When AMD accidentally leaked that Microsoft would launch Windows 10 this summer, it surprised a number of people. Even at the time, midsummer was near enough to seem unlikely, particularly given how badly Redmond bungled Windows 8. Microsoft later confirmed that the date was genuine, however, and has been riding hell for leather to finish the OS in time to make the ship date. Now, the company has given notice that the July 29 date is more of a guideline than an actual hard launch.
Terry Myerson has the details over at the Windows 10 blog. Microsoft hasn’t given manufacturers a final build yet (what’s known as the Released to Manufacturing build, or RTM). This is the build that you’d typically buy in stores or download. Then, Microsoft will distribute a build to retailers, to help them “assist their customers with upgrades of newly purchased devices that were originally imaged with Windows 8.1.” That’s a little odd, since MS typically has just one RTM, but fine.
Here’s where things take a left turn: “Starting on July 29, we will start rolling out Windows 10 to our Windows Insiders. From there, we will start notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up after July 29th.” That’s entirely opposite from Microsoft’s initial statement on the topic. When Redmond first announced the July 29 launch date, it said: ““On July 29, you can get Windows 10 for PCs and tablets by taking advantage of the free upgrade offer, or on a new Windows 10 PC from your favorite retailer.”
Why launch Windows 10 this way?
If we had to guess, we’d bet Microsoft is launching Windows 10 in staggered fashion because the OS simply isn’t ready. Microsoft will roll the product out to Windows Insiders first, because they’ve already signed up for beta testing. Similarly, it can begin shipping the OS out on qualified hardware because Dell, HP, and Asus will have done the necessary testing to make certain that drivers and hardware are all ready for the new operating system.
The fact that retailers are getting a separate version of the OS than the manufacturers further implies that compatibility is the sticking point here, as do Myerson’s comments that shoppers should “Look for this sticker for assurance that our OEM partners have proactively tested a device for compatibility with Windows 10.” Finally, Microsoft will update customers in waves to tell them when they can download Windows (this, apparently, is what that Windows Update was for a few months back).
The upshot of this is that Microsoft almost certainly mistimed its own launch, and not will have to do a staggered rollout to deal with compatibility and driver support rather than just shipping the OS in the first place. Granted, those of us getting a copy of the OS for free probably don’t have too much room to complain, but the uncertain timeline, the total lack of information regarding which hardware or devices might not be compatible at launch, and the backtracking all leave a bad taste in our mouth.
Researchers have discovered a way to radically increase the speed of data traveling over a fiber optic network, and if the technology is adopted, it could mean a much faster Internet. “It should take a couple of years to have an impact, but it’s really about the determination of the technological community to implement this,” said Nikola Alic, a research scientist at the Qualcomm Institute.
Information in fiber optic cables degrades with the distance it travels. When you try to increase the speed at which the data is traveling by boosting the power in the network, degradation gets worse.
“It’s like quicksand,” said Nikola Alic, a research scientist at the Qualcomm Institute, part of the University of California at San Diego. “The more you struggle, the faster you sink.”
The researchers found a way to manage the distortion in a network as you add power to it. That allows the data to travel longer distances before being reconditioned by a repeater, or electronic regenerator.
The problem with repeaters is they must be applied to anywhere from 80 to 200 data channels. “That can be expensive as well as highly power consuming,” Alic told TechNewsWorld.
To reduce the number of repeaters required in a network, the researchers use wideband “frequency combs” to ensure that signal distortion — known as “crosstalk” — that occurs in the fiber can be predicted so it can be converted into its original state when it arrives at its destination.
“We knew crosstalk was not random, because it was governed by strict physical laws,” Alic explained. “However, when we tried to look at it in the lab, it appeared as random. This was a mystery.”
What the researchers eventually discovered was that the frequency variations in a communication channel had to be fine-tuned at their source. Doing so allowed them to compensate for the crosstalk in the line in advance of its arrival at its destination.
“If you correlate the variations, or wanders in frequency, then the crosstalk becomes manageable,” Alic said.
That produced some impressive results in the researchers’ lab. For example, they were able to decipher information after traveling 12,000 kilometers, or more than 7,400 miles, through fiber optic cables with standard amplifiers and no repeaters.
As with any new technology, there will be stumbling blocks to its immediate adoption.
