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Facebook Takes Another Tip From Twitter And Pushes Trendy Topics

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 2:59pm

Just because Twitter wants to be more like Facebook doesn't mean Facebook doesn't want to be more like Twitter. 

About a month after Twitter started aping Facebook, shoving "curated" tweets in your timeline and suggesting strangers you should follow, Facebook is now getting into the "trending topics" game we know from that other social network. 

Posts on trending topics (and weighed for timeliness) will now appear higher in your news feed, Facebook announced on Thursday

If a post from a friend or Page you follow is about something lots of people are talking about, Facebook will put that post right up top where you can't miss it. That way, you can engage while the topic is still relevant. 

This is no willy-nilly change, either. Early testing shows this leads to six percent more engagement, the company said in a blog post.

Also see: Can Anyone Remember Facebook's Last Original Idea?

What's more, Facebook will now not only look at the number of "Likes" or comments a certain post receives, but also when most of the activity occurred. If a lot of people comment right after the post appeared, and then those comments or "likes" grind to a halt, Facebook's updated algorithm will take that as a sign that the post was timely, but isn't any more. That means the post will appear high in your news feed while the traffic is happening, and sink once the traffic slows down or grinds to a halt. 

Likely, this change isn't meant so much to benefit you, but Pages in particular. Pages, which often represent brands, are having a hard time getting much attention without paying for it. Facebook's latest algorithm update help Pages reach a broader audience. That is, if those pages are posting about breaking news and events.

You'll also likely start seeing more posts from your friends that may coincide with real-time events, like football games, television shows, or breaking news—just like the posts you might find on Twitter. 

Image by Find Your Search

Categories: Technology

Here Come Apple And Google In The Battle For Your Health

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 2:13pm

Earlier this year, both Apple and Google presented competing visions for how we'll use apps and wearables to gather data about our bodies and share it via our phones. Apple called its software HealthKit, while Google presented Google Fit.

If things had gone according to plan on Wednesday, Apple would be enjoying a head start over Google, with HealthKit released along with iOS 8, its new mobile software for iPhones and iPads. (Google Fit is still unreleased beyond a "developer preview.") 

Instead, Apple disappointed both consumers and developers. The last-minute discovery of a critical—though unspecified—bug prompted Apple to block the release of new apps created with HealthKit and the removal of existing apps, like MyFitnessPal and the Walgreens mobile app, from the App Store.

See also: Why You Can't Download Health And Fitness Apps From Apple's App Store

Apple now says HealthKit will be ready by the end of September. App developers, having raced to retool their apps to remove HealthKit, will presumably put it back in. It may just be a temporary delay, but it's an embarrassment for Apple, which prides itself on the polish of its products.

Over the long term, developers will have to weigh incidents like this against the long-term promise of Google's and Apple's platforms. It's likely that alongside Google Fit and HealthKit, we'll also see independent players connecting apps and wearables. MyFitnessPal and Under Armour's MapMyFitness are two to watch.

Ultimately, this should mean that apps will be easier to use; that consumers will have a wider choice of wearables; and that data about our health and fitness will be easier to view, analyze, and take action on. But we have a long road ahead. 

Here's a presentation I delivered on Tuesday at the DataWeek + API World 2014 Conference about the current state of fitness apps and the software tools we use to create them:

Categories: Technology

The iPhone 6 Dilemma: Finding Enough Useful Apps To Fill A Bigger Home Screen

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 1:12pm

Among other advancements, the iPhone 6 promises another row of application icons on your home screen. The question is whether you can usefully fill it.

Apple trumpets the availability of 1.3 million apps in its App Store, but in reality we reallly only use just a fraction of those we install. And as my venture capitalist friend Bryce Roberts (@bryce) related to me recently, "I can't remember the last time I added a new app to my home screen." Neither could I for my own device.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But as browsers become the über app they've been on the desktop, how much home screen space do we really need?

Apps, Apps Everywhere...

It's not that there aren't lots of apps to choose from. As this chart from Statista shows, developers keep feeding us more and more of them:

Source: Statista

All those apps have added up to $10 billion in app sales for Apple alone in 2013. 

Americans install an average of 25 apps on their mobile devices, but as data from Google indicates, we use just 12.1 of those on a regular basis. The Japanese install more apps but user fewer (36.5 and 7.8, on average), while Brits and Germans both install fewer and use fewer.

Source: Our Mobile Planet (Google)

Using Google's tool, it's easy to check this data for a range of other countries over different time periods, but the result is always the same: we may install a lot of apps but we use very few.

