Ordering Ahead with Order Ahead

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True story: In March I moved into a new apartment and I have not cooked since.

Cooking is not fun. I’ll do it if I have to; I have some game in the kitchen and am capable of making good things to eat. But all of the logistics surrounding cooking are not interesting to me: grocery stores, markets, ingredients, Farmers Markets, cook books, cleanup, etc etc. Basically, I feel like my time can be better spent. Also, I have the rest of my life to cook, so I’m not really going to start until it is imperative.

How do I eat, you ask. Excellent question! I recently attended a dinner party and I offered my help in the preparations, then quickly rescinded and instead volunteered to help with take-out if the experimental situation went south. (We did not need that option; the host made an incredible meal)

But the point remains: I eat out. A lot. If I am not getting lunch delivered as part of an office perk, I’m in a restaurant. Sometimes I wrangle friends to dine with me, sometimes I do take out. But now? Now I can Order Ahead.

Many mobile apps can help me get food: Get It NowGrubHub, Seamless. All of them bring me the meal I’ve requested. But sometimes I’m in a rush and hungry and need to have something waiting for me when I get to my destination. (If you’ve had the misfortune of experiencing Hungry Leslie, I apologize.) Plus, I really hate standing in line. Order Ahead is ideal in this situation.

I downloaded Order Ahead several months ago with the intent to review but then forgot about it because the offerings in my neighborhood are not restaurants I enjoy. It wasn’t until I was standing in the unending lunch line at HRD that I was reminded of Order Ahead’s existence. Sure enough, most restaurants I frequent in SOMA are represented. I hope the Order Ahead team works to on-board a better representation in other areas of San Francisco. I’d use it much more frequently.

The in-app UI is very well executed. After one is signed up, credit card filed and logged in, finding a restaurant from which to order is simple. My first order was from the TechCrunch office and as Marlowe is a partner, I couldn’t resist one of their cheeseburgers.

Navigating the menu proved efficient as did placing the order. My card was on file so as soon as I ordered the bill was settled. I received confirmation in the app as well as an email. The app’s confirmation page provided significantly more detail than the email page including when it could be picked up and where in the restaurant. Simple! I like it.

When I got to Marlowe I stood awkwardly at the bar while the bartender found my order. She kind of shrugged and told me I could just go “since you paid already, right?” We both admitted to not really knowing what the protocol was for the transaction, but it worked out perfectly. The burger was delicious. The only complaint I had was that I forgot I eschewed french fries for salad. It still sits on my desk uneaten several hours later.

I’m looking forward to watching this service grow and trying new establishments as they are added. One in particular seems fascinating: ordering coffee from Philz (or in my case a Chai Latte). I wonder what the experience is like with a beverage order. I’ll report back upon trying. But until then if you’re in the San Francisco area and don’t like cooking, I highly recommend Order Ahead.

My Bodymetrics Experience

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A few weeks ago, I (insanely) volunteered to step into a rather large scanning apparatus, disrobe and have my entire body scanned. (As one does.) All in the name of tech. And fashion! But before I jump into that story, let me back up.

The purveyor of this device is Bodymetrics. Based in London and Palo Alto, Bodymetrics is a startup that has a lofty goal: to help women discover the pair of jeans that is a perfect fit, based on their body. This recommendation is made after submitting to a body scan and then trying on the resulting denim options. As someone who loves fashion and startups, I was curious enough to try this contraption for TechCrunch TV.

As you can see from the video, I’m a ham I’m super shy my hair sticks up I really enjoyed myself. The scanner is efficient and soothing. It speaks to you with a British accent and aims to have a spa-like quality in its restfulness. After the experience, I have some thoughts on the system and what women can glean from it.

The results can be astounding.

I learned that I’ve been wearing jeans that are consistently one size too large. As someone who is a consistent shopper (not buyer, but shopper) I was dumbfounded. Do you know how many pairs of jeans I own? All but two are the wrong size. This is concerning to me, but I can’t replace them all at once so I have to deal.

Knowledge is power.

