Welcome to the Social Epicentre

21 08 2010

We live in a world in which we have a dual identity, one in the real world and the other, on the internet, and for most this comes in the form of a Facebook or Twitter account. As well as this, there has been a rise in Geo location and the integration of this with the social sites, with the rise of services such as Foursquare. However, at the moment, all of these web and social services are failing to interact with one another. For example, I can check in with Foursquare, but then I can’t create a Facebook event using this Geo location data and invite friends to it, and I can’t check Twitter for related tweets about the location that I’ve checked into. In an attempt to bridge the gap between some of the social services, the Hotlist App  aggregates data from your Facebook account to populate the App with events and friends. From there, other services, such as Yelp and Twitter, provided additional information, which all contributes to a stream of relevant information that the user can use to their advantage.

The Basics

Category: Social

Last Update: 30 July 2010

Seller: Hotlist Media, Inc

Price: Free

Size: 1.2 mb

Version: 1.0

Requires: Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later

The Review

One of the key features that sets the App apart from other social services, is the level of integration that The Hotlist offers. On the most basic level, the App connects with your Facebook account so it can import friend’s details. From there, based on events in the Hotlist database, the App can provide reviews from Yelp, the girl to guy ratio and, probably the most helpful, Tweets from people at the event, which gives users an insight of the vibe of a venue without stepping a foot inside. The integration of this data, combined with your friends from Facebook, gives the user access to information that allow them to make better informed decisions.

The overall level information that the user can gain from using this App is staggering, however, the developers need to continue to expand the level of integration, with additional services, such as Foursquare. I understand that this will rely heavily on how open social services are willing to be when it comes to integrating their data into the Hotlist App, however the more relevant services that The Hotlist aggregates, the more useful the App becomes, since with more relevant and quality information, users can make better decisions.

Along with the integration and aggregation of external data, the App is also well stocked out with features, such as directions to events which exports to the Google Maps App. Users also have the ability to track their friends through both a profile page, which reveals additional information on the person, as well as a news stream that mentions when and where your friends will be.

At the time of writing, the App covers over 1.2 million venues across 86 cities, and the App encourages users to add venues through the database via a simple entry form. At the moment the coverage of events in England is mainly focused around the main cities, however over time, as the service matures, the coverage will spread as people add places to the database.

While the App has good features as well as the integration of your social data, the App would benefit from additional features such as push notifications, for when friends check into or create an event. At the moment, the user has to continually check the App to find out the whereabouts of friends and events. The Hotlist also lacks a settings page, that allows users some basic controls over the experience. On a basic level, users should be able to change the theme of the App, as I don’t think the bright orange header will appeal to all. A good example of user control over the user interface of the App, is the Google Mobile App, which allows users to change the colour of the header. If the Hotlist was to adopt a similar features, it would broaden their user base, since it allows users to tailor their experience. On a more complex level, another setting could help reduce the amount of data that the App downloads. One example of this, is when looking at an event profile, the pictures of all the people who are attending are downloaded. There should be a setting to turn this, and similar data intensive features off.

Conclusion: A promising app with a bright future that is heavily dependent on both users, since it’s up to them to add to the database, and the developer’s relationship with social services. As I mentioned before, it’s vital that the developers continue to integrate other social services into the App in order to ensure that the Hotlist continues to be ahead of the pack. As it stands, this is a good App, which integrates data  and services in a new and inventive way. With a few changes to the App, mainly the introduction of a settings page and regular updates, this could be a five star App.

Rating:

+ Integration and aggregation of data and services

+ Features

+ Inspired new approach to the social App genre

– Minor adjustments- settings page

Like The Hotlist? – You may like…

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The world at your fingertips

4 08 2010

Disposable App of the month

This month’s entry comes from the internet giants, Google, in the shape of Google Earth. For those who’ve never come across the Disposable App monthly feature, here’s a quick rundown of what it entails. Each month I pick an App, which is worth trying out on your iDevice, but is unlikely to occupy your interest for a long period of time, resulting in it either lying dormant or getting deleted. Other examples, of Disposable Apps, which I’ve covered, are, Lego Photo, Layar and SmileMaker.

The Basics

Category: Travel

Last Update: 14th June 2010

Seller: Google Mobile

Price: Free

Size: 12.8 mb

Version: 3.0.0

Requires: Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Requires iOS 2.0 or later.

The Review

Google have taken their highly popular desktop Application, Google Earth, and shrunk it, so the average user can literally have the entire world in the palm of their hand. The App shares many of the characteristics with it’s older, more established, desktop sibling. Both stream the imagery data into the Application to help save space, however, this trade off means that you’ll need a constant 3G connection, or, more ideally, a WiFi connection, to prevent images becoming pixelated or not loading at all as you zoom further in. Both versions of Google Earth also feature the same rich and immersive environment for the user to search and navigate around.

This is where the similarities end, since both versions take an entirely different route in terms of user input. While the desktop client is constricted to the tried and tested ‘ball and chain’, that is the keyboard and mouse, the Application for iOS devices is freed from this. Rather than point and click, users will swipe, pinch and tap their away around the world, and the end result is a more naturalistic experience. Spinning the Globe around with a flick of your finger tip is far more satisfying and visceral, than clicking and dragging with the mouse. The keyboard and mouse emphasis the separation between the user and the experience being offered by the Application, while, Apps for the iPhone/iPad help blur this distinction.