Nielsen data shows higher installs and increasing usage, but also evinces an upper bound to how many apps we want to use, and how much time we're willing to dedicate to them.

So, my iPhone 5 offers me 24 different app slots on my home screen. With the iPhone 6 arriving this week I'll have 28. I have no idea what to do with that last row, given that I can barely fill the six I already have.

Spoiled For Choice

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about the additional screen space I'll have for Instagram, email and Chrome. I just wish that app developers were actually building things that I really want.

My Home Screen

When I look at my most recently installed apps, they're basically one-off installations that would have better been accomplished in a solid HTML5 website. This is typical of app usage, according to data from Onavo, which found that less than half of apps get used more than once. In my case, here are a few examples:

  • Someone told me The Weather Channel's app is dramatically better than Apple's, so I installed it and used it ... once. (It's not really better for my needs.) Deleted.
  • I wanted to check whether Garmin Connect has caught up with Strava (It hasn't). Downloaded it, looked at it once and have now deleted it. 
  • My wife coaxed me into doing a DietBet with her. Used it for 30 days to update my progress. Won $35 but can't figure out how to get it from DietBet back into my bank account. Gave up and deleted the app.
  • My daughter thought it would be funny to send me SnapChats. It was. Once. Now I realize that I'm old and don't understand newfangled things like Snapchat. I haven't deleted it because, hey—funny pictures!

And so on. It's a tired assembly of minimally interesting apps that really don't deserve to be standalone apps, at least not in their current form. None have made it beyond my fourth app screen, which is saying something since I don't think I've ever used an app on my third screen and only occasionally use those on my second screen.

The only apps that have cracked my home screen in the past year or so come from Google: Hangouts and Sheets (formerly Drive). I use these almost daily.

Innovation, Interrupted

We need two things to make the app experience better. First, we need developers to spend more time building quality apps that we'll actually want. Second, many apps needn't be apps at all, and would be better delivered as web pages/apps.

As VisionMobile has reported, most app developers (67%) live below the "app poverty line," meaning that they earn less than $500 per app per month. 

But this is largely because they spend precious little time developing the apps:

On the second issue, too many developers build apps that are basically features of larger systems, and which have little standalone value. I don't need a dedicated app to report and review weight loss compared to friends (DietBet): a website would work just fine. 

The great thing about building such "apps" in HTML5 is that the code can then be repurposed into a dedicated hybrid app down the line as functionality/engagement dictate. In fact, VisionMobile finds that 39% of HTML5 apps aren't delivered in the browser at all, but instead are wrapped in native code and are delivered as native apps.

Regardless, app developers need to do more to fill that extra row with "must have, must use" apps on the millions of home screens that larger iOS and Android devices now offer. 

Lead image by Cristiano Betta

Categories: Technology

Amazon Gets Serious About Hardware With 6 New Tablets

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 12:19pm

When it comes to owning your entertainment experience, Amazon is not playing around. 

The retail giant rolled out its largest product launch since it entered the hardware business on Wednesday, introducing six new tablets. Amazon's new line ranges from a kid-friendly e-reader to a Kindle Fire tablet for power users. All are available for pre-order now and are scheduled to arrive in October. 

The new products include:

Fire HD 6 Tablet: $100

The new tablet comes with a 6-inch HD display, wi-fi, front and rear cameras, and offers 8GB or 16GB of storage. 

Fire HD Tablet, Kids Edition: $149 to $189

This "kid-proof tablet" for kids ages 3 to 10 is available with either a 6-inch display ($149) or 7-inch display ($189). The kids edition has features similar to the new Fire HD 6 for grownups, along with a 2-year guarantee and a protective case. The tablet also features unlimited access to 5,000 books, movies, TV shows, apps and games at no extra cost and built-in parental controls. 

Fire HDX 8.9 $379 to $479

Described by Amazon as "our most powerful tablet ever," the Fire HDX 8.9 features an HDX display, Wi-Fi and is available with a range of storage, including 16GB ($379), 32GB ($429) and 64GB ($479).

Kindle $79

Amazon's "most affordable" e-reader does away with page-turning buttons, offering a touchscreen display, a faster processor and more storage.

Kindle Voyage $199 to $269

Amazon's blinged-out Kindle Voyage, for its most "passionate readers," features the latest generation, backlit Paperwhite Display, high resolution and contrast, an adaptive front light and "reimagined page turns," which allow readers to turn a page "without lifting a finger." 

Kindle Voyage is available with Wi-Fi only ($199) or Wi-Fi and 3G ($269).