Measurements really don’t mean much to me, but what I did find valuable is that the scan validated some of the concepts I previously held to be true about my body and jeans. I gravitate toward mid-rise because I have not much waist to speak of and ankle length jeans because I’m super short. The feedback that the scanner produced echoed that sentiment, making me feel better about the fact that my sizing has been completely wrong.

Flattery will get you anywhere.

Telling me that my legs are the slimmest part of my body is one way to ensure that we are going to be best friends. The Bodymetrics scanner results did just that. Golden. Keep that up, Bodymetrics.

Also, delicately saying that wearing x style will give me a “shapelier seat” is considerably nicer than telling me what I know: that I have no ass my posterior is flat.

In all seriousness, reading what that scanner had learned about my body helped me be more compassionate about the parts I tend to judge. If I’ve been wearing jeans that are one size too large, perhaps the reason is tied to my thoughts on particular areas of my body. Seeing that the scanner thought a skinny leg jean would be more flattering encouraged me to try a fit I typically avoided.

Rethink the floating mannequin in the results.

Because I have Skitch, I felt comfortable taking a screenshot of my scanner image for this post … and then blocking out 90% of it because like hell I’m showing you that. I felt the same way when going over the results with Tania in Bloomingdales. The information learned and spit out by the scanner results are way more helpful than an image of me in my skivvies. I found myself more distracted (and disheartened) by that and don’t necessarily need it consistently in my face.

I’m aware that if one used Bodymetrics to track weight loss, that feature would be helpful — but for the average shopper, a way to hide that would be ideal.

Bottom line

The technology is impressive. Partnering with the Palo Alto Bloomingdale’s is brilliant. I’ve heard through the grapevine that denim sales have increased in that location and I’d believe it. After I had some time to digest what I’d learned, I signed in to my Bodymetrics account to take a closer look at the recommendations. I’ll be making a purchase or two soon.

Ways I could see Bodymetrics expanding are almost endless: men’s jeans (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE), lingerie, swimsuits. Anything that is hard to fit, Bodymetrics has an opening. Also, online shopping could really use this service. The majority of the people I know who refuse to shop online do so because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of returns. One Bodymetrics scan would alleviate that.

But here’s the million dollar question: would you let yourself be scanned? I’m genuinely curious.

mixel: because, yes, you do need another photo app

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If you’re like me, you document most of your life, daily experiences (read: outfits) and funny things you see along the way in picture form. One of my favorite things to do is to scroll through the picture app on my iPhone and giggle at my past adventures. The photo apps currently in heavy rotation for me are Instagram, Pano and PicFrame. If you’d told me I’d need another one, I’d tell you I needed a hole in my head instead. Or more shoes.

Until I met Mixel.

After demo-ing a few short months ago on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in now-discontinued iPad form, Mixel’s pivot to iPhone makes the concept much more accessible. It allows you to take photos from your various social portals and use them to create shareable collages.

Simple approach, creative and exceptionally well-executed. And downright fun!

The app is incredibly easy to use. Sync your Facebook, Instagram and photo stream with Mixel and you’re well on your way. To make your collage, you select the shots you want to include, shuffle the Mixel-generated arrangement of images and choose the style, which is essentially a filter. There’s always a filter these days, isn’t there? Again, all of this is really easy — resizing, shuffling, rearranging. Each aspect of the UX is really well thought out by the Mixel team.

When you publish to Mixel, you also have the option to share across your various social networks. There’s a lot of activity within your Mixel Inbox where you can follow your friends who use the service, popular images and manage any unfinished collages.

Occasionally, the app freezes after posting my collage. It doesn’t crash entirely, but it is annoying nonetheless. Bugs like that are common in the first days after a launch, so I’m patient until the fix comes.

There seem to be a lot of ways the team can grow the service. Some suggestions I saw via Twitter were to make a collage sizable for Facebook cover images or Instagram ready. Both of these hacks would extend the reach of Mixel, which is obviously a smart direction. Adding integration with key popular apps is a nice goodwill gesture, especially considering everything recently.

