Shhhhhh, I’ve Got a Secret. Wanna Hear It?

reviews, thoughts

Secret App

Personally, after a rough couple of months, I’ve felt less compelled to spew my thoughts, location, pictures and whatnot out there into the ether. I deleted Facebook and Foursquare off of my phone, only use Twitter during the work week, and post to Instagram significantly less than I did much of last year. Following a sense that I wanted to circle the proverbial wagons a bit I backed off.

Perhaps this is the type of sentiment which makes Secret such a compelling new toy to play with. Is anonymity the new black?

Over the last couple of days I’ve engaged with Secret out of curiosity, and have some philosophical thoughts about the app itself as well as those of us who are posting on it. Please bear with me.

You’re Only As Sick As Your Secrets

A teacher has told me that I’m only as sick as my secrets, so I really shouldn’t have any. The idea behind it is that secrets can build resentment, which is pretty much like drinking poison and hoping someone else dies. In order to stay healthy, secrets need to come out. Some do this in therapy, some through 12-step programs, some rely on exceptional friends and loved ones to bounce things off of. Secret fills an interesting void in this respect, one that hasn’t existed online successfully.

Sure, anonymity exists, but it is traditionally one-sided. Formspring comes to mind, where the person answering questions was not shielded but the questioners were. One can have private accounts on Twitter and Facebook, but in theory everyone interacting with you is tied to an actual person. Secret keeps everyone anonymous and therefore (in theory) gives valuable space for thoughts to tumble out that one might not feel safe sharing otherwise, and room for support from friends who are also on the service.

Secret

Anonymity is a Trippy Thing

That being said, trolls exist everywhere, including in people’s friend circles. I’ve observed people in my network post things about infidelity that could easily be tracked back, commenters become venomous on threads, and people overall not behaving very friendly to each other. It is just as disheartening as it sounds.

Counter to that, most of what I’ve seen on the service is people crying for help with anxiety or depression, moving through heart break, professing love for their partner, or lamenting unrequited love. These are all incredibly challenging things to discuss with anyone, but my hope is that Secret shows these friends or friends of friends how much support they can get, which would encourage them to get the help they deserve or to walk through challenging situations.

What is fascinating to me is how one is perceived on the service. I posted something about trying to move through a broken heart (refer to first paragraph) and got some support, but people assumed I was a guy. I think this says more about society than it does me, but I’ll keep my political opinions to a minimum in this post.

Secret

Too Good To Be True?

I often use the saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and this applies to Secret in a major way. The service will get hacked, simply because of the nature of the product itself. It is juicy. Curiosity about who is posting what will not be enough for some, so it is just a matter of time. To be safe, I’m not posting anything too racy.

The app is beautiful, well executed and an interesting concept. I’m curious about how it will evolve and if it will maintain the “masquerade ball” feel that the founders envision. My phone book is filled with decidedly late adopters, but the number of connections I have on the service grows daily. This bodes well for Secret, hopefully they’ll continue to promote the good so the circle of confidants can grow.

BREAKING: The Jawbone UP Is Incredibly Chic

reviews

Jawbone UP

For those of you who know me, the only hardware that typically interests me is that which can be found on shoes. Never one to fall for the latest gadget, I bought an iPhone 4 to upgrade from my Blackberry Curve (pouring one out for RIM). Only when that iPhone began to experience significant battery loss and random calling of contacts without my initiation (which coincided with the launch of the iPhone 5) did I trade up. Hardware is not my thing.

During the TechCrunch Hackathon I bought a Jawbone UP on a whim; an exhaustion-fueled whim and then promptly forgot about the purchase until it arrived several days later.  Needless to say I didn’t track the shipment compulsively like I do a shoe purchase. Hardware is not my thing.

Part of my concern with wearing a plastic computing device on my wrist was that it simply isn’t chic. But I bought it anyway and lo and behold, who was writing about this newest hardware craze in its September issue? VOGUE of all publications! My favorite shopping website even Instagrammed a wrist sporting a Rolex, a Jawbone UP and a Cartier bangle. Truth be told, I layer my UP similarly, but not as extravagantly. (Although I wouldn’t mind a Rolex… but back to the review.)

The Hardware

At first the Jawbone UP felt a little constricting and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to maintain wearing it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Sleeping with it was a bit of a chore but after a few nights, it was old hat. My skin around the UP started to get irritated but the UP has since loosened, so it is no longer a problem. I’ve been wearing it as suggested for over two weeks now and only take it off to dry it after it gets wet.

Easy to charge, the UP battery lasts about 10 days. To juice it back up, simply uncap the end of the UP and plug it into a USB drive which charges through your computer.

The UP comes in a variety of colors and I chose mint green. Somehow the white or black seemed garish — and seeing as how I love colors, it suits me well. Because I’m a fashion girl at heart living in a technology world, I layer mine with a variety of bracelets and I have to say it doesn’t look bad. My girlfriends noticed it immediately as an addition to my wrist but thought it was simply a new accessory. They were shocked when I shared what this little trinket does.

