Category Archives: Mobile

Augmented Reality and the Future of App Development

pokemon go

When we’re talking about computer-altered realities, we tend to focus on virtual reality and brush off the closely related world of augmented reality (“AR”).

But with the recent release of the incredibly popular Pokémon Go app, AR has now earned its time in the spotlight.

We’re sure you’ve heard enough about Pokémon Go from your coworkers and friends to last you a lifetime, but bear with us: the app has some important things to teach us about the future of augmented reality and app development in general.

While it may have been hard to guess ahead of time, Pokémon Go (and its approach to augmented reality) might just be the app that fundamentally shakes up how we use technology to interact with the world.

 

What is Augmented Reality?

Digital Trends defines augmented reality as ‘the interaction of superimposed graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a real-world environment that’s displayed in real time.’

Examples of augmented are surprisingly easy to find, they are as simple as the graphics you often see superimposed onto TV footage, or a Snapchat filter. But we’re entering a new phase of augmented reality that’s more interactive, user-driven, and app-based.

 

Augmented Reality Progress Report

Different incarnations of AR tech have been around for a while, but it has been slow to take the mass market by storm. Om Malik has referred to AR as ‘the boy who cried wolf of the post-Internet world – it’s long been promised but has rarely been delivered in a satisfying way.’

We’ve seen AR-supporting products like Google Glass flop, and various companies like Lego and IKEA try to get AR apps off the ground to limited success. Microsoft has promised a future with rich AR experiences with its forthcoming Hololens, but so far It hasn’t been clear how AR technology will be used effectively.

Until now, that is. With the release of the Pokémon Go app, we’ve got one of the first successful examples of how augmented reality might start to change the way we use phones to interact with our environments.

So what does Pokémon Go have that previous AR attempts were missing? Hint: it’s not just that people love Pokémon.

 

Pokémon Go’s Augmented Reality

By now, you’ve probably seen packs of Pokémon-hunters running around your city trying to bag a Pikachu or Charizard. The app’s popularity has reached incredible heights: two days after its release, it had been downloaded on 5.16% of Android phones, and within a week, it was the most downloaded app in the Apple App Store. Plus, people are spending more time daily on Pokémon Go than Facebook or Snapchat (43 minutes, to be exact).

Some part of the Pokémon Go success story can be attributed to a nostalgia for the classic franchise, but its success across gender, age and ethnicity shows that there is more too it than just that.

The Pokémon Go app combines AR tech with the GPS and camera features of smartphones to create an interactive experience, where players explore the Pokemon world through their phone, with their feet still firmly planted in the real world.

The players’ real environments are overlaid with computer-generated game features, like ‘Pokestops’ and ‘Pokegyms’. The game’s AR tech lets players spot and catch Pokémon in the wild, so to speak: they can be found almost anywhere, from parks to streets, to shops and cafes.

 

Lessons for the Future of Augmented Reality Apps

So what does this new step in AR implementation mean for the rest of the app world? Here are the main lessons we can draw from Pokémon Go’s successful use of AR, and what they’ll mean for the future of app development.

 

1) Good AR is interactive

The fact that Pokémon Go lets users interact with the world around them (in augmented form) is a major draw card for the game.

AR of yesteryear didn’t focus much on interaction, but we can expect that to change going forward, partly thanks to the power of smartphones. We’re living in a world where smartphones have cameras, GPS, barometers and an array of other features that can turn AR into a more immersive and interactive experience.

What we are excited about is that this interaction in AR doesn’t have to be catching Pokémon – it could be as simple as using an AR application to pull up product information in a store, check into a bar, or learn more about a piece of art in a museum. Whatever it is, we’re expecting the future of AR to harness interactivity in a big way.

 

2) Good AR is social

Pokémon Go is a really social AR experience. Sure, you play the game alone on a personal screen, but users create teams to play with, and the nature of the game requires that players go into the real world and engage with their environment. Given the size of the audience, playing is also a bonding experience – fellow Pokémon Go players are easy to spot and chat strategy with on the street.

The fact that Pokémon Go is so social should tell us something interesting about the future of AR applications. Whereas past attempts at AR (such as Google Glass’s AR features), have focused on users as individuals, successful AR of the future might rely more on creating community and providing opportunities for users to engage with each other in their augmented reality worlds.

 

3) Good AR doesn’t require special equipment

Anyone with a smartphone can play Pokémon Go, which is a far cry from the Google Glass vision of augmented reality that was dominant a few years ago. This more approachable and accessible version of augmented reality has definitely played a role in the app’s popularity.

Here’s the thing: smartphones today have the processing power, camera, and GPS capabilities to do some impressive things. And while Facebook and Microsoft are both developing their own VR and AR wearables, it’s now clear that you can create an engaging AR experience without any special bells and whistles.

This realisation is a big step towards more widespread AR use on the user end, and we can expect to see more companies and app developers embracing AR on the smartphone as a result.

 

Wrap Up

With the release of Pokémon Go, we’ve taken a big leap forward into the world of mainstream augmented reality. And it’s not just Pokémon Go that’s propelling us into the future. Facebook is rumoured to be developing new augmented reality glasses, Microsoft has been playing around with their HoloLens AR glasses, and it’s becoming clear that even a basic smartphone can now give users a seamless AR experience on just about any app.

There are big things ahead for augmented reality – and app developers would be wise to take note.

Mobile Beacon Technology and Its Best Use Cases

via GIPHY

When we first covered beacon technology way back in 2013, we called it the next big thing in mobile connectedness. The hype around beacon technology when Apple released its iBeacon technology was so strong that it seemed inevitable that beacon tech would take over the world.

Flash forward a few years, and beacon technology has taken longer to catch on than anyone anticipated. But recently, it’s been gaining momentum. In 2016, beacons are expected to drive $44 billion in retail sales (up from $4 billion in 2016), and more and more companies are jumping on the beacon bandwagon, from the traditional retail setting, to airlines, hotels, and banks.

Now that beacons are well on their way, how are companies and organizations using them to successfully improve the real-world mobile experience? In this post, we’ll cover some of the best use cases for beacons. But first, let’s review what beacon technology really is.

 

What is Beacon Technology?

According to Apple, the functionality of beacon tech is to:

alert apps when you approach or leave a location. In addition to monitoring your location, an app knows when you’re close to an iBeacon, like a checkout counter in a retail store.