Because of the simplicity and novelty of creating a collage out of my existing pictures, I’ll now have another photo app in rotation. Because, honestly, who doesn’t need more fun? And filters!

ticket to ride: thumbing a ride with lyft, sidecar and uber x

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When I moved to San Francisco back in 2005, I did it sans car. If you can believe it, I’ve been personal vehicle-free ever since, favoring our fair city’s delightful mass transit system and traditional city cabs in order to make my way around.

I’d walk more, but I wear heels, so that’s out.

For four long years, Muni and SF cabs and I coexisted in a relationship fraught with tension. Neither one of them thought it necessary to show up on time (or at all), even though I continued to express my boundaries: “Adhere to your schedule, arrive when I call you and get me places safely.” Something had to give.

Luckily, several entrepreneurs were thinking exactly what I was thinking and lo! Uber, Lyft and SideCar were born. And thus, they were reviewed. And it was good.

In order to judge each San Francisco taxi disruption service effectively, I took the same trip on three different occasions taking into account the mobile experience, drivers and rates. Below are my findings.

Lyft

I was initially nervous about trying Lyft. Considering it was someone’s personal car, driven by that particular someone, I was tentative. To counter my anxiety, I chatted Roger’s (4.9 stars, drives a white Prius) ear off the entirety of our journey. Shocking, I know.

The in-app experience is as seamless as the in-car experience, with the exception of fewer available drivers overall than exist with other services. Like other car services before it, Lyft just requires your location and provides an estimate on when your driver will reach you. The app doesn’t automatically adjust to my current location which is slightly annoying, but easy enough to deal with.

Roger was a good driver, got me to my appointment safely and good-naturedly answered my incessant questioning about the service. (We may or may not have had a philosophical conversation about the lyrics of “Call Me Maybe” which came on the radio during the ride.) The best part, aside from the traditional end-of-ride Lyft fist bump, was the fact that the ride cost $11, plus tip to total $15. No actual money was exchanged as the app keeps my credit card on file, prompting me to add a “donation” to the final bill — that’s Lyft’s lingo for the tip.

Fears for my safety allayed, I’ll be trying Lyft again. Plus the cars all have big, pink, fuzzy moustaches on them. Really!

SideCar

If the concept of Lyft concerned me, then SideCar was especially challenging. SideCar’s drivers are ordinary people just cruising around the city on the off-chance that you need a ride. Meaning they aren’t professional drivers which is why it made me a tad concerned to try the service.

Another difference with this service is that the ride payment is “voluntary”. SideCar asks that you enter your destination and if a driver is headed your direction, they swing by and pick you up. The app shows you an estimate of how much other riders have paid for a similar trip, and you can pay that much or less depending on your experience. Mine was $16.

My driver was Todd (five stars) who zips around San Francisco in a Mercedes. He lives in Palo Alto, coaches middle school volleyball and in his spare time is a full-time SideCar driver. The app is very… orange. It doesn’t feel as polished as Lyft but it gets the job done. Like these other services, it keeps my credit card on file and that’s how the payment is made once the ride is over. Todd was a good driver and excellent conversationalist but he took the scenic route to get to my appointment which took longer and made me late. I chalked this up to him being a civilian rather than pro driver.

One positive is that there are a lot of drivers available with SideCar, so wait times are pretty minimal, at least downtown.

Bottom line: due to the fact that SideCar drivers aren’t actually professional, I doubt that I’ll use it again.

UberX

As an Uber user since September 2010, I’m a devotee who can’t say enough good things about the service. Full disclosure: I take 4-5 traditional Uber cabs a week. Pretty sure I have a problem. But anyway… UberX was a new experience for me.

UberX is the Uber team’s answer to the low-cost ride share services that cropped up after the advent of Uber. The cars are roughly 35% cheaper than the traditional town cars. Currently in beta mode, you can request an invite and try out the service if approved. Like Lyft, there aren’t a lot of UberX drivers available. More often than not I get this notice when trying to hail the service.