Part of the “Quantified Self” movement, the UP tracks various aspects of my daily routine after learning a bit about me (height, weight, etc.) It automatically logs my steps from the moment I wake up and my sleep as soon as I drift off. The UP is signaled to start monitoring these activities by a button I press in various patterns to tell it what I’m up to.

The Software

What really blows me away about this technology is the Jawbone UP app. Available for free, it is where I upload all of the data my UP is collecting about my day. It tallies it and visualizes it in such a beautiful way that I want to constantly look at it.

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The features I use the most are logging sleep, smart alarm, steps, other activities and idle alert.

  • Sleep: I’ve been curious about my sleep for a while, knowing how sometimes I don’t feel well-rested even though I achieved 8-10 hours of shuteye. The UP helps me to better understand how deeply I’m sleeping, versus lighter sleep. I have also learned with the UP that even when I think I’m awake, I’m actually in light sleep. As someone who gets grumpy when I perceive I haven’t slept long enough, this helps chill me out. My boyfriend appreciates this, Jawbone, so thank you.
  • Smart Alarm: Since I got the UP, I haven’t used a traditional alarm clock, instead using this feature on the UP. I set it for 6:30am Monday-Friday and based on my sleep cycle, it buzzes to wake me when I’m in light sleep within 10 minutes of 6:30, rather than an alarm which jolts me awake rudely. The only thing I wish it could do was snooze, but perhaps that will come later.
  • Steps: I’m a high energy woman, but with my job I can get tethered to my desk pretty easily. During the day, I try to take breaks and walk around the block but I’m not always successful. The UP determined based on my height, weight and age that I should take 10,000 steps a day. That seems fishy to me because I thought that was just a given, but whatever. Because I compulsively upload the data after I’ve walked, I have learned that skipping the bus in favor of a 6 block walk in the morning and walking twice around the block mid-afternoon, coupled with all of my other city jaunts, gets me to 10,000. (I didn’t take that walk this AM as you can see in my screenshot.)
  • Idle Alert: This feature is wonderful! Set to buzz me everyday from 8:30am-5:30pm, if I’m sitting for 30 minutes without moving I get a jolt. The main thing I’ve learned is that 30 minutes goes by really quickly! Also, that the UP doesn’t think that yoga counts as moving, which it TOTALLY DOES in vinyasa flow.

I do have some feedback for the UP team, specifically around various bugs I’ve uncovered. The most annoying one is that when I try to manually log a yoga class, it only lets me input one hour, rather than 1 hour 30 minutes which is how long most of the classes I take are. That is small, but if I’m trying to quantify myself, then it does make a difference.

I also wonder where on earth they determine calories burned. The numbers seem incredibly elevated for me, a recovering calorie-counter.

Aside from that nit, I love using the UP. So all you fashion girls, check it out! It is a stylish addition to an already-chic “arm party.” Hardware just might be my new thing.

Just Landed: A No-Brainer Flight Tracker App

reviews

just landed app

Many portals exist with the premise of helping one meet a loved one at the airport on time. Airline sites; which are cumbersome on mobile and IMHO are not accurate, seemingly tied to a reluctance to openly acknowledge delays. Tripit or similar; which redirect to the airline websites. A myriad of flight tracking apps. Airline flight status text updates which are all too frequent and invasive. And a loved one can only call or text so many times about ETA before it becomes bothersome.

It makes a theoretically simple solution much more problematic. Unless you’re the Just Landed team!

Now to call Just Landed a “no-brainer flight tracker app” may seem to diminish the brilliance behind it. Let me be clear: that is not my intention. While using the app for the first time today to schedule an airport rendezvous I just couldn’t believe it took so long for someone to make this app! It is simply too logical. Thank heavens the team behind Just Landed finally brought it about.

Just Landed monitors incoming flight information and your location simultaneously. Based on arrival times and traffic data, recommends when you should leave for the airport to meet the flight you’re tracking. It is magical!

Today I was meeting a flight arriving from Frankfurt. International arrivals are tricky as they’re so long it is tough to monitor well, in my experience. Inputting the flight into Just Landed was an easy process: flight number, then choose the correct day, then it pops out a real-time ETA designated by adorable graphic if the plane is mid-air or if it has landed already.

Particularly handy are the alerts. I’ve disabled most lock screen alerts on my iPhone favoring the notification center instead. Just Landed will retain lock screen rights due to how indispensable the alerts are.

alert!

Also, the Just Landed team gets points for the sounds the app makes: when the flight has arrived it sounds like a plane landing; when regular alerts chime, they do so with the seatbelt indicator sound. Adorable! I do love me some aesthetics.

Another feature I appreciated was texting from within the app to let my party know I was already there and waiting. Just Landed prompted me to send it once the flight arrived and the location determined that I was at the airport. This was where I noticed some bugs in that Just Landed kept letting me know the flight had landed and offering to send a text. I wasn’t sure if the app did that to account for time in customs or if it was buggy, will determine that the next time I use it which will most likely be Wednesday.