“It’s not exactly compliant with existing systems,” Alic said. “All channels in a system have to be correlated, which is a significant change in the existing systems.”
The inverse methodologies used to unscramble crosstalk also would have to be added to a system, he added. Still, relatively rapid adoption of the technology is possible.
“It should take a couple of years to have an impact, but it’s really about the determination of the technological community to implement this,” Alic said.
“I’m afraid that the network operators might be initially opposed to this because they want to take advantage of the technology they already have,” he mused, “but that technology can only get them so far.”
The technology is especially attractive to new fiber players like Google, noted Alic. “They’re very aggressive in their throughput targets, so they fully recognize the importance of this.”
Although the researchers’ technology will be a boon for long-haul fiber outfits, it won’t have much impact in the “last mile” market.
“It affects the range over which you can send information over fiber, but that’s not the limiting factor in building the infrastructure for the last mile,” said Doug Brake, a telecom policy analyst with The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.
“The expense is building the network in a city,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Distance isn’t a limitation in the city.”
Similar research has been conducted for increasing the distance data can be pushed without degradation through copper wire, which is still used in many areas of the United States to get broadband to households, Brake noted.
“It’s the same limitation with copper, but you get crosstalk much earlier than you do with fiber,” he explained.
“Increasing the distance data could move in copper wire would make a big impact on the competitive landscape,” Brake said. “The old telco networks could then up their speeds to be more competitive with fiber.”
Every Friday, a dozen or so people strap on virtual reality headsets, log on to the Internet and do something that would normally require driving to a local multiplex: watch a movie with a bunch of strangers.
Their avatars all sit in the seats of a virtual movie theater, staring at a screen playing a movie from Netflix. The sound from the theater is so accurate that if participants munch potato chips into their microphones, it sounds as though it is emanating from their avatars.
“When all of a sudden 10 avatars turn around and look at you, you know you should be quiet,” said Eric Romo, the chief executive of AltspaceVR, a Silicon Valley start-up that organizes the virtual movie gatherings and other virtual reality events.
The ability of virtual reality to transport people to locales both exotic and ordinary, is well known. Yet how the medium will fit into people’s online and offline lives is a new frontier. The best known of a new league of virtual reality headsets, HTC’s Vive by Valve, will start going on sale by the end of the year, and the devices will be a hot topic this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, one of the largest annual gatherings for the video game industry.
That makes the thousands of developers and early adopters, who already have prototype virtual reality headsets, effectively lab rats for these devices. They’re the ones figuring out how to navigate their real-life surroundings when their vision of the real world is shut out.
They’re learning which virtual reality experiences are fun, which are creepy and which might make people nauseated from motion sickness.
Etiquette around social forms of virtual reality is already taking shape since this technology has the potential to turn some of the more noxious forms of online behavior into something far more menacing.
“We’re kind of at the Pong level of working with this,” said Chet Faliszek, who works on virtual reality at Valve, a game developer in Bellevue, Wash., referring to one of the earliest arcade video games to help popularize video gaming. “There’s so much more we’re discovering.”
Virtual reality has flopped in popularity before and could again. But its proponents, speaking in awe-struck terms about the coming wave of headsets, promise the technology has finally caught up to the hype. Facebook paid $2 billion to acquire Oculus VR, a start-up that last weekshowed the final design of the virtual reality headset that it plans to begin selling in the first quarter of 2016.
Sony is expected to reveal more this week at E3 about its own virtual reality headset, called Project Morpheus, for the PlayStation 4. None of these companies has announced prices yet.
“We feel very strongly that virtual reality is going to be the next big thing for entertainment,” said Kim Libreri, chief technology officer at Epic Games, a game developer investing in virtual reality projects.
One question about virtual reality is what will happen to people in the real world when they are transfixed by virtual space. All of the screens in consumers’ lives — whether on televisions, smartphones and computers — can be absorbing. They do not, however, completely occlude what’s happening around someone the way virtual reality headsets do.
People immersed in a virtual reality game can easily lose track of where furniture, windows and humans are around them. At Valve, developers plan to minimize unwanted collisions with a feature that it calls a “chaperone” system.
The technology maps the terrain of a room: furniture, walls and all. When someone wearing a headset gets close to an object, a wireframe model of the room materializes in the virtual space in front of their eyes, fading as they move away.
