Saturday, 24 August 2013

netatmo weather station app review

.iPhone and Android killer weather app and weather station - Netatmo

There is only one thing better than a great app (stop it!) and that's a great app with a great piece of hardware. Whether its just (£100) a Jawbone Up and its related app or a BMW i3 and remote control app the netatmo app and its associated hardware are up there with a great hardware/app UX.

For me especially so as I have worked on a lot of weather apps over time, and am a self confessed "weather head", add this to the fact that I am also British and therefore pre-programmed to like Benny Hill humour and talking about the weather, and so I am as much of the target audience for the Netatmo as you can get!

apart from making a living from apps, I am also a hardware freak and love great design and the usually great user experience that comes from this, I am saying all this as to explain what a great experience the Netatmo is from end to end.

This pretty much continues all the way to realising the possibilities of this device (remote wine cellar humidity, humidor monitoring, basement damp linked to remote controlled dehumidifier...) and the usefulness of accurate weather.

Firstly, the product arrives, no fuss, shipped direct from our froggy friends across the channel. And very well presented too.
All good user experiences begin with good packaging
It also comes preparred to be put in the right place, with a handy velcro strap... why on earth many of the others just come with screws is beyond me!
Physical installation is easy as well with a velcro strap using the same slot as the usual screw fixing
So, you've opened it up, could not wait to set-up and that was all very easy... the world is very happy for the control freak, but: Next up - back to the weather station... and a good few gadget freaks ask me, why? what's wrong with all the weather apps out there?

Well for me there are two gaps in the market that Netatmo fill:

Weather app accuracy

Your present weather comes from two places probably anything from a few km to 50km or further away and does not represent where you are if there are significant geographical, demographical or other 'phical disturbances in the way.... At best it represents somewhere near.
Where you live / work and where you get weather from may be very different
So when I get up on an average Saturday in the UK, look at one weather app and it says its going to rain at 10am, another at 2pm, its the difference between being able to do your planned event or not. Accurate weather is important to me as I do a lot of sport, and cycling in the rain is pretty miserable, I also try an plan things like picnics, barbecues and other events that rain puts a blanket over. It's safe to say for me its an important factor in quality of life, being able to plan your day and not have to worry about the impact of the weather. Even if its not raining, a run, walk or ride in the wrong clothes is a pain, especially exercise. In my case my weather is derived from a) Westminster, yes Big Ben Westminster, which is 2 miles of city away and on the river (usually up to 2'C out from my weather and a huge variation in humidity) and Heathrow Airport, south west of me, on this island that has a predominant south westerly wind and so its weather is that of a front or other weather "element" that has yet to hit one of the lowest and therefore most expansive dense urban areas there is (London is very low rise and therefore spreads across a huge patch of ground). This again is pre-pollution, pre city weather. usually lower in temperature and humidity is not consistent with where I am and any rain this weather carries usually get's dumped in suburbia before it reaches me.

This is not just a London thing, a place I have been often between Santander and Bilbao on the Spanish coast has no weather station of its own, but is very different from either, despite your weather app saying "Castro" its actually taking its reading from Santander. I also grew up in a micro-climate on the east cost of Spain that grows mangos and avocado pears due to its tropical micro-climate, and ... the list goes on...

Local weather variations

Weather varies even in the same place whether you are in the sun or the shade, and at different times of the day / year this makes a huge difference. In the summer in the UK, its important to know when its 30'C in the sun (it does happen) but only 20'C in the shade, or worse in winter when it says 15'C, the feels like gives you a clue with a 12'C, but there is nothing like checking the Netatmo in the shade at 9'C to know its colder than it seems... I have tried with Oregon scientific and other alarm clocks / weather stations and they have two problems: 1) they do not seem that accurate, and usually only have temperature with no context, and 2) they are not connected to the internet, and so are, well just dirty. 
zoom in to outdoor for full hourly precipitation of where you are
The Netatmo lets you get this right by placing the weather station, complete with barometer, humidity sensor as well as temperature right where you want to know the weather, not some random approximation between two places.

Quality of life

So why is all this important. Well, I try and swim, bike and run as well as having other commitments like work and a family and so knowing the exact weather where I live, work and train in real time and/or remotely allows me to do more with my time, which for me increases my quality of life. It also allows me to get the most out of my run or ride without sweating buckets in a top designed for a few degress of temperature and 10% less humidity, because I do not usually have time to change when I sneak a run at lunchtime or before work.