What does that mean in practice? Let’s say you’re visiting one of your favourite stores, armed with the retailer’s mobile app. When you pass by a beacon (a small device placed at strategic points throughout the store), the retailer can use beacon messages to make personalised offers, alert you to products you might like, or tell you about sales.

beacon technology

via Estimote

The retailer can then also use data collected from the beacons to make business decisions based on store traffic flows, product popularity, and buyer trends.

Although Apple kicked off the beacon hype with iBeacon, it’s not the only player in the game. Google has its own beacon standard, called Eddystone, and there are a large number of manufacturers – most notably, Estimote – who make the physical beacons.

Best Beacon Use Cases

When beacons first came out, they were most strongly associated with retail settings. Over the years, though, other types of organizations have adopted beacons and extended their functionality for real-world context to events, dating apps, museums, and banks. Here are some of the best:

 

SXSW

SXSW beacon technology

via SXSW

SXSW was one of the first organizations to bring beacons to the world of events. Beginning with their 2014 conference, SXSW partnered with Eventbase to build an official event app that incorporated iBeacon to give users a smoother event experience.

For the 2015 event, the Austin Convention Centre was decked out with more than 1,000 beacons that pinged attendees with useful notifications throughout the conference. Anyone with an iPhone was able to take advantage of the iBeacon tech to pick up their badges, complete their registration, and find their way around the location.

The beacons also welcomed users to sessions with information and an invitation to join a group discussion within the app.

 

Danske Bank

Danske Bank

via EssentialRetail

Payment technology has always been an area with room for improvement, and Danske Bank is using beacons to lead the way.

Danske Bank partnered with GoAppified and Netclearance systems to use beacons to create better payment experiences by integrating beacon tech with their MobilePay app, a platform that already had three million users.

Here’s how it worked: the bank set up beacons at the checkout counters of hundreds of retails stores across Denmark. After passing their phones over the beacons, customers received a notification asking them to approve the purchase by swiping right. It’s a simple, intuitive, and quick payment system, and it’s setting the standard for beacon use in mobile pay settings.

Other banks are getting into the beacon game as well, by using beacon tech to push personalized notifications out to customers when they enter a branch. But Danske Bank’s use of beacons to improve the mobile payment experience is a huge step forward. It’s a well-timed one as well – the total amount of proximity mobile payments is expected to grow 210% in 2016, according to eMarketer.

 

Blinq

Blinq beacon deployment

via Estimote

Blinq is a Swiss dating app that says it’s ‘like meeting in a bar – just easier.’ What does that mean? Blinq is using beacons to connect users who are in the same place at the same time.

Blinq installed beacons at bars and clubs around Zurich that send out notifications to app-users when another single user who matches their interests is at the same location as them. Users can then chose to say ‘Hi’ or ‘Bye’, meet up, and hang out. Putting the potential for creepiness aside, the use of beacon technology in this case is unique and interesting.

Blinq also has a ‘Hotspot’ feature that gives users a list of the top 5 clubs and bars that suit their interests best (and have the most eligible singles at them), based on real-time trends that are monitored using the beacons.

The app has been successful, and it’s also given us a look at how beacons might be used in social networking platforms and dating tools going forward.

 

Australian Museum

Australian Museum Trailblazer App

via Australian Museum

Australian Museum is using beacons to take on a question plaguing museums everywhere: how do you attract young visitors? Their answer: gamify the museum experience using beacons.

Australian Museum developed an app called Trailblazer, which uses a scavenger hunt to encourage users to travel around the museum collecting items (which are marked by a beacon). Beacons are also used to give users a ‘radar’ feature, which tells them how close they are to particular objects in the exhibition.

The app is geared towards the pre-teen crowd, but gamification for all age groups is a major trend in beacon tech. In the next five years, retail adoption of beacon-enabled gamification is expected to increase by 181%.

 

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic Beacon Deployment

via Virgin Atlantic

In 2015, Virgin Atlantic launched an extensive beacon campaign at Heathrow Airport, in an attempt to improve their passengers’ airport experience and offer better customer service.

Premium passengers who downloaded the app would receive personalized notifications and offers during their time at Heathrow. Virgin also used iBeacon to notify passengers when they were getting close to a security check, reminding them to have their boarding passes ready, or sending them offers on currency exchange deals.

Airline staff were also outfitted with Google Glass or a Sony Smartwatch with an app that managed task allocation and delivered customer information directly to staff to help them personally welcome each passenger.

American Airlines, easyJet, and Japan Airlines are also embracing iBeacon tech to improve their passengers’ airport experiences, and to help staff deliver better service.

 

Wrap Up

Beacon technology has come a long way since its early days. After a slow start, it’s certainly picking up steam. The traditional retail applications of beacon tech are growing, and other organizations from transport to dating apps are also embracing beacons.

Three years later, the future is starting to look bright for beacons.

The 2016 Google I/O Highlights for Designers and Developers

Google I/O 2016

Last week, we wrote about the big news and major announcements coming out of Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). But Apple is not the only major player in the tech world hosting developer conferences these days.

In late May, Google hosted its annual Google I/O event, where it announced its major product launches and updates. There were a few surprises and a lot of big changes. Here are the highlights that developers and designers should be taking note of.

 

Android N is kicking things up a notch

Android N

Google previewed its new Android OS (which is set to be released later this summer), and it comes with a ton of new features. Split-screen multitasking, new emojis, improved software updating and virtual reality platforms are just some of the new elements of the software that users can expect to see on their devices when they upgrade to ’N’. Google is also promising better security and faster performance.

Developers are getting some new features with Android N as well, like Vulkan, a new API that gives developers direct control of a phone’s GPU for higher-performance 3D graphics.

 

Virtual reality is coming to Android

Google unveiled its plans for Daydream, a VR platform for Android. It’s still in the dream phase for users, but when it is publicly released, it will allow users access to a suite of VR apps that they can access in a ‘viewer’ (like Google Cardboard). You can see a walkthrough of the platform in the video below:

Developers can get their hands on Daydream now, and for good reason: while Google is building the framework for Daydream, it needs developers to build the apps, games, and VR experiences that will draw users in.