More than a half-dozen virtual reality developers at Valve are crammed into a room, and they often have their headsets on at the same time, playing games on their own. “Rule No. 1 is if someone has a headset on and you don’t, it’s your fault if you get punched,” said Mr. Faliszek.
Mobile virtual reality involves other hazards. There are headsets already on the market that cradle smartphones in front of peoples’ eyes, using lenses and the screens on the devices to create 3-D images.
No wires dangle between the mobile headsets and a computer or console, as they do with other systems, so users are free to tune out in virtual space while sitting in a restaurant or park. In fact, this year, the Australian airline Qantas started testing mobile virtual reality headsets, made by Samsung, in some airport lounges and first-class cabins on some flights.
But wearing a virtual reality headset in public could make someone a target for derision and, more seriously, theft. Patrick O’Luanaigh, the chief executive of nDreams, a British developer of virtual reality software, put on a mobile headset earlier this year on a train ride from Reading to Bristol. He turned on an nDreams app called Perfect Beach that simulated the experience of lying in the sand as waves gently lapped at his virtual feet.
“You forget where you are other than the vibrations and bouncing,” said Mr. O’Luanaigh, who did not forget to stuff his bag between his actual feet.
The protocol for interrupting someone’s virtual reality session isn’t clear — a light tap on the shoulder, developers say, is the best way to avoid startling someone. Researchers who have spent years studying virtual reality believe it will be less socially awkward than it may seem to encounter someone who’s wearing a headset.
“When you’re in a room with somebody and you have a mobile device in front of you, they think they have your presence,” said Mark Bolas, an associate professor of interactive media at the University of Southern California. “In a virtual environment, they know they don’t have your presence. You almost want to leave that person alone.”
A trickier challenge could be policing virtual reality games that are social in nature. Developers are buzzing over the possibilities of immersive virtual worlds in which people connect with each other. The potential for harassment, though, which is bad enough in conventional online video games, and other forms of abuse — especially in online settings that permit anonymity — are very real for virtual reality.
“It creates these lifelike experiences in a space pretty abstracted from the real world,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, a venture capital firm in Seattle that is pursuing virtual reality investments. “That has the opportunity to amplify both the positives and negatives of human nature.”
When players in a virtual reality game are inhabiting the perspective of an avatar, other players who get too close to them can feel like they are inappropriately violating their personal space.
Mr. Bolas believes social virtual reality games will come up with “bounding boxes” — essentially, force fields that players can place around their avatars to keep others away.
“We are going to have new conventions that deal with that,” Mr. Bolas said.
Depending on whom you ask, Alicia Shaffer, owner of the hit Etsy storeThree Bird Nest, is a runaway success story — or an emblem of everything that has gone wrong with the fast-growing online marketplace for handmade goods.
With the help of up to 25 local seamstresses and alluring photography, Ms. Shaffer takes in upward of $70,000 a month in revenue selling twee headbands and leg warmers via Etsy. But as her business has grown, she has been harshly criticized online and accused of mass-producing goods, of obtaining wares from China. Detractors consider her a blight on Etsy’s hipster cred.
The dispute over how goods are produced and sold on a site that prides itself on feel-good, handmade authenticity underscores the growing pains transforming Etsy as it moves toward a potentially lucrative initial public offering of stock.
As for Ms. Shaffer, she denies the claims that have dogged her business recently but says she understands why questions have arisen about the volume of goods she produces. She says her store strictly adheres to Etsy’s guidelines, including that all items listed are either handmade or “vintage” secondhand, with some new exceptions that allow for approved outside manufacturing. “We’re a team of dedicated Etsy artisans who have been able to grow a tiny shop into a little machine,” she said.
For many of its fans, Etsy is much more than a marketplace. They view it as an antidote to global mass production and consumption, and a stand against corporate branding. It’s their vote for authenticity and good old craftsmanship, and a seemingly ethical alternative to buying from big corporations. And it has helped spur a wider industry of items that claim to be artisanal, authentic or bespoke, whether bedsheets or beef jerky.
Etsy, in turn, has ballooned and benefited from a growing demand for that kind of shopping, currently offering more than 29 million listings of handmade jewelry, pottery, sweaters and sometimes-regrettable objets d’art. It had 54 million members at the end of last year, of whom 1.4 million listed an item for sale and almost 20 million made at least one purchase in 2014, according to its I.P.O. prospectus.
