an app worth its weight in 14 ‘carat’ gold

reviews

If you have had any type of dealings with me, you know I have a problem. A problem I complain about loudly and often. And from what I have come to believe, the first step is admitting it. So here it goes.

Hi, my name is Leslie and I am incapable of maintaining battery power in my iPhone.

I’m also something of an admitted snob, favoring things that I consider chic. Once I nearly passed up a boyfriend’s offering of his Mophie on the grounds that it was ugly. But then the desperation kicked in and I borrowed it — and to be honest still haven’t returned that precious, hideous thing. But no longer do I have to sacrifice style in order to preserve the battery life of my phone, because luckily, there’s now an app for that. (Please keep reading! I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I’ll never, ever use that phrase again on this blog! Cross my heart and hope to die.)

Enter CaratClearly, I suffer from terminal uniqueness if I believe I’m alone in my iPhone battery woes. Carat’s premise is simple, if not simplistic: fire up the app to learn various ways to conserve your battery life. I say simplistic because once Apple’s iOS allowed apps to run in the background even the most novice of iPhone owners know to shut down the apps they’re not currently using. Because I fall into the camp of compulsively checking to make sure nothing is running in the background, I was curious to see if it could help a more advanced user base.

My findings are mixed. At first, Carat suggested that I could save about two hours of battery life if I updated my software to the latest version. This freaked me out because I’m obsessive about staying up to date. I connected my device to iTunes only to learn that I was on the latest version already. This left me doubtful on Carat.

However, my next time playing with the app bolstered my confidence. How did I never think about killing the SMS app when it wasn’t in use? Apparently that thing takes a lot of power because I can save almost 30 minutes of my 6 hours of battery life by shutting it down.

The app allows you to tweet from it, but the actual tweet is really confusing. It just references a J score with no context and a link. This did make me curious about what a J score is, though — wouldn’t you want to know too? Basically, it stacks your iPhone’s battery life against all the ones it measures through the app. Mine is barely above average with a paltry 57, meaning my phone scores higher than 57% of Carat users. I’m undecided on if this makes me proud or sad.

Just for fun, I decided to open all the apps I usually run in a given day to see what the worst offenders are. Surprisingly, none of them registered on the suggested kill list, but I did see a large shift in the active memory I was using. This makes me wonder if my shutting down of apps I’m not using is worth it or if Carat is measuring something else for their suggested improvements. Regardless, I’ll stick with my best practices and enjoy watching my J score decrease as my battered iPhone 4 limps its way to oblivion and an iPhone 5 purchase.

And kudos to the team that built this! It will be fascinating to see what you come up with next.

will apple iOS 6 kill the developer ecosystem? short answer: no.

thoughts

The always highly anticipated WWDC keynote brought the official announcement of iOS 6, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. While most of the updates are enough to make me want to open a developer account so I can get my hands on them (the phone features, especially that DND!), the inside baseball buzz after the announcement was about concern for the sustainability of the app ecosystem. TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler wrote a great piece outlining what types of apps are bound to suffer because Apple is bringing their functionalities in-house.

But will they?

I’m of two minds about this which is why it has taken me a few weeks to weigh in on the topic. While it is frustrating to see a large corporation snuff out competition by including their services natively, isn’t this the type of progress that actually encourages growth and innovation within the app developer ecosystem?

For a startup like navigation app Waze, who initially appeared to be pushed out of the market, it is a boon. They helped Apple develop the app we will all use for directions come autumn. Not actually an acquihire, it is still enormous exposure Waze wouldn’t have otherwise received no matter how successful their product.

Take Siri for instance. No one is grumbling about those guys having their app deleted from the Apple Store anymore. We simply take for granted that the technology is there for us when we want it. And because it is native, we don’t have to search it out. It is just at our fingertips. That is a huge win for a company founded a few short years ago.

The New York Times ran a linkbait piece in earlier this month declaring that the app developer marketplace is going the way of the mortgage industry. I’m obliging them here. After the pompous lede, I found the article to be rather phlegmatic, offering mundane complaints about a flooded marketplace and search issues from an exiting writer who had supposedly been immersed in the beat. (I ask you how an app developer is supposed to fix the fact that Apple’s app search is archaic?)

Yes, there are a LOT of apps that add no value to my day-to-day existence, but these developers are being creative and an Instagram isn’t built everyday. In the same way that I find Barnes & Noble difficult to navigate and over saturated, I don’t begrudge the authors of books I may judge will never read the chance to be published.

As a lover of startups, technology and mobile, I champion the little guys who are building a product as their livelihood and raising money from investors who believe in them. I grouse when they sell to Facebook and their app is ultimately shut down. (I still want to pour one out for poor Beluga.) But in this tech day and age, large companies can’t innovate nimbly so they buy. Such is the nature of the beast and I’d rather seem them succeed by having their technology essentially acquired  by an Apple.

There are definitely worse things.

Image by Softpedia.

postmates

reviews

SCENE: Our heroine sits at home on a brisk, June evening as one can only experience in San Francisco. We find her curled up in her softest blanket, her nose in a book. She is possibly the last person on the planet to read the Hunger Games; hustling her way through it so she can begin Snow Crash. She pauses and looks up from her book. She’s eaten dinner but needs a little something more. An smile spreads across her face as she comes upon what would make her happy in this moment: Bi-Rite ice cream. Specifically, a single sugar cone, both scoops of mint chocolate chip. But what to do? Our heroine is so cozy and warm at home! Why would she leave? And for ice cream on such a chilly evening? Twitter to the rescue!

