Dec 9 2010

Missing iTunes Features

By the lack of features in iTunes, you would think the current version is still under better not version 10.1. As far as consumer applications go, iTunes is pretty polish but it is immediately evident that most of the engineering staff go into the iTunes store and not the management of your digital content. It feels to me that there are a lot of key features missing in iTunes. It might be that I just don’t know some secret incantation of how to do what I want, but I’ve searched online with little success.

Here is a short list of features I wish were available in iTunes.

iTunes should have the ability to activate, and most importantly deactivate, a computer or device from your iTunes account online. I want to log in and see what devices are activated with my account ad deactivate them.

One other feature I require from iTunes is the ability to sort and filter music and other content by the account that purchased it. I have a repository of music bought from several different accounts from different family members or friends. In some cases, I want to deactivate their account and delete their music.

One problem that I’ve frequently encounter is that the album art of music get’s corrupted. Over time I’ve seen that the album art for a song will be of a different artist. I wish I can have a way to tell iTunes to correct or update it’s album art repository.

Oct 25 2010

US Patent: Virtual Currency

Zynga is one of the fastest growing social gaming companies. Zynga is the maker of compulsion loop filled social games such as FarmVille, CafeWorld, and Mafia Wars. These games have proved to be like crack for people bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now Zynga has patent the novel idea that has been around for decades of virtual currency. Zynga’s file to patent Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network. They claim that real money can be exchanged for virtual currency. The virtual currency can be used to purchase virtual goods between any two users. A user can be credited or debited virtual goods based on the outcome of events in games. The virtual currency can’t be exchanged back to legal money.

There are, and have been for a long time, games that thrive because of the virtual economy built into the game. Games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, which have been released since 2003 and 2004 respectively, depend on virtual currency to a large degree if you want to get far in the game quick. Within these games you can virtually work and earn currency or simply buy in-game money to buy virtual property such as a house or armor or whatever you like. The maker of Second Life have gone as far as to name their currency after themselves, the Linden Dollars. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 the Second Life economy grew to to half a billion dollars!

Outside video games, virtual currency has been used in real life scenarios such as at amusement parks and or places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. Chuck E. Cheese’s has game chips that you purchase with real legal tender while Dave and Buster’s uses smart cards to debit and credit in-store currency. In both franchises, the in-store currency can be used to play games priced using the in-store virtual currency. Two users can exchange and gift the in-store currency and based on the results of such game you win points that can be used to purchased goods.

All of their claims have been around for years and have been implemented in a variety of systems for years. Another real life example is iTunes. At most retailers, people can purchase iTunes gift cards. The virtual value that can be redeemed from a given iTunes gift card is usually given at a rate of $1 iTunes dollar to $1 real dollar. But some retailers, such as Costco has rates of $1 iTunes dollar to less than $1 dollars. The iTunes gift card will be used to credit a user with some amount of value which can later be used to redeem virtual goods such as songs, movies, and apps through iTunes, the online network application.

Outside of games that force you to tend to virtual crops for virtual money, in other words virtual share cropping, virtual currency has been used to control runaway inflation.

Oct 22 2010

Favorite iPad Apps

It’s really hard to find really great iPad apps from the hundreds of thousands of apps available from the Apple iTunes appstore. I’ve bought a few apps that I’ve later regretted. In this post I’ll list the top five iPad apps, other than Twitter apps, that I love using on the iPad. I’m always looking for new apps to try out, if you have any suggestions, please feel free to list them in the comments sections.

Autodesk SketchBook Pro – My go to app for drawing a quick sketch for an idea, logo, or design is the Autodesk SketchBook Pro. It’s easy to use, has a nice selection of different brushes and patterns. One of my favorite features is the mirror, drawing one a line will produce a mirrored image of that line. I also like that the produced images can easily be exported at a high resolution. SketchBook Pro also supports multiple layers. There are few features I would like to add to this app. I’ve used images generated from this app in my Tumblr on many occasions.

Penultimate – Another favorite sketch app is Penultimate. This sketch app is a lot simpler and easier to use. Penultimate only has three pen widths and six colors to choose so I used this for rough sketches for ideas. The look of Penultimate feels like a Molskine notepad. Penultimate allows you to have multiple notebooks, each for a different project. You can export a page as an image or a notebook as a PDF document.

Amazon Kindle – I’ve had a Kindle since it was originally released and I have a lot of notes, highlights, and bookmarks for the Kindle ebooks that I’ve read. Even though I have a Kindle, the most common way I read Kindle books is through my iPad via the Kindle for iPad application.

Adobe PS Express – The Adobe PS Express is my favorite app when it comes to cropping pictures on the iPad. PS Express comes with a few commonly used photo manipulations such as cropping, straightening, rotating, and flipping images. It also has a predefined set of borders and filters to apply on your photos or image files.

Strip Design – Strip Design is a very simple iPhone and iPad app that allows you to create comic strip like panels. You can create a strip of one, two, three, or four panels. In each panel you can drop a different image. You can also add thought balloons and different stickers such as crazy looking mustaches or action effects.

Dragon Dictation – Dragon Dictation helps to transcribe to text what you say. This is really useful to record a thought and have it transcribed to text quickly. Dragon has good recognition, at least it has worked for me. I used Dragon Dictation when I want to jot down a idea quickly, then I emailed me the dictated text for final editing.

Oct 11 2010

Foursquare Missing Features

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Foursquare style check-ins is a feature not a product. Facebook Places has proven that location base check-ins are a feature easily implemented. That said, Foursquare and other location based services have tried to wrap social games and compulsion loops into their products in the form of mayorships and badges to make the check-in process more meaningful. But as a feature, as opposed to a product, checking into a place, restaurant, or business does not scratch any real business itch. I understand that to a brick and mortar business, having an idea of how often your customers are near your business and marketing to them when they are can be beneficial, but if all Foursquare is doing is checking in then users will eventually experience check-in burnout.