Google has already started to build VR versions of its apps (like Street View, YouTube, and Google Photos), but other companies are also getting in on Daydream. Word has it that the New York Times, HBO, and Netflix are among companies that have started developing their Daydream apps.

 

Google Assistant is taking on Siri

Google Assistant

Gearing up to take on Apple’s Siri, Google officially launched ‘Google Assistant’, which is essentially a smarter, more sophisticated version of its existing ‘OK, Google’ feature. Google Assistant has sophisticated tech that gets to know its users’ preferences and habits, and help them make better, more refined searches.

Plus, like the newest version of Siri, the Google Assistant is integrated with a ton of other apps – it can facilitate many different actions, from recommending movies, to buying you the tickets and even hailing you the Uber to get you there.  This opens up a plethora of new integration opportunities for app developers.

 

Android Instant Apps is shaking up mobile

In an interesting twist, Google introduced a concept it’s calling ‘Android Instant Apps’, which will let you use an app without downloading the whole thing. Check out the quick explainer video from The Verge below:

It’s a cool idea for users, and it’s positioned as an improvement for the mobile browsing experience. Let’s say you’re browsing a news web site, and you click a video link. If the site has an app that could stream that video better, Google Play will get you the parts of that app that will enhance your experience, without making you download the whole thing.

What does this mean for developers? Google says it should take ‘less than a day of work’ for developers to set up their apps for the feature. Beyond that, the links between apps and websites could also help developers monetize their apps successfully and get buy-in from users.

If you’re interested in more of the details of Instant Apps, check out Google’s developer documentation.

 

Google Home arrives on the scene

Google Home

via google.com

Google is taking on another major competitor with Google Home – but this time it’s the Amazon Echo. Google Home is a sleek little device with an integrated speaker that connects your devices and lets you wander around your house asking Google questions and getting help from the new Google Assistant. It doesn’t have a confirmed release date yet, but is expected later this year.

But there’s sad news for developers: Google hasn’t opened up the Homes API – yet. According to Google, integration with a huge range of apps and devices is inevitable, and developers will get the opportunity to work with Google Home in the near future.

 

 Firebase 2.0 is getting a major expansion

firebase

This is the big news for developers: the Firebase development platform is getting a slew of updates and new features for building and testing apps. Firebase has always had a good reputation for developers, but this is a major step up.

Here’s the highlight reel of the new-and-improved features coming to Firebase 2.0:

  • A new Analytics module that will allow developers to define custom user groups, called Audiences, and follow user-centric metrics
  • Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), an integration with Google Cloud Messaging that promises a better cloud-to-device push messaging service for developers
  • Firebase Storage, which will give developers Google Cloud-powered storage for images, videos and other large files
  • Firebase Remote Config, a feature that lets you instantly update and fine tune various app variables on the go, without releasing a whole new version
  • An improved Firebase Test Lab for Android and Firebase Crash Reporting
  • Admob, a feature that will help developers monetize their apps
  • A bunch of features for growing and engaging your app’s audience, including Firebase Notifications, Firebase Dynamic Links, Firebase app indexing (formerly Google App indexing), and integration with Google’s AdWords

You can check out all of the Firebase updates here.

 

Android Studio 2.2 is getting an upgrade

Android Studio 2.2 is also getting a few updates that developers will no doubt appreciate. The upgrades largely focus on speed, promising faster development turnaround, faster builds, and faster layouts, with more automation and quality checks.

 

Odds and Ends

allo duo

There were plenty of other announcements from Google at this year’s conference, including new messaging and video apps (called Allo and Duo, respectively), an overhaul for Android Wear (which is available exclusively for developers now) that’s focused on making wearables more autonomous, and new updates on the Google Car project.

It was a dense conference, so if you want a full run down of the announcements, we recommend checking out the full keynote here.

 

Wrap Up

The 2016 Google I/O highlighted the fact that Google sees the future of technology as a more interactive one. Most of the updates and new products focused on letting consumers interact more with their technology. From the Google Assistant, to Home, to Virtual Reality, it was all about drawing users in to a more connected tech ecosystem.

Google also made it clear that the developer experience matters. Firebase and Android studio both received major upgrades that aim to improve how developers and designers work with Google. There were also announcements of early release developer editions for much of Google’s new tech.

Google knows what a key role developers play in the success of its tech, and the 2016 I/O made it clear that it’s cultivating that relationship.

10 Travel Apps to Bring Along on Your Summer Vacation

world travel

via giphy

With summer officially in full swing, we’re gearing up for travel season. We’re bookmarking our favourite blogs, sticking books in our beach bags, and trying to organize the details of travel plans to make our vacations as painless as possible.

Luckily, there’s a nearly endless list of travel apps that can simplify your trip planning, find you the cheapest flights, and hook you up with travel buddies wherever you go. Here are the ones that stand out from the crowd.

 

1. Citymapper

citymapper

This app is like Google Maps’ cooler, smarter older sibling: it has a more detailed and informative trip planner, as well disruption alerts, Uber integration, cycle routes, and real-time public transit updates that will ensure you never get lost again. It’s also got some entertaining (albeit not very useful) features that’ll keep you distracted during inevitable travel delays, like information about how long it would take you to jetpack to your destination.

 

2. Airbnb

Airbnb

via airbnb.com

Airbnb’s app is great for booking accommodation, but it does more than just hook you up with a great vacation apartment – the company has started to move into experiential travel, with features that can connect you with locals who give out insider tips and neighborhood guides, lead tours, and take travellers on adventures.

If you like the Airbnb concept but you’re more of a camper, it might be worthwhile to check out Hipcamp. It’s similar to Airbnb, but instead of renting out a house, you can use it to find a patch of land, a campsite, or a space in someone’s yard to pitch a tent.

 

3. Tripit

Tripit

Are you taking planes, trains and automobiles to get to your destination? Tripit can help you coordinate all of the legs of your journey, and it will organize an itinerary for you that includes flights, rental cars and driving directions, hotel bookings, and events. All you have to do is forward your confirmation emails to the app, and it will take care of the rest.

 

4. Google Translate


It’s not going to help you become fluent in Italian, but Google Translate is great for helping you quickly translate every day words on the fly. It’s super easy to use – just hold your camera up to any piece of text, and Google will spit out a translation instantly.