She gives it a few minutes. Naturally no one responds. Well, crap. That didn’t work! Looks like she’s walking the few blocks to happiness in a cone. There are worse things than an evening constitutional. END SCENE.

But it didn’t end there! After I got my ice cream and happily walked home, I checked Twitter. I had a reply to my tweet directing me to the Postmates app. The Postmates app! Of course! How silly of me to forget them.

Postmates, a former TechCrunch Disrupt finalist, officially launched in December. When they opened up their beta back in February, I was an initial user. They held a really fun promotion where you could send chocolates to a special someone for free on Valentines Day. (I sent mine to myself, because I’m “someone special” too!) After the initial rush, I kind of forgot about them — but not anymore!

Rather than chancing a melted ice cream delivery, I opted to test Postmates with a lunch delivery to the TechCrunch office. Because I was famished, bossy and we were using my account, I got to choose the restaurant: Holy Grill, an awesome hamburger joint down the street from us. Documenting the whole experience like the good amateur tech blogger I am, I can say that Postmates makes paying someone to do a task for you really simple.

Using your location, Postmates determines what’s around you for potential deliveries. Since we were ordering lunch, I had something specific in mind, but their Foursquare integration helps provide options for the non-bossy lunch needs. One drawback is that Postmate deliveries are limited to five items. I completely understand why, but that means that you can’t just have them buy your groceries for the week. This service seems best tailored to small errands that a busy San Franciscan might not have time to handle. UPDATE: Postmates informs me that you can now request more than five items. Good to know!

Throughout the order process, Postmates keeps you apprised of the progress through text, the app and their website. Since the app is so handy, I’m going to investigate a way to turn off text notifications. Seems like overkill to use both, but that could just be me being (hungry and therefore) ornery. Once you submit, Postmates locates a delivery person for you and once he/she is found, sends you their information. Courier Alex graciously accepted our lunch order and we eagerly watched his progress from the Outer Mission to SOMA on our quest. This is Alex upon delivery. He was really nice!

As you’d assume, there are various fees and charges tacked onto the delivery and they seem fairly reasonable. A delivery by the hour charge (which is part of how their couriers get compensated), a purchase fee and a tip. All in all, for this particular order it was about $15 more expensive than if we’d walked down and gotten it ourselves. Is that reasonable? Depends on your definition. TechCrunch reported that Postmate users are spending $100+ a month on the service. Seeing as how lunch for four people with the fees was almost $50, I can easily see how that happens.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be using Postmates, but I do have visions of errand running to Sephora or Kiehl’s when I don’t have the time. Seems like it will be useful in that way and since those errands are put off until I’m desperate, it will be something I’d pay extra for. But for evening ice cream deliveries, I will still stick to asking someone on Twitter and then having a lovely walk by myself complete with a cone.

postagram

reviews

Apparently, I’m very, very behind. Launching in April 2011, I somehow missed the existence of one the most useful and fun apps I’ve encountered in a while. Something that, like Karma, is a service I could get carried away with. That app is Postagram.

Despite loving mobile apps and written correspondence, I learned about Postagram inadvertently, arriving home this evening to a postcard that at first glance was almost mistaken for junk mail — until I saw on it my smiling face next to one of my best friends. It was a picture Liz had posted on Instagram when I was staying with her just after TechCrunch Disrupt in NYC. What? Tell me more! A QR code [insert audible groan here] showed me that this mailable sentiment had been sent using the Postagram app.

Intrigued (and thrilled I hadn’t accidentally chucked it) I decided to investigate this exciting new (to me) service! Long story short, Postagram takes the pictures confined to your iPhone or Android photo library, Instagram account or Facebook albums and prints them on postcards that can be shipped around the globe. All for $0.99 in the US and $1.99 elsewhere. Amazing! The actual picture on the postcard comes with perforated edges so you can remove it for sentimentality and the inscription is both beside the picture and on the back of it. Pretty well thought out, if you ask me.

Confession: in the first 30 minutes after I got home I sent three Postagrams. Recipients included Grandmother, Parents and Player to Be Named Later. I’m fairly convinced they’re all going to love them, because why not! Who doesn’t love mail and/or pictures of me? Right?

The app is intuitive and incredibly easy to use. A user can customize almost all aspects of the process with the exception of the postcard’s background colors, but I can live with that. Begin creating your Postagram by determining which picture to immortalize. Me with gigantic Mr. Softee cone? CHECK.

If you choose an Instagram photo, the app automatically imports the caption. I changed mine to be more personalized notes but it was easy to do. After that, it is like rolling a ball downhill. Enter in the recipient’s address and send it on its merry way. I have yet to pay for one because if you download Postmates now in the app store, you get five postcards free. I have two left to send and I can almost guarantee you that I’ll have them out the door tomorrow, so to speak. Have no fear, after that I’ll report back on the payment process.

A few things that I’d add to my Postagram Wishlist, also known as feedback: I first noted in this post that I almost trashed the postcard because I thought it was snail mail spam. This is because the card is glossy and bright and looks like it could be an advertisement. I know Postagram is aiming for a quality photo you can pop out of the postcard and keep, but I can easily see Grandmother tossing hers by mistake. Secondly, it would be great if I could send other people’s Instagram photos to them. I’d initially gotten excited to send a Postagram to my mother of her puppy, and who has the best pictures of that puppy? My mother’s Instagram feed. If there is a way to make that happen, I’d be an even more committed user. But until then, get ready to receive more mail from me!