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.

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!

path

reviews

According to my Path, I’ve had 121 moments over two years. I first downloaded the app out of curiosity when it launched in the fall of 2010, but didn’t use it much until recently. As I’m sure you recall, I live in lonely early adopter land as many of my close friends and family aren’t new app-savvy — so my first barrier to using Path was that I had very few people share it with. Sad, I know. You can feel sorry for me, I won’t mind. My second barrier was that in its first iteration, I couldn’t figure out how it would fit into my already active social sharing life on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I’ve since changed my tune and now sing Path’s praises, even cajoling my mother to join. Successfully, I might add!

Before I enthusiastically launch into exactly why I’m enamored with Path, I’ll give you some background on what it is. Basically, Path exists as a way to share your life with close friends and family from the comfort of your mobile device. To do this, it limits the number of people with whom you can share your life details. (If you add lots and lots of people on Path, you’re doing it wrong.) You can share photos, location, who you’re with, your thoughts, what music you’re listening to. Even when you’re going to sleep or waking up. It is a very intimate app.

But back to me. How did I pivot so determinedly on Path, you might ask. My conversion began when Path 2.0 launched in the fall of 2011. It. Was. Beautiful. (Remember, aesthetics get big points with me.) It was also completely different from its first version, moving beyond just selective photosharing to a being a true social network. I’d never seen an app behave the way it did, so fluidly, seamlessly, interestingly. However, I still had the problem of not enough friends or family on it to make it worth my while.

Fast forward to a few months ago, my beau added me on Path since, as he put it, we needed ONE MORE social network to be connected on. I started to interact with the app more, but I was still shy. Even though I’m active on Facebook and Twitter, rarely do I share my actual location for safety reasons. One thing I didn’t like early on (and still would appreciate a way to disable) is how Path automatically shares your current location when you interact with it. UPDATE: You can actually disable this setting online and in the app. I’m just dense.

I halfway jokingly tweeted the other day about the puzzle that is reconciling what to post between Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Path and Instagram. When I began using Path, I really wasn’t sure where it would fit in. When I was trying to on-board my mother she inquired how it differs from GroupMe. In her experience that makes a lot of sense: why would she need Path to keep up with her connections when she has an on-going group chat with us? Touche, Mother. (She still downloaded it as I said above, and it is really cute when she uses Path. I mean, really!) For my part, in the short while since I’ve upped my Path usage, I’ve used Facebook less; I still tweet the same amount; I put most of my pictures up on Instagram, saving the super special ones for Path; and all but ended my check-ins on Foursquare, favoring a more edited audience to know where I am at all times.

Beauty and social sharing saturation aside, I think what I appreciate most about Path is how it is entirely contained on my mobile device. My Path is not searchable online and people can only view my Path from their own phones. Like Pair in this way, I really value how mobile-centric apps are staying strictly on mobile. A truly personal network, if you will.

In April, Path announced that it had raised another round of funding, to the tune of a cool $30M+. Since I’m clearly a believer now, I’m on the edge of my seat to see what the team does next. Now if I can just convince my father to join!

karma

reviews

One of my favorite things to do is give gifts to the people I love for absolutely no reason. Where this becomes slightly tricky is that most of the people I love enough to send random presents to don’t live in my immediate vicinity. Random gifting requires significantly more effort. Spying the perfect present while out and about, going to the post office, waiting in line, charming the post officers into being nice to me, then waiting until they receive it. Patience is not my strongest virtue, so I get fed up with the process. Online shopping has alleviated this pain point somewhat, but have you ever tried to narrow down a gift for, say, a gardener in your life by doing a Google search? Complicated!

Enter Karma.

Somehow I neglected to notice Karma when it launched in March, which is really unfortunate because this app is delightful. I could have been using it this whole time! Beautiful interface and easily navigated, it makes gift giving a breeze. Gifting on the go, if you will. The product selection is extensive and includes fun genres like Quirky and Trendsetter. You can gift someone baby items, “romantic” gifts like chocolates (not my definition of romantic as I’m not a fan, but that’s cool), Uber rides, LED dinosaurs (gifted!), Kate Spade NY trinkets and a book on fashion illustration. (Hint, hint to anyone who might use this app to send me things.)

Part of what makes the Karma gifting process so simple is that you aren’t required to enter shipping addresses; when the recipient accepts the gift, they choose the shipping destination themselves. This will be helpful for conversations with my mother which invariably go like this: “So should I ship this to your apartment?” “No, Mother, I can’t get packages there. My work address is best.” [Hi, Mother! Love you!] As the recipient goes through the gift acknowledgment process, Karma notifies the giver. No more wondering if USPS delivered anything for me! Also, the recipient can send a thank you through the app. For those of you who know me, thank you notes are of utmost importance in my life. Major Leslie points for offering that feature, Karma creators.

Another (pretty dangerous for me) feature that makes Karma so easy to use is that you don’t have to pay right away. You have the option, but the app allows you to submit payment after the recipient confirms the gift. It is practically like giving gifts for free! Until you have to settle up. I can see me getting carried away because of this feature.

Gift recipients have the option to accept the original gift, swap it for something else or even donate the value of the gift to charity. Not that anyone I give presents to would do that, right? Right?! I mean, I guess I can’t argue with donating to charity, can I?

One aspect I don’t really like is that in order to invite others to use Karma, the app sends them a text message. I really want to spread the word to my friends and family because I think that this app has huge potential to grow, but I don’t want to spam them with texts. If that can evolve, I would be more inclined to invite people.

The only question remains: Who is going to give me a random present through Karma? I love surprises!

UPDATE: After playing with Karma for pretty much most of the day yesterday, I have a few more points of feedback. It would be incredibly handy, and a natural fit for the app’s intent, if you could bookmark gifts you want to give in the future. Also, the emails that alert someone that they have a gift look suspiciously like spam to the uninitiated, which led to frantic emails from the recipients about the nature of what was sent to them. That’s kind of a buzzkill for the giver: “Click, I swear it won’t compromise your computer. It is a present. You’re going to love it!”