 

5. LiveTrekker

livetrekker

LiveTrekker is a good option for anyone who loves tracking themselves and recording where they’ve been.

The app tracks all of your steps, marks them on a map, and lets you record the sights and sounds around you with notes, so you’ll be able to look back on your trip in vivid detail.It’s also a great companion for adventure travellers, as it keeps track of your altitude and speed.

 

6. Time Out

time out app

A guide book for your smart phone, the Time Out app offers up suggestions of things to do, places to eat, and sites to see in cities around the world.

There are many guide book-like apps out there, but Time Out’s event finder tool and its ability to book restaurants and concert tickets really sets it apart from the competition.

 

7. Skyscanner

skyscanner

If you aren’t sure where you’re headed on your next vacation yet, Skyscanner is a great tool to turn to for ideas.

It makes it easy to investigate all of your flight options by letting you search for flights to anywhere in the world, and offering a great display of low airfares that pinpoints the cheapest days to fly. You can also set flight alerts for specific routes, and easily compare prices for nearby destinations and airports.

 

8. Hopper

hopper app

Another flight finding app, Hopper is great for bargain hunters. Hopper gives you advice on when you should fly and when you should buy your tickets.

Hopper makes surprisingly accurate price predictions to let you know whether you should book tickets ASAP or hold out for a better price, and it lays out your options for the best days to travel on your chosen route. It’ll also notify you when prices go up or down.

 

9. Hipmunk

hipmunk

Besides a memorable name, Hipmunk, a travel planning app, has a couple of great features going for it.

Its ‘Agony Index’ lets you rank flights based on their potential unpleasantness using a combination of price, flight, duration, and number of stops so that you can strike a balance between price and comfort. Its hotel search lets you narrow things down to your favorite neighborhood or site, and its ‘Heatmaps’ feature will direct you to the coolest, most hip neighbourhoods.

 

10. Oanda Currency Converter

Oanda

There are a ton of currency conversion apps out there, but the Oanda converter has a simple interface that’s easy to use. It can convert amounts for more than 190 currencies, and it lets you keep your frequently used currencies on hand for quick access.

 

Honourable Mention: Adventurely

Solo travelling can be tough, but Adventurely has you covered. The app lets you input your travel dates and destinations and the sites you want to visit, then it matches you up with other travellers who are doing the same thing. It’s a great idea – but the catch is that for now, it’s only available in NYC and Brooklyn.

The 2016 Apple WWDC Highlights for Designers and Developers

iOS 10 preview WWDC

Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference – where the company introduces the world to its latest software and product developments – is one of the most hotly anticipated events on the tech world’s calendar each year, and this year’s event held on June 13 didn’t disappoint.

The news coming out of the 2016 WWDC keynote speech is big: all of Apple’s operating systems are getting major upgrades that are set to overhaul the way that Apple devices interact with each other. More compatibility and better integration between devices were the major themes at this year’s conference, with Apple aiming to take on its competitors’ online services and software offerings.

If you had your fingers crossed for new hardware announcements, you might have walked away disappointed. But don’t worry – there’s still plenty to dig in to, and a lot to look forward to in app development. Here are the highlights:

 

OS X is getting a re-brand – and an upgrade

macOS sierra

One of the big announcements in the WWDC keynote was that the Mac operating system is being re-named. Gone are the days of OS X – the operating system will now be known as macOS, and the new name is ushering in a few key changes.

The latest iteration of the Mac operating system, macOS Sierra, will focus squarely on improving integration with other Apple devices. Sierra will introduce users to a host of new features that will allow them to move between devices easily, including:

  • A ‘Universal Clipboard’ that allows users to copy and paste across devices (think of it as Apple’s take on Evernote)
  • An Apple Watch function that unlocks a user’s computer from their watch
  • A new iCloud function that lets users save their computer’s desktop to the cloud and access it from another computer

And for those of you who love Siri, there’s exciting news: macOS Sierra will introduce Siri to desktop for the first time (more on Siri below).

 

Big changes are in store for iOS


In his presentation, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi billed the iOS 10 updates as the “biggest iOS release ever for our users”, and he’s not exaggerating.

One of the biggest updates is to the Messages app. New features like animations, custom emojis, an invisible ink feature, and handwritten notes are seen by analysts as an attempt to compete with Facebook Messenger. The Messages app will also have the ability to install third-party apps, giving developers a new platform within iOS to develop for. Some of the examples given by Apple of features this will enable are sharing content and sending money.

messages apps

Here are some of the other major upgrades coming to iOS:

  • The Maps app is being redesigned to make navigation easier
  • Apple News is being redesigned
  • The Photos app will get an upgrade to compete with Google Photos on features like automatic organization
  • A new voicemail transcription feature is being introduced

And arguably most importantly, huge changes are also in store for Siri, as the voice assistant will be opening up to developers for the first time. Apple unveiled SiriKit for iOS 10, which lets developers design their apps with Siri compatibility in mind.

Until now, Siri has only been able to interact with default iOS services (e.g. Make a phone call using the default Phone app, create a reminder in the default Reminders app, schedule an event in the Calendar app, etc.). Now, app developers will be able to integrate Siri into their own apps, so users will be able to use voice commands for requests to third-party apps. Siri will now be able to do things like call a car on Uber, or send money through a payment app.

This clearly presents a great opportunity for app owners and developers to take their service to the next level and integrate Apple’s voice commands to improve their user experience.

 

The Apple Watch is speeding up

watchOS 3 preview

The Apple Watch operating system is also getting a shiny new update (are you sensing a theme here?). watchOS 3 is set to make a slew of improvements to the functionality of the Apple Watch, most notably a huge boost in speed.

Most complaints about the Apple Watch to date have been about the overall slowness of third-party apps on the device, illustrated by this joke from noted Apple analyst John Gruber:

The speed issue discouraged app developers from continuing development on the platform, feeling that there was a limit to the device’s performance. At this year’s WWDC, Apple announced that speed improvements will be coming to all apps, and can lead to third-party apps loading seven times faster than they currently do on watchOS 2. This should entice third-party app developers to give the platform another shot.

In other watch news, Apple put a heavy emphasis on the fitness and activity tracking features of the watch, and introduced some nice new features like an SOS system for emergencies, and a new keyboard feature called ‘scribble’ that lets users handwrite letters directly on the watch instead of typing. Developers will also be able to better leverage the device’s onboard sensors, like heart rate.