Being able to monitor the humidity of things like wine, cigars or other rooms (like a greenhouse, for example) would also increase quality of life for many people.

and obviously when I am there as well, and only something like Netatmo let's you do this without surprises of the weather variety and wearing the right amount of clothing so you do not drown in your own sweat or freeze to death... and the Netatmo let's me do this in just the right amount of control freak I need :)

Netatmo experience

Back to getting to grips with amazing app / hardware integration, the out of the box experience...
You could not open this box, and put it away for later...
To the app based set-up are a pleasure to go through and a masterclass in UX
This process triggers exactly zero calls / emails to customer service asking "exactly how/where do I..." 
To then swiping up and down between modules.... and the ipad app is even better...
Tablet experience is built around the tablet screen size and DPI
So any gripes? well, I have not yet tried to add other modules for my non existent wine collection or very small humidor, or other locations to see how they work with the app, and honestly cannot imagine how they will do it an keep the whole thing as slick as it is... But will experiment at some point soon...

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

google chief game designer ingress

Ingress, Google and the cheif game designer

So Google has hired a Chief Game Designer called Noah Falstein; as of starting to draft this post there was no reason why, which has now been updated courtesy of the Tech and Coffee group, so I thought it apt (no pun intended) to post on the Google labs Ingress app, which I have been meaning to do for a while as I think Google are onto something, something very big indeed, in fact its mobile marketing and mobile gaming gold...

Its still in closed beta, so you will need an invite to play, but from some of the screens you start to get a view of why its not only marketing gold, but also a very interesting trend in mobile gaming (anyone mentions "gamification" now; please leave).

Ingress mobile marketing gold

Ingress subliminal mobile marketing

Every so often you see a trend in marketing that verges on subliminal marketing, but is, and should remain perfectly legal, but just as effective. Ingress is one of them. On the ingress game you see a series of dots, these are XM (see the Ingress wikipedia entry for explanation) which we believe, are lead to believe or hope is mobile phone activity... android or chrome activity? The concept that android, the chrome browser, Google maps, apps, etc is everywhere is quite a powerful one - much more powerful, visual and direct than the assumption that Google's traffic data for example, requires a solid base of android devices. The first perception is that Google is everywhere, and it is now mobile everywhere.
The dots are XM; chrome, apps and android users?

Ingress local marketing gold

The second level of marketing gold is the fact that people like Zipcar have entered all of their car locations. This now makes me not only aware of how close all my local Zipcars are, but it also asks me to enter the car's details... if the car is available: I now know not only where all my local Zipcars are, but what model and when they tend to be available... unfortunately I am no longer a member of Zipcar as they tried to bill me when my card was stopped, and after 2 years of loyal service decided that sending me a court order was the logical way to inform me of this, and still continued to pursue this despite paying the amount settled... there are some things no amount of marketing can overcome in the social networking age... but were this not the case; it would be good marketing for thee right target audience. Convenience stores, restaurants, bars, cycle hire schemes (please Google add the London Barclays bicycle hire scheme) and more can be interactive in a way that Foursquare never really managed to get a grip.
Google ingress is mobile marketing gold for localised businesses
Personally I think Zipcar have missed another trick here, as each location's car should have an image of the car or van in question... doh!

Ingress experiential marketing gold

One of the types of Ops (PC way of saying weapons or arsenal) is media, which at the moment is just marketing the game but could easily provide a key experiential marketing tool to more points via an experiential video... where you want it, when you want it; do I need to go on???
Ingress delivering an experiential video where, when and to whom you want...

Ingress tribal marketing gold

This is my last post on marketing, and yes I did put lots of marketing points first to wind up the certain kind of geek who has been marketed to by Google so well they do not know it and still think they hate marketing, when in fact they have just never bothered to take the time to understand it... at the moment
Why stop at two factions, why just ingress, the next app could be whatever brand  you subscribe to
However, where Google has truly triumphed, is how it has managed to keep something special scarce in mobile, and as such desired. Its an often forgotten fact of mobile marketing, that what put these little devices firmly in our hands as the must have device in the first place, was its very scarcity, exclusivity and desirability... if I have to hear, read or see another dreadful mobile marketing plan that plans to "distribute", "free", or "unlimited" ... Mobile is not unlimited; it is scarce, a valuable, limited resource; and products, services and people that use this angle to market mobile wisely have very successful products. Fact. Ingress will be one of them. Oh and by the way, did I say I have an ingress account :)

So what is ingress like as a game?