Though the site still loses money because of high development costs, it is booming, with gross merchandise sales reaching $1.93 billion last year. The fees Etsy collected on items listed and sold, as well as on services like the promoted placement of goods, reached $196 million.
But criticism of the production methods of Three Bird Nest and other increasingly high-volume sellers, together with a string of defections by prominent vendors, reflect the company’s struggles to balance growth with maintaining the indie credibility that fueled its popularity.
Some sellers say they worry that the site could soon become overrun with knockoffs and trinkets. Others say Etsy’s handmade ethos could soon become just a marketing gimmick, turning off shoppers drawn to the site’s alternative appeal.
“Handmade businesses aren’t infinitely scalable, just by the definition of the term,” said Grace Dobush, a writer and longtime Etsy seller who made waves last month when she declared she was finally done with the site. “As Etsy has gotten bigger, it’s gotten more like eBay.”
Etsy grew out of a design project that three Brooklynites took on for an arts-and-crafts bulletin board. At the time, the indie craft scene was just starting up — a plethora of craft sales, blogs and boutiques selling handmade goods — of which one of Etsy’s founders, Rob Kalin, was an active member, according to acquaintances. Etsy declared to shoppers it was building an entirely “new economy” that would re-establish a personal connection between buyers and sellers, and it allowed its merchants to sell only things they made themselves.
But as stores took off, sellers started to complain that one person could not possibly keep up with the flood of orders. The logical next step, they said, would be to take on investment and hire employees, or outsource the manufacturing, but doing so would run afoul of Etsy’s rules.
Still, Etsy stuck to its ban — Mr. Kalin was known to be a vocal opponent of easing it — until late 2013, when, under its new chief executive, Chad Dickerson, the site relaxed those standards. The change allowed sellers to hire workers or outsource the production to small-scale manufacturers that met a set of labor and ecological criteria. Almost 30 percent of sellers on Etsy work in “self-organized teams,” according to Etsy’s I.P.O. prospectus, and there are already over 5,000 instances of Etsy sellers outsourcing their manufacturing.
Critics charge that decision helped open the floodgates to a wave of mass-produced trinkets. For example, a red necklace carried by various sellers on Etsy, with price tags ranging from $7 to $15, can also be purchased through the Chinese wholesale manufacturing site Alibaba.
According to Alibaba, the necklace is made by the Yiwu Shegeng Fashion Accessories Firm, based south of Shanghai, which claims that it can churn out almost 80 million similar necklaces a month. Jacky Wang, listed as the company’s chief executive, did not return requests for comment.
“It’s like having a gourmet restaurant on a street with upscale galleries, bookshops and coffee shops, and a McDonald’s or a Walmart gets built in a vacant lot on the street,” said Diane Marie, an artist who sells handmade jewelry from her home in La Pointe, Wis., and who has called out so-called “resellers” on Etsy’s discussion forums.
Etsy does police such cases, but it can be akin to playing whack-a-mole. Users can flag a suspected reseller to the site’s Marketplace Integrity, Trust & Safety Team, and Etsy has also said it uses algorithms to detect suspicious sellers. But it acknowledges in its prospectus that it cannot fully vouch for the standards of its sellers and the manufacturers they work with. Some critics have questioned whether there is sufficient incentive to investigate or shut down sellers that generate big traffic and sales.
In Ms. Shaffer’s business, Three Bird Nest hires up to 25 seamstresses — local mothers like herself, who work either at home or at a space at the warehouse she now rents in Livermore, Calif. — to churn out thousands of orders a month. She hires a photographer to shoot in-house photos of her products, modeled by a friend. She sells imported necklaces and other accessories imported on another site, threebirdnest.com, but says none of those products make it onto her Etsy site.
Still, her story has in recent weeks brought intense scrutiny, after a recent interview she gave Yahoo News. Some critics found boot socks on Alibaba’s site that looked the same as her store’s; Ms. Shaffer said that her images were stolen. Still, with sales doubling in the past year, the store will soon start to outsource some manufacturing, Ms. Shaffer said. To prove to Etsy that she will continue to design her headbands and legwarmers, she will have to detail her outsourcing process with step-by-step photos and fill out long questionnaires.