 

Improvements are coming to tvOS

tvOS

The fourth and final of Apple’s operating systems isn’t being left out of the software updates. Apple announced a few improvements to the Apple TV operating system, tvOS, but they’re modest.

Some of the most interesting updates from a development perspective are improved live streaming capabilities, four game controller support and multiplayer game sessions, HomeKit support (which lets users control enabled home appliances via their Apple TV), and improved search functionality.

A single sign-on feature will let users log into all of their individual TV apps linked to their cable provider (like NBC, ABC, AMC, for example) with one login – enter your credentials once, and they’re applied system-wide, rather than on a per-app basis. Since Apple TV now has more than 6,000 apps, this feature is definitely a welcome addition.

Continuing the theme of connectivity, users will also be able to use their iPhone as a remote, and use Siri to search Apple TV.

 

Wrap Up

So what are the big takeaways from this year’s WWDC keynote?

First off, Apple put a big emphasis on software this year and didn’t unveil any new hardware. This might be because its hardware sales are slowing, and because Apple is finally recognizing that it needs to play catch up with its competitors’ software and online services – for instance, a lot of the software updates for iOS are introducing features that Google already has.

Secondly, the theme of all of the major software updates was connectivity between Apple devices and operating systems. If the individual software updates don’t seem like such a big deal on their own, it’s because Apple is focusing more on the big picture – namely making all of its devices work seamlessly together.

Recently, there’s been a shift in how we think about the future of tech – we’re moving away from isolated devices and platforms, and towards more connectivity and integration across devices. At this year’s WWDC, Apple made it clear that it’s ready to take the plunge into that future. And if you’re an app owner, you should be thinking the same way.

The Best Health & Fitness Apps to Stay in Shape

running shoes

Like most things in modern life, staying in shape has gone high-tech. The world of health and fitness apps is huge, and still growing fast, partly in thanks to the emergence of wearable technology like the Fitbit and Apple Watch.

But whether you wear a piece of tech on your wrist or not, everything from calorie counting to workout logging can be readily accessed from your phone’s app store – yes, your phone and its apps can be your own portable personal trainer! And with summer coming on fast, it’s the perfect time to round up the best health apps available today.

If you’re looking to lose weight, gain strength, or take your running game to the next level, we’ve got you covered with this list of the best apps to help you stay in shape.

 

Strava

Strava

If you’re a runner or cyclist who loves to track the details of your workout’s distance, times, and kilometer splits, Strava will be right up your alley. But Strava’s got a lot more going for it than its strong tracking abilities.

It’s also a social app that lets you virtually race other athletes from your area or from around the world by logging your data, so if you need a little bit of competition to motivate you to lace up your shoes, Strava will do the job.

You can also use Strava to connect with other people in your area and meet some new training buddies.

Visit Strava’s website

 

Run 5k

run5k

If you’re a new runner and you’re not quite ready to join the competition over on Strava, Run 5k is a great app to ease you into running and build up your fitness. There are a many ‘couch to 5k’ apps available, but this one is our favourite.

It offers a simple and intuitive design, and you can customize it to monitor and track your fitness through metrics like heart rate and weight.

Visit Run5k’s website

 

Nike + Training Club

nike training club

Though targeted exclusively towards women, the Nike+ Training Club app gives you access to a large collection of workouts that suit a range of goals and abilities. In line with the company’s “Just do it” ethos, you can do these workouts anywhere, anytime, no equipment required.

If you need some more inspiration to reach your fitness goals, the app also lets you earn points for working out, which you can use to unlock your favourite celebrity’s workout routine.

Visit Nike+ Training Club website

 

MyFitnessPal

myfitnesspal iPhone app

In terms of sheer popularity, UnderArmour’s MyFitnessPal is the reigning king of health and fitness apps.

The app is a tool for tracking the calories and nutritional information for the foods you eat. What separates MyFitnessPal from the rest of the pack is that it has over 1 million foods in its database –  everything from strawberries to Big Macs – so you don’t have to guess or Google the calorie content for everything you eat.

The app also allows you to customize your macro targets for the day, and integrates with most wearable devices on the market. If you unlock the premium version, MyFitnessPal will offer up insight into the best (and worst!) things you’re eating, to help you improve your overall nutrition.

Visit MyFitnessPal website

 

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

7 minute workout

Don’t have time to work out? This app begs to differ. From the fitness experts at the New York Times, this app takes you through a 7-minute, full body workout. It’s a step-by-step guide with animated illustrations that both beginners and exercise-veterans will get something out of.

Visit The Scientific 7-Minute Workout website

 

Tabata Trainer

tabata trainer

Another good app for people who are short on time, the Tabata Trainer is based on the fitness world’s love affair with interval training. The Tabata method promises a fast and incredibly effective training method, and the app comes with routines for all fitness levels.

The best part? Because the intervals are so intense, you’ll get more bang for your buck and save time.

Visit Tabata Trainer website

 

Pact


We all learned in Psych 101 that reward and punishment are powerful motivators of human behaviour, and this app plays on that. Pact lets you make money off of the workouts and goals you accomplish – but it also makes you pay up if you don’t achieve your goals.

If you miss a workout, the money you wagered goes into a communal pool. But if you meet your goals, that same pool gives you some money as a reward. If the thought of losing a bet or your cash is something that motivates you to work out, you might want to give it a shot.

Visit Pact website

 

Fitbit

Fitbit

You might need a Fitbit activity tracker (a wearable that tracks various things including your steps, calories burned, sleep habits, and heart rate) to make the most out of this one, but you can also use the app (without a wearable device) to track your food intake, weight and other health indicators. And if you own a relatively modern smartphone (e.g. iPhone 5s or later), your phone can even track your steps for you – no wristband needed.

Fitbit is a good all-rounder for keeping tabs on your health and activity, and the step counting functionality is great for reminding desk-bound workers who are aware of the new “sitting is the new smoking” advice to get some movement into their day.

Visit Fitbit website

 

And lastly, if you’re looking for a more old-fashioned fitness approach, consider these exercises that are perfect if you’ll be sitting at a desk for most of the day.

