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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want app adoption? focus on the gays.

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Gay Mobile Social Network Hornet Is Fabulous: Rakes In 150K Users With 150% MOM Growth

Honestly though.

Most mobile developers and entrepreneurs are looking to figure out a way to on-board “normals”, but if they really want to have their app adopted (and potentially make money) focus on the gay community. Just make sure your servers are ready for the onslaught.

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.

investigating the app graveyard phenomenon

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Last week I backed up my iPhone and for whatever reason, iTunes decided to reinstall every app that I had ever downloaded and previously deleted from my device. It was quite the blast from the past, seeing all of my discarded interests reappear — jarring and slightly sad.

I’d had such high hopes for some of them, some didn’t suit my style, and some seemed to require more effort than I cared to put forth. It was almost like sifting through memories of old relationships, if I get slightly theatrical about it.

Perhaps you are different, but I regularly trim the overgrowth of apps on my phone. In what I’m sure isn’t a coincidence, lately a few of the folks I follow on Twitter have been talking about paring down the number of apps they maintain on their devices. As I respect these people greatly and have been doing the same, I began to consider my own current consumption and pruning habits.

What makes me decide to move on from an app so decisively that I delete it entirely? A few things come to mind.

Relevancy

Relevancy is key and must be one of the main things that keeps mobile app entrepreneurs up at night. If your app isn’t relevant then it has no traction. Unfortunately nothing stays relevant all the time. At one point I downloaded media apps with gusto: CNN, NPR, NBC News, SF Weekly to name a few. I was going to read the news, dammit. But then they sat idle, taking up valuable space on my device. And it occurred to me that I get all of the news I’m interested in from Twitter! Why keep these specific apps when one will do? The choice was clear: delete.

The big guys like the news outlet apps above give me no gut wrenching sensation when I cut them out. The mobile app startups do. I hem and haw because I feel an affinity for those setting out and doing something new, even more so when I respect the hell out of their investors. In some cases I know the entrepreneur behind the product, so it becomes more personal. However, if the app isn’t relevant for me anymore I can make the choice to do what’s best for me and my iPhone memory.

Life Direction

“The only constant is change.” –Heraclitus

A subset of relevancy. True in life, this applies to mobile consumption too. Things just change; sometimes for what initially appears to be no good reason. “Oooooh! I really LOVE the Nike+ running app!” becomes something different in no time if it starts to affect my mental health. As in life where relationships falter, where yoga doesn’t seem as appealing anymore, where I’m suddenly over a restaurant I enjoyed yesterday, etc., etc., ad infinitum, a question like “Do I absolutely need this clunky DeYoung Museum app all the time?” periodically surfaces. Sometimes I’m ready to let go when that directional shift occurs, sometimes I hang on. But the question does eventually come and preferences change.

“Spring Cleaning”

Sometimes it just feels good to delete stuff. How many people have I talked to who after completing a major Twitter or Facebook friend overhaul say “It felt so good!” The last grooming of my apps included not just deleting but also sorting my most used into folders and finally putting it all on my home screen. It has been a few weeks and periodically I forget where I’ve filed an app but when I went through that exercise I felt like I was accomplishing something. If I can’t recall the last time I launched a particular app, then it swiftly gets the axe when I’m in this mode. I am a Type A, do-er after all.

Since I’m a curious person, I thought I’d ask: how do you decide when to delete an app off your phone? Do you delete them at all? Are you as philosophical about it as I am (…apparently)? Tell me, tell me!

Image via iPhone How To

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.

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

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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.