Again, its a game changer (seriously, this pun was not intended either...) for a few reasons:

Ingress is a properly social game

On my first outing with my college Keith to show me the ropes (trust me, you need help getting your head round the game) I was in the centre of Reading (yes, I know) and we were approached by some members of the opposite faction who came up and started talking in a very friendly manner. I was quite literally astounded, however this may change.... At this point I should point out that there are (to date) two factions: enlightened and resistance. I remember I am the blue one, as that's what the person who gave me an invite told me to do, and  luckily for me I would have done anyway (see the descriptions on wikipedia) if I had to make a choice based on the very serious descriptions of the two factions.
There are two factions, to date; all very sociable
At this point I should also point out that Reading is actually quite civilised (by day at least) and in a chavvier part of the country recently; I resisted taking over someone's portal, well, you know, just in case: don't blame me if you find the game not to be as social as I did, and bear in mind that this could change very quickly when Ingress goes out of closed beta. The principal however is the same; apply the theory with a different skin to a sociable group and you will have a highly social game.  The real social nature however is that it gets people to work together, introduces you to names locally that maybe on other social networks (instagam, twitter??) although I have not personally used my ingress pseudonym elsewhere... 

Ingress is a healthy game

...Ingress seems to get people out an about together, which is a good thing for people, and is a good thing for gaming: while the nintendo wii and its clones may have got us off the lazyboy and waving our arms a bit; in general games have just added to most developed nations' obesity problem - not ingress. People extend their walk from the tube, go out for a walk in evenings and lunch, and even organise trips to claim portals. even in the coldest winter we have had in the UK in 20 years... a look at will show you how far you can go even in a town centre.
Nothing can get a geek round a park as well as ingress...
Even as a triathlete (we are nuts and need no excuse to go for a run instead of going for a beer...) Ingress got me doing an extra run to get to level 3. This is an amazing achievement for a game, for a tech company, for a mobile OS provider, and its all still in closed beta!

Ingress strategy game

I never got strategy games. I love pixel art, and so wanted to like what we know today as a strategy game on a visual level. I love great strategic moves and use of guile in the face of adversity, like the scuppering of the armada... so I should like strategy games; but I do not. I work every day on corporate strategy in technology marketing, product design and contract negotiations and so should love strategy games... but I actually cannot stand them. That is because, compared to ingress, what we know today as strategy games are just glorified Sodutu or whatever those overcomplicated crosswords are called... 
Ingress is the first strategy game that appeals to me as someone who is paid to put strategies together...
Ingress has me planning when and where to attack, military style, but with a positive outcome, no camo or ammo or over zealous testosterone alpha males needed... you also need help, and dare I say it, teamwork (sorry) would achieve better results, which is nice...

Ingress will destroy your life and eat hours

As all good games should... you start changing your route to work, your meetings, and I even found myself stopping the car to do a hack... the questions of "what are you doing" are as inevitable as the answer "you don't want to know". This gets more questioning... and then you tell them, and you get the added pleasure of being right - yep; they didn't want to know! Told you... Thankfully I have triathlon training to occupy the obsessive part of my personality... my colleague Keith... he's not so lucky and is a self confessed Ingress junkie...

Ingress is not all that it should be yet

Ok, so if you do not have an ingress account and are left wanting, here are a few things it is not:
  1. accurate: the GPS is all over the place and will drive you up the wall
  2. data connectivity is needed, otherwise the app looses the plot entirely and spins the globe eternally of you are lucky, does not get past the welcome screen if not
  3. every so often you forget to mute and people think you are a trekkie, or worse, if that is possible?
  4. the UI is woeful, even by Google standards
... so its just as well Google have hired a chief game whip then isn't it...

Sunday, 24 March 2013

climate clock killer app weather apps

I have ended up doing a lot of work on weather apps over the years, and a lot of work on UE of apps to either make them better, unique, luxury, worthy of a product launch, etc.