We hope these apps will help you stay in shape this year. If there are any killer health and fitness apps we overlooked, let us know in the comments below.

The Best Time-Saving Apps

calendar app

We’re all after that elusive dream of getting more done in less time. Thankfully, legions of productivity apps have arrived on the scene recently to help us out, promising everything from email-free inboxes to effortless time management.

With so many productivity and time-saving apps available, it’s easy to get lost in all the noise and end up spending more time searching for apps than they actually save you in the long run. So we’ve rounded up some of our favourite time-saving apps on the market. They can help you automate admin tasks, schedule your day, de-clutter your inbox, and basically turn you into a productivity machine with more time to do what’s most important to you.

 

IFTTT

ifttt

An app that helps you automate nearly any task, IFTTT (an acronym for “If This Then That”) promises to connect all of your favourite apps so that they work better together, and save you time.

Essentially, IFTTT lets you build “recipes” for different situations. Say, for example, you get a newsletter delivered to your inbox, and you know you definitely want to read it later. You can create a recipe that tells IFTTT to automatically send it to your Evernote reading list. The list of situations that IFTTT can automate is nearly endless, from replying to, flagging, or filing emails to putting important tasks into your to-do list.

IFTTT works with nearly every app on your phone, so there’s almost no time-sucking task it can’t take off your hands.

Visit IFTTT

 

Zirtual

Zirtual to do list

If you’re not lucky enough to have a personal assistant to help you with your admin tasks, Zirtual can fill that void. The app bills itself as a personal assistant that can take care of a huge range of time-consuming administrative tasks.

Among other things, it can respond to emails, create travel itineraries, and do your scheduling for you so that you can focus on more important jobs and leave the admin to your new assistant.

Visit Zirtual

 

Feedly

Feedly

If keeping up-to-date on news and blogs is a big part of your day, Feedly is a great tool to add to your arsenal. The app keeps all of your important content in one place, and puts it all into a feed that you can quickly scroll through. You can easily bookmark posts to read later, helping you avoid getting sucked into hours of blog post reading when you’ve got more important things to do.

Feedly’s got some other good features going for it: it can sync across all of your devices, organize your content into different lists, and suggest new sites for you to track. And did we mention it’s compatible with IFTTT?

Visit Feedly

 

Clear

clear to do list app

If you love the feeling of crossing things off of a to-do list (and who doesn’t?), Clear might just become your favourite app.

It’s a beautifully designed to-do list that lets you create lists for every area of your life (work, personal, fitness, shopping, etc.) and rank tasks in order of importance. By prioritizing your most important tasks, Clear can help you sort through the clutter of to-dos and keep you focused. Plus, as soon as you finish something on the list, you just swipe it away and move on to the next one, so you’re never left searching for your next task (and you get the satisfying feeling of checking something off).

You can also set yourself reminders and use Clear across devices, so you can make sure nothing slips by the wayside.

Visit Clear on the App Store

 

Boomerang and/or Followup.cc

Boomerang

If your goal is to achieve the holy grail of email organization, Inbox Zero, or just maintain a more efficient email system, there are a couple of good apps that can help you get there.

Boomerang is a popular app for Gmail that lets you clear out your inbox by having Boomerang archive your messages until you need them, when it will send them back to your inbox (“boomerang” them) marked unread. Boomerang also lets you draft an email and schedule it to be sent at a later date, and also send you reminders when you haven’t heard back from important contacts, or when you need to follow up with someone.

Visit Boomerang

 

Followup.cc is similar to Boomerang, but its focus is on helping you land new clients and sales. You can use the app to track when your emails are read, automate email tasks, ‘snooze’ unimportant emails, and update Salesforce contacts directly in Gmail to streamline your workflow. Like Boomerang, it also lets you schedule an email to send later and set reminders to do follow ups.

Visit Followup.cc

 

Honourable Mention: Sunrise

sunrise calendar

Sunrise is the ultimate calendar app. It’s a beautiful and well-designed app that connects with Google Calendar, iCal, and Outlook, so that all of your appointments and tasks end up in the same place. It takes the nightmare of trying to juggle appointments with people who all use different calendar systems out of your hands, freeing up tons of time.

It also has a beautiful interface that pulls in your contacts’ profile images and uses keywords in your meeting events to label your calendar with corresponding icons (e.g. “Coffee with Tom” will have a coffee cup icon next to it).

So why does it just get an honourable mention? Here’s the catch: Sunrise was acquired by Microsoft in 2015, and it was recently announced that Sunrise is going to be discontinued and officially stop working on August 31, 2016. The app’s functionality is being merged into Outlook Mobile, so stay tuned to see how that takes shape.

 

Staying on top of your to-do list and calendar can be difficult to manage, but we hope that at least one of these apps puts you on the path to increased productivity!

Are there any killer productivity apps we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Digital Healthcare Trends You Need to Know

digital healthcare

The world of digital healthcare is officially hitting its stride. Patients are becoming more active participants in their healthcare and embracing digital healthcare solutions more than ever before. At the same time, healthcare costs are rising, and providers are on the lookout for innovative solutions that can improve patient care without increasing costs. Industry-wide, major technological advances are revolutionizing how we think about healthcare.

Digital healthcare investment is also on an upswing. In 2015, funding in digital healthcare was twice what it was in 2013, and growth shows no sign of slowing down this year. So given this growth, it’s worth asking: what are the major trends we’re seeing in the digital healthcare world?

 

Digital Users are More Involved in their Own Healthcare

stethoscope and laptop

A recent Google study found that Canadian users are researching their health online more than ever before, and taking an active role in shaping their healthcare. Users can access health information almost instantly, and they’re using it to make decisions about the healthcare products and services they’re choosing to access.

Here are some highlights of the Google study:

  • Half of all Canadians are more actively monitoring their health (especially using online resources) this year compared to last year
  • When buying over the counter (OTC) health products, Canadian users were just as likely to consult a digital resource as a traditional source, like a doctor or pharmacist
  • Online medical resources are hugely popular: over 17 million Canadians regularly visit healthcare websites to research their symptoms
  • Some digital resources are more popular than others: 47% of users relied on search engines (mostly searching symptom keywords) prior to making an OTC product purchase, while 31% used brand websites or apps and 30% used advice/review websites, forums and blogs
  • Users are not only doing more healthcare research online – they are also turning their research into action. For example, 50% of users who did a web search for OTC products did so on the same day they went out and made a purchase, and 44% of users conducting online searches for hospitals made appointments after landing on a hospital website

 

Mobile is Taking Centre Stage

Digital healthcare is yet another area where mobile is poised to overtake desktop as the user’s platform of choice.