Despite this, the App serves no really purpose- in effect, it’s no more than a technicial demonstration to prove that it was possible. At best, you can show it off to your friends and family- especially Grandma, “look Grandma, I can Zoom in on your house”, regardless of this, she’ll complain about the screen being too small…Back to the point; the App lacks functionality, partly because it’s a cut down version of the Desktop client. Many of the features are missing and even the simple layers, used to overlay information, is restriced to Wikipedia articles and Panoramio pictures.

Conclusion

The Google Earth App for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad mirrors many of the key founding ingredients of the desktop version, meaning that users can easily transition from one to another. Where the App really is shines, is in how you interact with the content- rather than point and clicking, you are touching, pinching and tapping. However, the App likes practical use- one of the key criteria for it being a disposable App.

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Cloud computing: Is it already here?

21 07 2010

Cloud computing is a term that is banded about all too easily today, with many believing that the future of computing lies in the cloud. For those who don’t know what cloud computing is- the idea is that in the future we will have computers, or more likely smaller devices such as phones, that will be less focused upon hardware specs, such as processing power. In other words, the programs, storage and services that we will use, will be online and as such our data is no longer tied to a single machine- our information and data travels with us, and so the cloud metaphor is complete.

Online Services

The transition began along time ago, we just haven’t released yet, since it’s pretty likely that you are using many cloud services right now. One great example is, YouTube, which in it’s early days was a video dating site- a stark difference from the all encompassing video sharing site and broadcaster that it is today. Owners, Google, plan to continue the expansion of the site with the introduction of Google TV, in which YouTube will be at the epicentre. The service, that is set for release later this year, will provide users with a new layer of interface on top of their existing setup, with universal search for shows across the TV programs and YouTube.

Staying in the realm of television and video, our American cousins will be all too familiar with the great service that Hulu provides. The service is now expanding from just computer to the Playstation, iPad and other media centre services. No longer is the viewing experience constricted to the single screen, the television, people’s viewing experience can be moved from device to device, and all this is made possible with an online account- a simple username and password.

Online services aren’t just restricted to video, other such examples can be seen with Flickr, the photo sharing site from Yahoo!, and online streaming services such as Spotify and Grooveshark. The most starkly different function- from that of media and content providing services- is how people are increasingly moving and backing up all their data online, whether that be document, emails, photos- their entire digital identity and life. Service such as Dropbox and Windows Skydrive, allow people to upload anything to the web, and then access it anywhere they can get an internet connection and a web browser.

The rise of Apps

In terms of the iOS platform and the emergence of the app culture one could argue that this is signalling the future of computing and is part of cloud computing. Rather than our devices having fully blown programs, users are opting for bite sized experiences that are contained within a closed environment, which has been developed to fulfil a certain number of functions. As Steve Jobs said, people aren’t searching on their mobile devices; their opening an App instead. So rather than search for online food recipes, users are more likely to open up Epicurious.

Furthermore, the rise of apps has positioned the iPhone and iPad as more than a iPhone- bordering on the functionality of a computer but with less processing power and defiened user experiences. Apple has noticed this and responded accordingly with the timely release of the iMovie App and the iWork App on the iPad, and soon on the iPhone, if the rumours circulating the internet are to be believed.

Chrome OS

This is one of biggest and most obvious steps towards a cloud computing future, from the company that lives and breathes the internet, Google. The traditional notion of the desktop with the standard icons is done away with and in it’s place, the operating system centers around the browser. As a result, local file storage and interaction is replaced with interacting with files from external sources. One such example of this would be, to edit a document in Google Docs and then save it online, rather than create it and save it on the computers hard drive. A similar stance is taken to other file types, in which the operating system gives the user the tools to view the file and edit it, through the use of an online services, but it doesn’t encourage the user to then save the file locally. As a result, the Chrome OS, while be mainly marketed towards netbook manufactures, since there is less emphasis on the overall specs of the machine, since the standard desktop is replaced with a browser, and the creation and consumption of media and files are handled on the internet, rather than on the machine.

Conclusion

It will be interesting to see how the big companies in the computing space, Apple, Microsoft and Google, adapt to meet this challenge, because right now, I don’t see any of them as set to dominate the area.

Microsoft have the most work to do, since they are a company that has always been based around  a users sitting down in front of a computer. Cloud computing, moves the user away from this classic depiction, and replaces it with a much more mobile lifestyle. In the mobile area Microsoft has struggled and as a result the windows mobile platform has struggled. They are pinning their hopes on the reboot of the operating system with the introduction of Windows Phone 7.

While Apple may have nailed it in the mobile space, with the brilliant iOS format,they are struggling with online services, such as mobile me, which needs a lot of work. The implementation of the rumoured upcoming streaming iTunes service will play a big part in how success the company is in this area.

Google does have a great array of online services, however they lack the usability and user experience that Apple is famed for. How well the Chrome OS is spread and accepted by users will play a big part for them.

What do you think? Which company is set for cloud computing? Is cloud computing even the future? Let me know in the comments below.