So I was very excited to come across climate clock for a few reasons, firstly because it brings together two key recurring themes of mine;weather apps and app user design, but also as it marks the beginning of a new period on app design as far as I am concerned.
Climate Clock is a unnecessarily beautiful by design - finally we have apps like this! 
So why is this app so important? Well, I started life in consulting as an e-commerce consultant, and watched and analysed the web from dreadful days of active gif ridden sites to the responsive web we have today, and in between there were some design treats and progresses that made my life, and those who consume the web... well, better.

A quick example, to show you where i am going, was the Jackson Pollock page of a good few many years ago, but there gave been more from pixel mosaics, to pixel art and more.
Hours of fun can be had at which caused a stir in its day
Climate Clock is the first app I have come across that you will just open for the sake of it, with no need for the time nor the weather, just to see the background and its progress... which is a huge development in apps. yes, there are beautiful apps out there, from path to even functional apps like Relais & Châteaux, but this is different, this is design in technology because we can... and life is just not worth living if people do not sometimes do things great and do great things just because they can!

Back to the app as an app, its actually not that useful at telling the weather over time in the main screen, however, swipe from the bottom and the most useful omission from most weather apps appears: a ten day forecast.
10 day forecast within the context of the main screen make the app very useful as well
I know and appreciate the amount of thought that has gone into this app - I and a UE designer spent 200 hours getting the first, now omnipresent three day weather button for active views for the Accuweather app for a showcase handset launch, and that was just an active icon!
200 hours work!
From there there is not that much to write home about - there is the usual gesture to go from location to location, however then there are clever but not intuitive other gestures to edit locations, which had me screaming at the app at first. fortunately, the app is pretty enough to get away with it and reveals a pretty, dare I say, Metro-esque settings page.
did anyone see a Metro UX guideline document handing around anywhere??? :-D
... and yes, my life is so glamorous I need to know the weather in Reading... don't ask...

So there we have it, combine a clock and weather and you have a killer app, and well worth spending 69 finest British pence on. If only now we could edit the Apple home screen on iPhone and iPad to have the weather app we want, instead of the abomination that now is the native iPhone weather app (no, its not 2007 any more Apple...) or the lack of weather that iPad owners are deemed to have... you could even edit the homescreen apps on Symbian, let alone iPhone modern day competitors.. and yes, that does include Windows Phone!

Monday, 28 January 2013

killer apps - vivino iPhone & android app, snooth iphone

Wine mobile apps

Lifestyle apps do not come more fun than wine apps; while wine can be an exquisite and esoteric affair, there is such a variety and quality of wines available now at all price ranges that, at least here in the UK, where the market is very competitive, and a huge amount of economies of scale in terms of shipping, there is no excuse to not get involved.

Wine Mobile App history

Until recently, the main apps have been the high end likes of Vertu's Berry Brothers and Rudd app and for the rest of us, snooth and a handful of others, however they have not grabbed me for one key reason: the social aspect! Yep, you got it, wine is a social affair, and as such I have just resorted to posting labels on Facebook  emailing certain friends and storing the photos of labels for my own recollection in a folder called, well what else: wines...
The social aspect of lifestyle apps is key: we seldom enjoy life's pleasure alone!
So I then found Vivino for Android, and Vivino for iPhone, yes, via someone posting on Facebook; just like the world found Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, Foursquare (I sense a trend!) and was instantly hooked, scanned 5 or 6 bottles in my store (I cannot call it a cellar, as, well, it is not a cellar!) of wines and invited others to join.

Community & Social key for killer apps

Even more important were two things throughout the experience so far (the weekend); firstly; I did not get the feeling I had to go pro immediately, which I did with Snooth (only to be then slightly disappointed) ; secondly I added a label, could not find it and had to go pro to search the database. This I understand. However a day or so later, I have an update and somebody has manually added my wine to the database - nice! This community sense is key to the mobile app model.
Building a profile is simple with Vivino, unfound bottles get updated by the community!
Having my collective virtual "cellar" with notes is quite handy, while to date, searching other people's cellar has been frustrating to annoying (long story, but involved a dodgy merlot...) but then I do only have one friend so far (you know who you are!).