Other sellers, increasingly from outside the United States, also say that the distinction between handmade and mass-manufactured is not as sharp as it may seem. Kyoko Bowskill, who runs the Link Collective store on Etsy, works with independent artists to design patterns for Japanese furoshiki wrapping cloth, and consigns the manufacturing to a small family business outside Tokyo that specializes in traditional dyeing methods.
“I’m all for ramping up production,” said Ms. Bowskill, who now sells 40 to 50 cloths a month at $50 each. “Etsy shouldn’t be about one person crafting goods all by herself with no sleep,” she said, adding, “We’re building a viable business, but that doesn’t mean we’re mass-manufacturing.”
Etsy declined to make officials available for interviews, citing the quiet period leading up to its stock offering. In its I.P.O. filing, however, Mr. Dickerson acknowledged concerns that Etsy is “diluting our handmade ethos” by allowing sellers to work with manufacturers.
“After all, Etsy has always served as an antidote to mass manufacturing,” he said. “We still do.”
Still, its success, and perhaps its problems, have spurred a flurry of would-be Etsys, like Artfire, a community-based marketplace for handmade items. Artfire gained traction for a while — especially among disgruntled Etsy sellers, who started to migrate to the site — but many of those defectors soured when it started charging a monthly fee for hosting storefronts. DaWanda, an online bazaar based in Germany selling handmade and vintage products, is popular in Europe, but its sales are thought to amount to just a fraction of Etsy’s.
Nicole Burisch, a fellow with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and an expert on crafts, said separating the handmade from the manufactured would always be tricky. After all, she said, how handmade is a hand-knit sweater or clay pot?
Most of the goods for sale on Etsy were never strictly handmade, she said — “that is, unless you are digging your own clay, weaving your own cloth, raising your own sheep.”
While mobile-app developers are concentrating their efforts on supporting Apple’s and Google’s mobile operating systems, one group hopes to make the Web a place for apps too.
Dominique Hazaël-Massieux is on the front lines of a struggle that will determine whether you’ll get your next app by visiting a website or by heading to an Apple or Google app store.
Hazaël-Massieux comes down on the Web side of the divide. For the last seven years he’s led mobile-Web work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization that Web founder Tim Berners-Lee established to chart the Web’s future.
You might not care about where your smartphone’s software comes from as long as it works well. But it matters: the better the Web fares, the easier it is for programmers to write software that’s not locked down to a particular operating system and its associated services. That, in turn, makes it easier for you to switch between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile software or to move to whatever alternative arises down the line.
The problem for Hazaël-Massieux is that he’s mostly been on the losing side: The Web has lagged when it comes to convenience, features and performance, and programmers have instead leaned toward building native iOS and Android apps. He’s not discouraged, though. He’s seen the mobile Web grow from awful to workable as browsers embraced new Web standards, and now he’s working on the next step, making Web technology competitive.
“Seven years ago, the challenge was having it work at all,” Hazaël-Massieux said. “The experience was so bad nobody wanted to use it at all. Now everybody does — but not as much as I wish they would.”
The Web is hardly in danger of being squeezed out of people’s digital lives. But the explosive success of mobile devices has hobbled the Web’s prospects by shifting power toward Google and Apple. When new abilities like electronic payments arrive in the mobile world, these two companies often hold control over how it happens.
There are about 1.5 million iOS apps and 1.8 million Android apps available today, said Sameer Singh, senior industry analysis manager with app analytics firm App Annie. That’s a formidable presence — and downloads are increasing every year. It’s no wonder programmers are concentrating there given that1.2 billion smartphones shipped in 2014, about quadruple the number of PCs. The centerpiece of Hazaël-Massieux’s work at the W3C is a project called Application Foundations to endow Web apps with the abilities of native apps.
“The goal is to put in place a framework that makes [the technologies] more understandable to developers and to drive the technology based on developers’ needs,” he said in an interview here earlier in March at Mobile World Congress, a mammoth technology show where smartphones hold center stage.
Loss of universality
The World Wide Web, now 26 years old, transformed the computing industry. Every operating system requires a browser, so the Web lets programmers bridge across previously separate realms. When Facebook was getting started, its developers didn’t have to worry whether its members were on Windows or Mac computers, and updating the service happened automatically when users loaded Facebook’s page in their browser.