For those unfamiliar with Uber, the in-app experience is uncomplicated, only asking for your location, showing available cars in the area and estimating the amount of time it will take to reach you. Lyft’s app seems to mimic this in its design. What’s that they say? Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

My driver was Vinh (five stars), a very nice young man who was thrilled to be driving for Uber. He’s been very busy since the service launched and thinks Uber clients are the best. He drove a silver sedan and got me to my destination safely, efficiently and happily. The ride was $16.

Honestly, I prefer Uber to any of these other car services, but since my initial Lyft ride I’ve used that service several times, plus my typical traditional Uber. I’ll leave SideCar and UberX to more adventurous souls. But try them! I’m curious to know your experience.

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speaking of disrupting native apps… google chrome for iOS

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Although I adore Apple products, I have long hated their Safari browser eschewing it for Firefox and then with the advent of Google’s browser product, choosing Chrome. The only place I could not avoid what I found to be an insufferable browser experience was on my various Apple mobile devices. No longer!

Google announced Chrome for iOS during the I/O conference and there was much rejoicing. I am so excited about it that immediately upon downloading, I replaced the Safari app with it on my home screen. Aside from the benefit of not being Safari, the app boasts several features which make it especially appealing to me: Incognito Search Tab and Other Devices.

Other Devices

The Other Devices feature was made just for little ol’ me, or so I like to believe. At the moment I have roughly 20 tabs open in my Chrome MacBook Air browser. Several have been open all week because I haven’t had time to do a lot of extraneous reading as of late. (I’ve been busy.) Because I don’t want to abandon all hope of reading some insightful industry pieces (MG and ATD) or online shopping (Sparrow Trouser from Tibi, size itty-bitty please), Chrome automatically synching them between all of my various Apple products is genius.

Where in the past I would have to add these links Evernote, now I can just leave my browser open and more easily access webpages where I left off, saving Evernote for the pieces I really want to keep.

Also, because of this feature, Chrome remembers the things that I search for across all of my devices, auto-completing my most typical searches saving me precious seconds in finding whatever is so pressing at that moment in time. Which leads me to “Incognito Search”.

Incognito Search

Let’s be honest: unless I’m completely alone here (and I don’t think I am) we tend to search things on the mobile web that we’d dare not look up on our laptops. My theory as to why this happens is that I’m on the go, have the internet at my disposal and tend to be discussing ridiculous things that obviously require more context with my friends while we’re out and about.

Because I clean my Safari search history out regularly to avoid potential embarrassment, I don’t have great examples of past bizarre searches to share with you — or I totally would in the interest of transparency. But I will tell you that once a boyfriend was sharing his iPhone screen with me, launched Safari, started a search and the first thing that popped up was a query for his ex-girlfriend’s Twitter feed. As you can imagine, that was a fun moment.

I digress! The Incognito Tab saves us from ourselves and awkward moments like that by eliminating the history trail. Hooray! You can search for more information about the strange things you think about while away from your laptop and look up your ex’s Twitter accounts to your heart’s desire. I just don’t have to know about it.

Bottom line? Great app experience, Google. Hopefully Apple will see that Safari can afford to change and be more user-friendly/less embarrassing. My only gripe is that I cannot make Chrome my default browser on my iOS devices without jailbreaking it.

Your move, Apple.

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klout for iPhone is beyond baffling

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As far as services go, Klout is incredibly confusing.

Somehow the team created a business (?) out of determining ones influence in obscure ways on the internet. I log in for fun now and then, exclaim to my colleagues (who kindly humor/ignore me) the random things Klout finds me influential in. Continuing to peruse my profile, I wonder about how the metrics are determined, marvel at the fluctuating score analysis graphs, and then go back on my merry way doing typical Leslie things.

Doesn’t this look dramatic?

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Occasionally though, I do log into find amazing insights like this.

Most of the time though, what Klout has to share with me is not relevant. Basically because I have no idea what it all means.

However, being the naturally curious individual that I am, I downloaded Klout for iPhone when it premiered. Why? No clue. Curiosity drives us in strange ways, I’ve found. But I digress.