The only downsides to this app, that have held back other wine apps for me are the fact that wine seems to moving quicker than many of the:
  1. not being able to edit some of the wider elements community style, even if after approval; like for example, I have a strong steer to big, bold full bodied wines that lend themselves to red meat, which can be seen above, yet the food pairing recommendation still had the very outdated recommendation of "suited to pork". Just as well I am not a Rioja and Ribera drinking person of 2 certain faiths that do not eat pork!
  2. having a list of grapes in the bottle is good, but not having a % is not - the subtle additions of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano to the main Tempranillo base can have a huge impact on how well a Rioja will age and/or be ready for drinking!
  3. The old temperature issue - while thank god we have moved away from the "room temperature" model to the fridge, whether its 15 mins or not will depend on the fridge, the previous room temperature and other points. Moreover
I think the best way out of this is moderated community additions? I will be upgrading to pro and will update, but in the meantime, these are the next issues that need to be tackled with these apps.
Grape % would be useful, at the moment all Spanish wines appear to be paired with pork!
These are small gripes, with an otherwise great app, and will now substitute my random posting of pictures of bottles on social networks...

Antisocial drinking apps

When will people learn that creating a community on just one OS does not work! Facebook and twitter check-in is the other key feature that has made Pintererst to Foursquare via Instagram before it was bought (...and did the whole T&Cs debacle). I do not want to create another account on another app!
Snooth: another apps that thinks people need yet another login!
Another key for Vivino is that it is on Android as well; more and more people have a mixed OS tablet/smartphone mix and even a dual smartphone mix and the market has seen iPhoners switch to Android and vice versa: you need to be on both platforms at least to succeed. Any premium app, especially one at the £2.99 end that has not yet adapted to the iPhone5 screen size  six months on almost demands a refund!

Social drinking apps on the other hand, could become the next foursquare????

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

killer apps iphone ipad - Samsung smart tv iphone remote app

The Samsung remote is an app I have been looking at for a while, ever since Samsung phones allowed "sending" video to TVs and then Apple TV came out a few months later back in 2009ish.

However, until the recent update they always felt a bit like someone had a tick in a box for an app to say "we have an app for that" and that's it. While it is still not as good as, for example, the Sling TV remote experience, they have come a long way and can actually function if you cannot find the remote: Before this you would actually spend a bit of time finding the remote, I say this especially as, while the 3rd generation ipad version worked OK, the version on the iPhone 5 crashed too often to use, at least on my iPhone 5.

The first screen you get is this one, which on first view is not great, however you then realise it has all the buttons you need for the most times you will use this remote: for ad-hoc adjustments to sound when you cannot be bothered getting up/finding the remote.
No iPhone 5 format yet but at least it works
Apart from not being iPhone 5 formatted, the only other issue is the fact that you need to authorise the app every time you use it: guess how? Yep, with the remote the app is supposed to replace anyway. This is a key update that is needed ASAP - one auth, once. If you must have a pop-up, have one saying "this tv is being controlled by..." and have the ability to stop it - if you have annoying people in the house, of any age...

The ability to exit menus, etc is done my using the "simple" tab, which seems strange, but at least makes this function always easy to find, whereas if it were scrolled on the "full" tab it may take more finding.
"simple" menu lets you access menus / settings
So onto the "killer" part, which is the "full" menu: Here you can control pretty much anything, scrolling up and down between the screens
The Screen that gets you around the smart hub
The other of the screens is really all your need, and probably could be the first tab in itself to simplify the app?
The main screen that gets you into smart hub and  main controls
For the more analogue among you, you can still use the following two menus to channel hop and,
Old school channel and source selection

control video and recording and other things you may still do with your TV
old school blah control for ... other things
So why is it a killer app? well, its actually been very well thought out, despite that not being immediately obvious. For those of you who have worked with Koreans, you will notice a lot of Korean thought process in the layout here, which is no bad thing and is very easy to get used to, albeit not the normal layout of other remote controls which have clearly been approached from a Western European or Northern American UE perspective. With the addition of being remembered (at the moment each session requires the real remote to accept the app) and programmable buttons, so I can remove "family story" (don't bother!) and have short-cuts to really useful Smart Hub content like iPlayer, Spotify, Redbull TV, etc this app would be top killer app.