That being said, as you can see it was a big hit that I was on time despite the flight being 40 minutes early.

i'm rule :)

I do rule. And so do you, Just Landed, for making me look good.

Speaking of Disrupting Native Apps… Mailbox for iOS

reviews

mailbox app

Managing email across multiple mobile devices can be either an uninspiring task at best (using the iOS mail app) or unwieldy at worst (the infuriatingly buggy Gmail for iOS app). The unenviable task of sorting through ones email and circumventing the existing apps in the marketplace and preinstalled on ones phone is a task not easily achieved, but desperately needed. Enter Mailbox.

Launching to a veritable landslide of positive press, Mailbox has been in my hands for a month or so. And what a month it has been. Beta testing for select members of the press since December, launching in February, sold to Dropbox for $100M in March. Quite the ride for its creators over at Orchestra!

After playing with Mailbox since it came out of beta (order number 15,422 thankyouverymuch), I can attest that while not perfect, the app has changed my inbox experience for the better. Before diving into that though, let’s talk a bit about Mailbox’s email mandate. Essentially, Mailbox wants email to be simpler, encouraging a clean, well-organized inbox, which few people can claim in this day and age of send-an-email-get-an-email, ad infinitium.

In an incredibly stripped down, minimalist approach, Mailbox lets you delete, archive, revisit and add emails to lists with a swipe of your finger. That’s what makes it a tremendously easy user experience; I mean, who doesn’t love to swipe!

Swipe Right

When you swipe right in the app, you are asking Mailbox to either archive the email or delete it, depending on how quickly you swipe. Swipe slowly halfway across, the message turns green and archives. Swipe more quickly to the right and it turns red and deletes. Sometimes my finger has a mind of its own and I accidentally delete when I mean to archive, but the most recent update of the app offers a “shake to undo” feature that while not sexy and exciting, has turned out to be handy when I’m particularly clumsy.

Swipe Left

My more favorite feature is swiping left to save for later: sort of a hybrid archive and reminder setting. If you know me, you know I need reminders on a regular basis. For everything. Especially with email; I get so much of it! When I swipe left, I can choose to be reminded of this email again either tonight, tomorrow, this weekend, next week, next month, etc. etc. This is particularly handy for those of us (me) who have organizational problems on occasion (all the time).

When the time comes for Mailbox to remind you of the email again, it reappears in your inbox but starred and with a Gmail filter on it so it is easily distinguished. I appreciate that.

Note: These three features can also be accessed from within an individual email, but I’ve found I rarely use them there, preferring to get organized from the main screen.

Room for Improvement

The two problems I’ve uncovered with my consistent Mailbox use feel rather significant. First, and most important: I have not yet successfully been able to forward attachments. In my line of business that is a rather key feature. Secondly, when I forward an email, it removes it from the original chain and separates it, which makes finding that particular email rather challenging later. If the Mailbox team can fix these, the app would be practically perfect.

Although Mailbox has been live for quite some time, the demand remains high. While at a party this weekend in North Carolina, I extolled the virtues of the app to some friends, who immediately downloaded it… and was #419,000 in line. With 40 people behind her, which was comforting. Don’t worry, I promised her. It moves rather quickly and is absolutely worth the wait.

Other posts in the “Speaking of Disrupting Native Apps…” series can be found here.

facebook for iphone: OH COME ON.

rants

Rarely do I rant. At least publicly. People who are close to me will tell you that I will spout off without thinking, but at least that is in private. However, since I’m now writing about mobile apps on a (semi-) regular basis, apparently, I’d be remiss not to take a moment to address the horrible, horrible Facebook for iPhone app.

Their mobile product has always been lacking. It took them quite some time to develop their iPad application, which was hiding in plain sight for MG to discover. The developer who built the product was forced to watch it sit on the back burner five months after finishing it. The iPhone app has been going downhill since October 2011, as documented on several forums (including a page on Facebook, naturally). This makes no sense to me if the mobile user numbers reported on back in December 2011 are accurate; and they are. Wouldn’t you want an incredibly large section of your users to be happy? Wouldn’t you want to capitalize financially on that untapped resource? Apparently not. From Facebook’s IPO filing:

We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven. Accordingly, if users continue to increasingly access Facebook mobile products as a substitute for access through personal computers, and if we are unable to successfully implement monetization strategies for our mobile users, our revenue and financial results may be negatively affected.

Baffling. And infuriating from a user perspective.

An informal poll at a dinner party I attended tonight found that 95% of the people there are frustrated with the app. (The other 5% accounts for the gentleman who hails from the Valle de Noe and doesn’t use Facebook.) The complaints are all the same: slow, doesn’t load, stalls, crashes. A question has been posed on Quora beseeching an answer, but you’ll notice the thread is quiet. A more recent answer on a separate Quora thread echoes what seems to be the overall sentiment and one that Facebook needs to address soon. Else I’ll need to take a break from it permanently before I have a rage induced stroke, as only technology can produce.