From what I can see, the iPhone app adds no value to whatever it is that Klout is offering me in the first place. I can look at my profile from the app, but there is no there there, if you know what I mean. The app monitors when my score goes up and down and sends me notifications when a change occurs.

Aside from the obvious solution of turning off Klout notifications, what action is one supposed to take at this alert? Perhaps something funny like this? Since my Klout score is meaningless to me, I have no desire to do anything, but I still don’t understand why the app is necessary. I don’t use Klout Perks, but even if I did you can’t access them from the app. You can’t give Klout to other people from the app. You can look at other people’s Klout profiles, but very limitedly. I just don’t get its point.

Interestingly enough, Klout thinks I am influential about Klout. Maybe that will increase after this post, which would amuse me. And continue to baffle me. Good times! Consider this app designated for the land of the app graveyard.

brewster: a beautifully re-envisioned address book

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Fanfare! Buzz! Fred Wilson! Download now! That’s what the Brewster app launch looked like today. Did I take the bait? Of course. Should you? Absolutely.

Brewster‘s aim, to disrupt your iPhone’s native address book, is deceptively underwhelming. To the basic mobile user, the address book is taken for granted as the way we maintain our contacts. But with Mercury entering retrograde on July 14 (yes, I went there) having all of my contacts backed up in a (non-iCloud) cloud is perfectly timed.

What Brewster does though is so much more and it is beautifully executed to boot. In fact, the way Brewster is designed and behaves reminds me of Path. And we all know how I feel about that app.

When the app initially launches, it takes you through all of the various ways you can be connected to someone. I synched my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and Foursquare accounts in addition to my actual address book. After Brewster collects the data from those various sources it notifies you that you’re ready to begin.

The first step is selecting your favorite people, the ones you communicate with most regularly across the sundry networks. That sounds more boring than it actually is. Check out what it looks like. So pretty.

After checking off your favorites they are easily ordered and then accessed by how recently you interact with them. What was frustrating about this process is when you’re connected with one person across multiple platforms. For example, my mother showed up as Mother (what I call her in my address book; I am Southern after all) and under her actual name due to her Twitter account. Perhaps I just haven’t uncovered this feature yet, but it would be great if Brewster could condense all entries for a single person into one entry.

UPDATE: A “merge” feature exists within contacts! Man, that Brewster team thought of everything. But in all fairness it is slightly buried. I’d prefer it if that feature was automated and made suggestions of contacts to merge.

Once you get your favorites situated, write a blog post, publish screenshots of who your favorites are and potentially offend everyone else you’re close to, there are more ways to interact with Brewster, all of which are designed to make staying in touch more simple. Lists, network updates, search capabilities. You name it. The Brewster team covered all of their bases with regard to functionalities.

I’ve made calls from the app, texted and emailed. It is a seamless experience and because of the ease of transition to those functions, feels native. Actually, it feels better than native because it isn’t so blah to look at. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, aesthetics are important. Once a text or an email is sent, you’re directed back to Brewster, but that isn’t the case with the phone functionality. It leaves you stranded high and dry in the phone app. Not sure why that is different.

The lists feature is pretty neat. I like how Brewster suggests lists based on my interests: San Francisco contacts, TechCrunch people, industry peeps, etc. Most Mutual Connections is pretty fun in the tech industry. But with over 1,000 contacts based on all of my networks, the key function I’ll use the most (aside from my favorites) is the Search feature. I’d comb through them all and delete extraneous people to make it more manageable, but with favorites that seems unnecessary. Plus, who knows when I’ll need to get a hold of someone who today seems random.

Updates is the only feature I’m not quite sure about but that is simply because at this point it hasn’t populated for me. Apparently at some point it will alert me to who’s around, industry notables, who is “trending” in my world and who I’m “losing touch with”. I’ll be curious to see what my reaction is at that point. Urgency or apathy or something in between? More will be revealed!

Until then, I think I’m sold on this app. More native iPhone app disruption, please!

an app worth its weight in 14 ‘carat’ gold

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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.