Today, more than ⅓ of searches for OTC products are done on mobile devices. But that number is increasing quickly: according to Google it’s increased by 19% over the past year. Searches for symptoms and diagnoses are also increasingly conducted on mobile devices, usually at the first sign of illness.

As a result, it’s becoming crucial for healthcare providers to be visible and useable on mobile, and this is driving a major trend toward mobile-first design solutions.

 

App Use is Growing

iOS 9 health apps

Mobile health app adoption has skyrocketed in the past few years. In 2015, 33% of mobile phone users had a health app on their device, up from just 16% in 2013. Investment in health apps has also increased dramatically.

Apps are also becoming popular with doctors and other healthcare providers. One example is Joule, an app recently launched by the Canadian Medical Association.

Joule CMA app

Joule gives physicians mobile access to clinical and professional development resources and allows physicians to connect with each other. Joule also provides grants to innovative projects, positioning itself as a tool that sits ‘at the heart of physician-led innovation’.

 

Video is Becoming an Important Medium

youtube health video

Video might lag behind search engines and brand websites, but it’s becoming more significant in users’ digital healthcare journeys.

12% of patients use video for symptom research and OTC product information. Most users say they are looking for video content that gives them useful and actionable information about their symptoms and remedies, rather than just entertainment.

 

Doctors and Patients are Embracing Non-Traditional Healthcare Solutions

doctor on tablet

Both doctors and their patients are increasingly willing to use digital solutions in healthcare provision.

According to a PwC report, 60% of all patients are willing to replace their in-person visit to their doctor with a video visit on a mobile device. In people under 44, this number jumps even higher: 72% say they would access telehealth services (i.e. a video conference) instead of a traditional visit with their doctor.

For their part, 58% of doctors say they would prefer to provide some healthcare digitally instead of in-person. 81% said that mobile access to medical information would enhance their patient care.

 

3 Tips for Putting Trends Into Action

What are the key takeaways for healthcare providers from these digital healthcare trends?

Be visible and searchable. More users are turning to online searches as one of their main resources. Making sure that you’re a top result in these searches – whether via Google, App Stores, or video platforms like YouTube – is vital. Having a strong web presence, being visible online, and improving your SEO are your key steps here.

Focus on mobile. Mobile is the tool of choice for healthcare users who want instant answers to their questions, so it’s critical to have a site that works well on mobile. It’s even worth considering embracing mobile-first design solutions.

Embrace video. While video isn’t the most popular tool for users yet, it is becoming increasingly important and growing fast. Having useful, informative video content is key.

 

Conclusion

Digital healthcare is changing fast, as both patients and healthcare providers start to embrace non-traditional healthcare technology and users start to take an active role in their shaping their healthcare using online resources. The changes we’re seeing in the digital health world can be boiled down into five key trends:

  1. Users are becoming more active in shaping their own healthcare solutions and monitoring their own health through digital sources (mainly search engines)
  2. Mobile is poised to take over the digital health world
  3. Health app use is growing
  4. Video is emerging as an important platform
  5. Both doctors and patients are willing to use non-traditional healthcare tools

Naturally, these trends mirror what’s going on in the rest of the digital world. But the unique constraints of the health system and the huge demand for systems and solutions that are able to deliver, we think this is the space to watch for amazing new digital innovations.

New Brand Identity Re-launch: The Uber App

uber app

Uber’s new app icon

 

“Keeping up with the Joneses” has never been harder for businesses in today’s digital economy. It seems like every day there’s a new web trend, a new Google update, or a new customer segment that needs to be catered to.

As a result, we’ve seen a number of brands relaunch their identities and redesign their digital properties to better align with a new personality. Today, we’re going to look at the best way brands can stay up-to-date without sacrificing their brand value, and what they can learn from Uber’s recent redesign.

 

Why it’s important to update

starbucks logo history

To stagnate is to die. That’s what it comes down to. Painful? You bet. But it’s a necessary pain. This cycle of constant updating and iteration is driven by two core factors.

First, customer demand. Especially for digital properties, consumers are comparing your brand against all of the others they engage with. The standard your site is measured by is set by whoever is the best, most on-trend, most innovative company at that point in time. That sort of daily, instantaneous side-by-side comparison is a new feature on the corporate landscape and one that’s driving more rebrands than ever.

For example, imagine you sell shoes and you have an online app. Your app logo is a little dated, but you think it’s either ‘good enough’ or not worth the investment to worry about. The problem is that on a mobile phone screen, your old, dated logo is going to be compared to all the sleek, beautiful logos that it shares the screen with. As a result, your brand value and possibly your bottom line suffer – because you’re not on trend.

Second, technological innovation. Technology improves at an incredibly fast rate. We can now do things that could never have been done even two or three years ago. For example, before 2014 there were very few video hero images. Not because no one thought of it – but because mobile data was slow(er) and hadn’t yet figured out how to build sites with hero images and a positive load time.

So, with technology continuously improving, brands are presented with more creative options to tell their story. Coupled with the aforementioned consumer demand and comparison ecosystem that all of our digital work lives in, there’s huge pressure to keep up.

 

How to stay up to date

Apple logos

The key to staying up to date is to always be improving, but also knowing when you actually need to update what.  For example, at some point updating your logo will be important for your brand -but just because you’re updating your logo doesn’t mean it’s also a good time to change the iconography in your app. It’s best to accept that it’s not feasible to change everything each time a new trend comes out. It’s better to update incrementally and improve your app or website as you go.

So how do you know what to update? Here are two ways we keep up to date.

 

Study competitors

See what your competitors are doing. Pay attention to the leading apps in your vertical, how they’re evolving and what their customers like best about their apps by checking out their reviews. If you’re not sure where to start with finding your competitors, try searching your brand’s most relevant keywords in the iOS App Store of Google Play Store.