Lead photo by Amazon

Categories: Technology

Tim Cook Is Keeping Your Apple Data Safe From The Cops

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 10:31am

Apple rolled out a massive update to its operating system on Wednesday, along with a made a significant update to its privacy policy. Beginning with iOS 8, Apple says data on your device is kept private, even from the police.

"Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of all our hardware, software, and services, including iCloud and new services like Apple Pay," CEO Tim Cook wrote in an open letter published concurrently with Apple's new privacy policy. 

See also: Apple's Privacy Record Sucks. Here's Why You Should Care

Before making it "absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services," Cook appears to single out Google, the company’s biggest competitor:

“Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you.”

Cook’s letter also discussed the company’s plans to strengthen iCloud security. After the personal celebrity photo leak last month, hackers may be an even greater customer concern than government entities for the time being.

With iOS 7 and earlier, government entities were able to bring seized locked Apple devices to the company, where Apple could extract a significant amount of data. Apple's updated privacy policy explains the changes made with the new operating system.

"On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode," the privacy policy now reads.

See also: For Once, The Entire Internet Isn't Blaming The Victims Of This Nude Celebrity Photo Leak

"Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."

Photo by JD Hancock.

Categories: Technology

iOS 8 Gives You Greater Control Over How Apps Track You

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 9:00am

On and off: Those used to be the only options for sharing your location with applications on iDevices. Now with iOS 8, there's a new alternative: a setting for sharing your location only while using a particular app. 

When you log into an app that uses location-sharing, it will ask you whether or not you want to share your location with the service. That gives you the traditional options of yes or no. But if you then go to the location privacy page in your device's general settings, you'll see a new set of permissions for individual apps:

With some apps, agreeing to share your information with them means that, by default, your phone will "always" send them your location.

For instance, if you've given Facebook permission to access your location in the past, it will carry over that permission in iOS 8, and continue to enable location services even when the application isn't open. Facebook says this is because Nearby Friends—the opt-in feature that lets your friends know where you are at all times—requires always-on location in order to operate.

Other applications may default to "always" on as well. If you'd rather restrict the way apps collect your data, be sure to check their permissions under your location services settings. 

Lead image courtesy of Apple

Categories: Technology

On Its First Day, iOS 8 Took Off More Slowly Than Its Predecessors

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 8:06am

One day after iOS 8 was made available to the public, adoption of Apple's software for mobile devices is trailing that of its predecessors. 

According to data provided by mobile marketing firm Fiksu, iOS 8 adoption is lagging as much as 50% compared to iOS 7 adoption last year. Data from mobile ad firm Tapjoy tells a similar story: "iOS 8 stands at under 6% [adoption] eighteen hours after its initial availability, while iOS 7 was at 12% after the same time period," the company wrote in a blog post.

iOS 8 adoption is also slower than iOS 6, although the difference isn't as drastic:

It's not surprising that people aren't rushing to download iOS 8 as quickly as they were to iOS 7. The latest software upgrade isn't as much of an Earth-shattering redesign as last year's counterpart, and considering the enormous free memory required by the upgrade, people might be holding off for a bit longer while they juggle their digital stuff to make room.

See Also: How To Download iOS 8 When Your iPhone Is Too Full Of Stuff

Older iPhone users might also be wary of the way iOS 7 treated the iPhone 4, and don't want to be the ones to suffer this time. Multiple reports of sluggishness on older devices, including the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5, could be prompting owners of older models to hold off upgrading their software until the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the devices for which iOS 8 is designed, are in their hands.

Lead image by Apple; graphic courtesy of Tapjoy

Categories: Technology

Twitter Debuts New Mobile Profiles For iPhone

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 6:17am

Your Twitter profile is going to look a bit different to users on iPhones. 

On Thursday, Twitter rolled out a new look for user profiles on iPhones that puts user information—including profile photo, about section, and tabs for tweets, photos and favorites—all in one place. 

People will now be able to find out more about Twitter users with just a glance and the streamlined profile.

Instead of swiping at the top of Twitter profiles to see more information about a new follower, and tapping multiple times to view a person's important information, you can now view it without switching windows. 

The tabs for tweets, photos and favorites are at the top of the new profiles, but once you start scrolling down the timeline, they'll remain at the top of the screen for simple tabbing from one section to another.

iPhone users on iOS 7 and above should see the new profiles immediately. Twitter on iOS 8 will also now let you reply to tweets, follows or messages directly from an iOS 8 notification, thanks to new features in Apple's mobile software.

There's no word yet on whether or when Twitter might bring the new profiles to, or make use of active notifications on, Android.

Photo by Anthony Quintano; graphic courtesy of Twitter

Categories: Technology