But the rise of iOS and Android has reversed some of that trend toward universality. Apps written for one don’t work with the other. If you want to buy a phone using a nondominant operating system — Windows Phone, Firefox OS, Tizen, Sailfish, BlackBerry OS and Ubuntu to name some of today’s struggling contenders — you’ll likely struggle to get all the apps you want.
The clout of Apple and Google also let them extend their power to new domains — iCloud and Google Drive for storing files, for example, or Facetime and Hangouts for communication. It’s enough to make Microsoft’s dominance with Windows and Office in the 1990s pale in comparison.
There are reasons programmers yielded control — and 30 percent of their sales revenue — to Google and Apple. Programming tools for iOS and Android are better than they are for the Web, apps are faster and can use more smartphone features, a payment system is in place when it’s time to sell an app, and innovation is faster than with the multicompany cooperative process that produces Web standards. Even Web-first companies like Facebook opted instead to write apps that run natively on iOS and Android.
Web allies are working to make up for lost time. The Application Foundations effort, announced in October 2014, adds new heft to existing work to improve standards. It emphasizes a collection of priorities like video chat, cryptography, typography, responsiveness and streaming media.
“There are challenges around performance, around making apps work offline and outside the browser,” Hazaël-Massieux said. One big part of the fixes is a standard called Service Workers that dramatically remakes Web apps’ deeper workings. Service Workers are programs that run in the background, letting Web apps work even if there’s no network connection and enabling things like push notifications. With Service Workers and other software components, those notifications could come through even if a person is using another app.
“A component provided by the browser registers itself with the operating system. When the OS receives a notification, it knows it should wake up the browser, and the browser wakes up the Web application,” Hazaël-Massieux said. “Service Workers are about getting the Web to live also outside the browser. That opens up interesting opportunities.”
Another feature he’s excited about is payments provided with an interface that would take Apple and Google out of the loop, letting the programmer choose what payment mechanisms to offer. That could help when somebody wants to embrace something new like the Bitcoin electronic currency or offer payments that are put on phone bills in countries where credit cards aren’t common.
“The way the Web has disintermediated so many — we think the Web can do that for payments, too,” he said.
When industry standards work, hardware and software engineers can concentrate on higher-level innovation rather than grinding low-level details. But creating standards everyone likes is slow work.
One current example covers what might seem to be among the most basic parts of using a smartphone or tablet: people’s use of touch screens.
One interface, called Touch Events, got an early start here, but Microsoft — with a rekindled interest in Web standards — offered another, called Pointer Events. Microsoft’s standard offered a broader perspective based on its Windows experience, handling not just touch screens but also mice and styli. That means programmers would have an easier time writing websites and apps that spanned multiple devices, and the W3C was pleased when it completed the last stage of standardization in February.
“We think it’s the right technology for the Web and brings new advantages,” Hazaël-Massieux said, mentioning not only the range of input types but also features like pressure sensitivity.
One problem, though: Apple, whose Safari browser on iOS helped kick the modern mobile Web into gear, has expressed no enthusiasm. That had a ripple effect when, in 2014, Google Chrome team member Rick Byers said Google therefore didn’t plan to support Pointer Events, either. “Since Touch Events are here to stay, supporting another largely redundant input model has a high long-term complexity cost on the Web platform,” Byers said.
After Pointer Events was standardized, Apple faced the wrath of those who wanted it to succeed. “We need to stop letting Apple stifle the work of browser vendors and standards bodies,” said Scott Gonzalez of the influential jQuery project whose software is widely used in building Web apps and pages. Peter-Paul Koch, who has worked for years helping programmers grapple with browser differences, piled on as well, urging developers to pressure Google to support Pointer Events and thereby force Apple to make the same change. Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Hazaël-Massieux knows the process can be grueling. But in the end, it lets programmers reach any device, and he’s optimistic the Web will succeed for mobile devices.
“It could be used as an alternative replacing most native apps,” he said. “All the advantages that come with the Web — sharability, addressability, openness, a completely nonproprietary system — all these are available to mobile app developers.”
Get ready for simpler designs and new features on your smartphone apps, with developers applying the stripped-down concepts they employed for the Apple Watch.