 

Have an aspirational company

robin hood app

It’s still good to follow a company whose design you love, even if they are outside of your industry. Keep an eye on them, you might not be able to adopt all of the features you like but keep returning as a source of inspiration. Following progressive companies is also a great way to see what’s at the leading edge and what early adopters are moving on. Some companies whose app design we love include:

 

Uber app: a brief case study

Uber App Loading Screen

Uber has renovated their brand a couple of times over the years, but the 2016 rebrand is certainly the most radical.

Gone are the traditional curly letters and the big ol’ U. Gone are the stark black and white contrasting colours.

Uber Type Redesign

In its place is a new palette of muted greys and blues, and in the place of the U is what the CEO is calling ‘the bit’ – a stylised hub that as Uber moves into more products, you’ll always see that ‘bit’ and know that it’s Uber.

uber new apps

Uber’s coated this rebrand in all the normal flouncy language – they’ve outgrown their old brand, they want to be a dynamic company, they want their brand to be a better embodiment of what Uber stands for.

But really, Uber’s rebranded for two main reasons.

First, their old look was dated.

Second, Uber had grown beyond its original brand. It is no longer just a pseudo-luxury transport but a giant multinational conglomerate, with different sub-brands and services like UberX, UberPOOL, and Uber Eats for food delivery. The company needed a more effective way to communicate that it is part of one cohesive transport solution. Plus, it needed some underlying core design so that people can recognize a service is Uber straight away.

For example, the new design allows them to put different shapes into their logo depending on whether they’re communicating with drivers, passengers, or other customers, the idea being that even different user groups are still on brand.

alternate uber design

Initially, feedback has not been positive. Yes, this achieves Uber’s goals of keeping up with trends and developing a logo that’s versatile enough to grow with their company.

However, so far it looks like they overshot a little on how much to change at one time. As a result, they’ve ended up in the awkward position where, if they keep the logo, their brand sentiment will suffer, but if they scrap the logo, their brand credibility will suffer.

In other words, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and the only way out forward is to stick it out with the rebrand and see how it plays over the long term.

 

Conclusion

Web trends move at a rapid pace, driven by both consumer needs and technological ability. As a result, it’s no longer an option for a company to sit on its haunches and let its brand become dated in the digital age.

Brand maintenance, renovation, and redevelopment should all be part of the long-term plan for a company. However, as we can learn from Uber’s recent redesign, whenever you’re dealing with something as delicate as a brand, it’s critical that you tread lightly; Yes, it’s important to stay up to date, but try and change too much, too fast, and you’re liable to get an earful from your most valuable asset you have – your customers.

How to Optimize Your Website for Millennials

millennial woman

The demographic group dubbed “millennials” is now between 16 and 36, with a buying power of some $200 billion currently which is projected to grow to $10 trillion in their lifetime.

Every business needs to start thinking about millennials – if they aren’t already. Millennials are a generation of well-educated, well-paid individuals, who are known to be fiercely loyal to the brands they love. But how do you get them to love you? We take a look at what the numbers tell us about what millennials are looking for when they go online.

 

Good mobile design

Most of what millennials value in an online experience can be summarized as a good mobile experience. If the principles of sound mobile design are being followed, then millennials will be on board. Why? Because millennials love mobile. 18% reported being mobile-only, which is huge.

Not mobile first. Mobile only.

There are plenty of aspects that go into a great mobile experience, and to meet the high (and rising) expectations of these consumers, you need to hit them all. But there are a few in particular that are worth pointing out:

 

Rich content

chef steps

Both the increase in video content on social networks and the emergence of totally new video and image-based social networks has been largely driven by millennials. In fact, nearly half of millennials exclusively watch video content on their phones. They’re extremely active on YouTube,  comparison shop with video, and use video content to research purchasing decisions.

The message is clear: video is a favourite content format for millennials.

To engage with this audience we, brands and companies are getting involved in video in different ways, including:

  • Branded videos/longer form advertisements (5 minutes vs 30 seconds, built specifically for social media)
  • Helpful videos (product reviews/recommendations in your field, how-to videos, etc.)

One brand which does a fantastic job of this is ChefSteps, which produces a range of helpful recipe videos to help people learn how to cook. The goal? Be helpful, and be shared. They’re successful on both fronts.

 

Social sharing

social

Millennials are talkers, that’s for sure. For the millennial generation as a whole, both sharing and listening on social media are absolutely essential. For example, millennials are more than twice as likely as older generations to have 200+ friends on Facebook and 70% will ask for advice and help with big (and small) decisions online.

So what can you do on your site to help? Make it easy to share. Make buttons available to push content directly to major social networks. Make them easy, obvious and fast to use. You don’t need every single social network out there – pick the relevant ones (these will depend on your specific website) and call it a day.

Second, listen out for yourself. Listen to what your customers and visitors are saying, both to and about you. There are a number of social listening tools that are built exactly for this purpose. Many of them will let you monitor multiple channels for keywords, showing you what people are saying about your company, products or service. You should also give users an avenue to provide you feedback – whether it’s through your website or another specific channel – make sure your customers have a way of being heard.

And of course, engage on social media. A big part of sharing about brands and companies on social media (especially negatively) is just the desire by the customer to be heard. Show you hear them by responding, even if you can’t offer a resolution.

 

Personality

Microsoft’s Twitter Profile

Microsoft’s Twitter profile

Companies can no longer afford to be faceless organizations, hiding away in a 1990s office park. The expectation has shifted as companies face more public scrutiny for poor behaviour. As a result, companies have to embrace the limelight, and millennials expect more than just a token effort.

Millennials, with their fierce brand loyalty, tend to love brands that have vivid, engaging personality, with a clear set of core values and who don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s now more important to be honest and human than formal and professional.

 

Conclusion

Millennials are looking for more out of every company they interact with. Expectations are high, but so are the payoffs for businesses willing to invest in attracting this powerful demographic. Brands and companies need to work more to engage with millennials on their level, rather than waiting for customers to ‘come around’ to the company’s way of thinking.

To do that, brands and companies need to do four things:

  1. Create a great mobile experience. Many millennials are mobile only.
  2. Create videos. Millennials love video content.
  3. Create the tools for millennials to share your content, listen to what people say about you, and respond whenever you can. Engagement is the name of the game.
  4. Develop and own a personality. Millennials are a relaxed bunch. They respect honesty and humility more than stiff upper lip professionalism. Provide that.