Location based check-ins is a feature and to one degree or another you can lock in your location on Facebook Places, Yelp, Google Buzz, Twitter, Gowalla, etc. But aside from running for mayor of my local dollar store and racking up some virtual badges there is little benefit or purpose for the end user. The missing piece of location base services is commerce, making users into customers.

Like most folks, I hate waiting in line at a restaurant. Too often when you are stuck in line you have someone crowding into your personal space, you feel like you are just wasting time standing there waiting to order some food, and worst is when people call in and their order is taken before yours. Wouldn’t it be great if you can use a location base service to indicate that you are near your favorite taqueria and have the ability to order right there using a mobile app? If Foursquare could do this, I wouldn’t mind given them my credit card number, turning me from a free loading user to paying customer.

There a ton of apps on the iTunes app store that use users’ location to find a store or deal nearby. The Groupon app can locate deals nearby. The Macy’s iShop app has a store locator that uses your phone’s location. If McDonald’s or Starbucks had a location base mobile app that allowed me to order from half a block down by charging my card and had my items ready as I walked in, that would add so much more value to the mobile app user, establishment, and location based service.

Sep 10 2010

The Future of Apple TV

Hard core techies have been able to stream online content to their televisions for years! Even as far back as 4-5 years ago you could have streamed content through XBox and manage it through Media Center. I know some several folks that are using a general purpose Mac Mini connected to a TV to streamline video podcasts and movies purchased on iTunes. The smart TV will be big in the next several years, especially since all the major technology players are heavily investing in it. Google recently announce Google TV, Yahoo! has been working for years on enhancing television viewing experience with TV widgets.

You can find internet ready connected televisions from your favorite brands at retailers like Costco and content delivery companies are partnering with anyone they can to provide on demand streaming of video content. Netflix is going through a metamorphosis process where it knowns it’s business of sending out DVDs in little red envelopes is starting to shrink ad it has partnered up with console maker Nintendo and Microsoft to provide movies and shoes on demand.

Apple wants to do to the movie and television business what it did to music, control it from top to bottom. Apple came to dominate the online music sale by a two prong approach, through iTunes music store and iPod music player. To move into a delivering movies and television shows online it needs to develop a similar approach. Apple needs both the online retail side and the television set-top box. With a mix of hardware and software, Apple can lock down to platform and lock out out players like it has in App Store/iPhone mobile environment and the iTunes/iPod music space. If Apple can get into your living room by making the easiest possible device that can stream music and movies and apps to your television it can push a lot of product.

Apple has a track record of making seamless products in terms of industrial design and user experience. This is their strength, and compared to other products in the market Apple TV will be a more attractive choice, especially for those that don’t want to read forums all day to make things work together. The only forceable set back is that people are really interested in another set-top box! Most households already have a game console, cable box, blu-ray player, and what not connected to their television set. The future of Apple TV is to make the television with the necessary hardware and software built in to connect with with it’s iTunes store. Apple has plenty of experience making hardware, it currently makes a beautiful 27-inch iMac. I could see Apple easily adding a 32-inch and 40-inch to their product line. Apple won’t just make another television, it won’t be a Vizio. I could see an Apple branded television set, maybe an iMac HDTV, with built in app support, touch enabled, online streaming, and more.

The future of the Apple TV is not as a set-top box, it’s the as a iMac HDTV! In addition to touch, it would need a new revolutionary user interface, per se gesture base a la Minority Report. This is why I’m getting an Apple TV, not because of what I can do now, but what it will be in a few years out.

Sep 6 2010

Amazon Should Buy Blippy for $100 million

Blippy is a site that allows you to automatically share the purchases you’ve made and the products you’ve bought with friends and followers. The way Blippy can detect products and services bought is by monitoring the transactions made on a given credit card. Blippy has been around for a while and many of the questions concerning privacy and security have already been asked. Blippy is just the next logical conclusion of all the information we make public on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. With some common sense, extra precautions, and the correct privacy settings, people feel more and more comfortable posting about the products they purchase, the locations they visit, and their private lives including relationship status and political views. Blippy is one of few companies in the social commerce web space and it complements with the strategy at Amazon that I think Amazon should make an offer of no less $100 million dollars to purchase Blippy before it gets snagged up by a competitor. The social commerce space has just been validated by Apple Ping. Apple Ping complements Apple iTunes by being a social commerce community around music and possibly other entertainment media such as movies and books. Similarly, Blippy can complement Amazon by being a social commerce engine for the products sold by the online retailer giant. Blippy also compliments the large amount of product reviews Amazon has amassed and can easily be turned on for all the users accounts at Amazon with little effort, because essentially every Amazon user has already entered one or more credit card.

More and more companies will have niche social applications around their core business, right now news networks to car companies and everything between are using social sites like Twitter and Facebook, but they will soon ask for more and more control over users data than these sites provide. Instead of being a Twitter or Facebook client to post likes and status updates, large ecommerce sites will develop their own social niche sites around their core competencies, like Apple Ping. Just like Apple has released Ping as a social engine for discovering new music, Amazon needs a similar product to compliment it’s online retail business and it’s social media strategy. The social graph provided by Blippy augments well around the data Amazon already has, such as previous purchases, reviews, and the information to generate recommendations. All things being equal, Blippy adds more value to Amazon which sells product than to Facebook that which impressions.

I’m not an insider, investor, or friends with anyone at Blippy or Amazon, but I just feel that these two businesses compliment each other very well and can take social networking to the next level into social ecommerce. When ecommerce goes social and viral it will mark the beginning of ecommerce 2.0.