When building an app for Apple Watch, Mikael Berner and his team at EasilyDo quickly learned that their work could carry over to the iPhone.
The EasilyDo developers found it sometimes took too long for users to find the information they wanted in the company’s namesake app — which acts as a virtual assistant by managing your email, calendar, travel information and services like LinkedIn. When you’re wearing a smartwatch, you need to be able to glance down and see what you’re looking for without digging through menus.
Deciding that also made sense on the iPhone, the developers restructured their smartphone app to also be “more micro-moment,” said EasilyDo CEO Berner, showing quick glances of information that’s relevant to what you’re doing at a particular time. If you’re heading out on vacation, it won’t display a menu with all of your travel information, as the phone app did before. Instead, EasilyDo will notify you about gate changes or pop up your boarding pass while you’re in the airport. It then will display your hotel’s address after you land or provide other information based on what you need in that moment.
Apple Watch hasn’t hit the market yet, but its tiny screen is already changing how our iPhone apps look and feel. Some of the simple, “glanceable” functions found on Apple’s first wearable will make their way to smartphone apps, as will more minimalist designs. And it’s not just about making the phone and watch apps work together seamlessly, but actually incorporating watch features — like new functions and different design schemes — in the iPhone. The result, developers hope, is less digging through menus and a streamlined experience for users.
“A large population is going to get used to the nibbling the watch lets them do,” Berner said.
Not all companies will make tweaks to their iPhone apps that are obvious to users, but others, such as EasilyDo, American Airlines, BetterWorks, Citi and Evernote, are making changes to their main phone software because of the watch.
Apple Watch, which Apple first unveiled in September, costs $349 to $17,000 and hits the market on April 24. The device — which comes in three models, two sizes, a couple metal finishes per model, and with various bands — requires an iPhone 5 or later device to operate and can do very little when not connected to a smartphone.
Days after Twitter cut the live-streaming app off from easily reaching Twitter’s audience, Meerkat’s CEO says it’s “grateful” to Twitter for helping jump-start the service.
The talk of the South by Southwest festival here has been Meerkat, a fast-growing app that lets people stream live videos from their phones, and its tussle with Twitter.
But Meerkat CEO Ben Rubin says he doesn’t blame the social networking giant.
“We would not be sitting here if it wasn’t for Twitter,” said Rubin, onstage during a Yahoo Tech event. “We need to be grateful for that.”
To recap, Meerkat has been the recent darling of the tech industry, exploding to more than 100,000 users since the app launched in late February. The service initially had a tight integration with Twitter, depending on Meerkat users to link their accounts to their Twitter followers. But on Friday, Twitter said it was cutting off Meerkat’s ability to pull information from a user’s collection of Twitter followers, or the “social graph.” On the same day, Twitter officially announced the acquisition of Periscope, a Meerkat competitor.
“They worked very hard to build their graph,” Rubin, 27, said of Twitter. “It’s their house. We need to respect that and be the best guests we can be.”
Live video could become an important element for social networks, as people put more of their personal lives on the Internet. There are also potential revenue opportunities as marketers look to how they can advertise with individualized video feeds.
Rubin on Sunday touted the brands already using Meerkat — from Red Bull to American Idol to the Miami Dolphins. Other clever uses have been a secretary of commerce live streaming his swearing in ceremony, a New York City broker streaming an apartment showing and a church streaming a worship service. (Rubin himself was live-streaming the chat from his phone to more than 360 viewers on his phone.)
He said it was never the intent to keep Meerkat dependent on Twitter, but that using Twitter seemed like the best way to “jump-start” the community. Since Twitter cut off Meerkat two days ago, Rubin said the company has already started to move beyond its leaning on Twitter, though he didn’t go into specifics.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is for now a less compatible platform for Meerkat because only 12 percent of people see your post within 24 hours, Rubin said. Since Meerkat is about immediate viewing, the network is less relevant. But he said Facebook is still interesting as a way to distribute Meerkat content.
Rubin also addressed some users’ complaints that videos disappear after the live stream has ended, so people can’t go back and watch videos if they missed the live broadcast. Rubin said the reason for that was to make people comfortable with the potentially foreign act of live streaming — so they wouldn’t have to worry about their videos being watchable on the Internet forever. But he said that could change after people get more at ease with live streaming.