credit Scoring for Impact Evaluation. Science, 10 June 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6035 pp. 1278-1284 DOI: 10.1126/science.1200138

Image credit: Tjook/flickr

Source: After Microcredit Loans, Businesses Owners Are Worse Off Than Before, Study Finds

Zynga Turns Hangman Into A Social iOS Game With The Debut Of ‘Hanging With Friends’

June 6th, 2011 06:00 admin View Comments

Zynga’s game development studios are on a roll of late, recently revealing GagaVille, and launching Settlers Of Catan-like social combat game Empires & Allies. And today, Zynga Mobile is adding one more title to the mix with the official launch of ‘Hanging With Friends,’ Zynga’s take on classic popular game Hangman within an iOS app.

The game is very similar to the ‘Words With Friends’ mobile games, which was developed by mobile game developer Newtoy. Zynga actually acquired Newtoy last December. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Words With Friends (which has over 10 million users on iOS devices), it’s similar to playing a Scrabble-like word game against one of your friends.

Hanging With Friends is very similar to playing Hangman, but with a mobile and social twist. In fact, the games comes with many more bells and whistles than if you played the game on a piece of paper (which I used to do as a child). You can sign on with Twitter and Facebook to see which of your friends are playing the app, and you can then challenge players to take turns creating and guessing words.

Players choose their avatar and then choose friends to compete against to see who can hang on the longest. If you guess the word correctly, you can survive to play another round. If you miss a word, you may fall.

In Hanging With Friends players can play up to 20 simultaneous games. Push notifications alert players when it’s their turn and in-game chat messaging allows users to communicate outside of the game. If a player is left hanging from their friends, the game will find a random opponent as a new challenger.

Players can also use lifelines that offer hints at words and watch instant replays that provide a glimpse into their opponent’s tactics. As you get words correct, you’ll earn coins that can be used for further lifelines, such as the ability to reverse a turn and get more chances to guess letters. Users can also use an ‘extinguish’ lifeline to add four words to a more complicated word. Users can also purchase these coins as a virtual currency.

For now, Zynga is offering both a free and paid version of the app, which costs $0.99 in the App Store. The free version includes ads within the app, and the paid version is ad-free.

Zynga’s general manager of the game, Paul Bettner says that there are no immediate plans to add the game to the Android platform. But Zynga did bring Words With Friends to Android, so perhaps the gaming giant will expand to other mobile devices with the new title.

Words With Friends was a hit, so perhaps Zynga will seee some success with the Hangman version. Bettner says that the UI is more interactive and creative than its Words With Friends cousin, and the game adds a layer of strategy as well.

We know mobile is a significant strategic area for Zynga, so it should be interesting to see which title the gaming giant released next for the iOS or Android platforms. CityVille?

 

Source: Zynga Turns Hangman Into A Social iOS Game With The Debut Of ‘Hanging With Friends’

YOYOYOOYOYOYO