It seems like every other day that someone announces another Snapchat clone. Facebook had Poke, then Slingshot. Both failed. Path redesigned their chat app to be more ephemeral in nature. Instagram launched Instagram Direct for private sharing and is even testing a new private photo sharing app called Bolt.
Why is everyone trying to be Snapchat and why is Snapchat still ahead of the game. I’d like to argue that Snapchat has a secret sauce. Here’s why:
1. Snaps are Super Expressive
You can share photos and videos with lots of apps, so what makes Snapchat so special? The answer is that a snap is not just a photo. By allowing users to add text, apply filters and draw on their photos and videos, Snapchat offers their users a way to be both highly creative and super expressive. Now when you combine this with the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, you create a way for users to share moments, big or small, in a way that is more natural than most other social networks.
Now if you compare Snapchat to some of it’s “competitors”, you’ll see that they haven’t perfected this perfect balance of expressiveness and ephemerality. Poke was just a pure clone of Snapchat with none of the coolness factor. Slingshot arguably comes close but requires an awkward sling to unlock mechanic. Bolt emphasises speed over creativity. Most other ephemeral apps are using the feature as a gimmick. And Instagram Direct just doesn’t allow users to be expressive enough. You can only do so much with Instagram’s selection of filters which is why people have started editing their photos in 3rd party apps like VSCO CAM.
Also, Instagram is just not a private social network. Like Twitter, you want as many people to see, like and comment on your photos while getting as many followers as possible. Instagram is one of the fasted growing and most exciting social networks at the moment. Why they want to be Snapchat instead of Instagram is something I just don’t get.
2. Snapchat has made smarter product decisions
You don’t often hear Snapchat announce new features but when they do, they are often well thought out, make the product better and receive overwhelmingly positive feedback. Some examples of such features include Snapchat Stories, Our Stories and Snapchat Chat. Snapchat Chat is particularly great and does an excellent job at keeping users in the app for longer.
If we look at (or pick on) Instagram, they’ve made a number of product announcements this year. Adding advanced photo editing features and redesigning the app to be more usable in emerging markets were great moves. Launching Instagram Direct, using Facebook Places instead of Foursquare for location data and even launching Bolt seem more misguided.
3. Snapchat is finding cool ways to monetise
Every social network faces the challenge of increasing the number of its users while making as much money as possible. This often involves making the service attractive to brands and by selling users to advertisers. Services have to get this just right because users don’t want to be spammed.
Snapchat is reportedly looking at alternative ways to monetise so that they don’t alienate their audience of “cool kids who use Snapchat”. Snapchat is doing their best to make the service more brand friendly while avoiding monetising through ads (because ads are lame). Some of their ideas include sponsored events (like EDC), sponsored geofilters and even a mobile payments service. If they can get this right, then Snapchat has an even brighter future than initially anticipated.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time using using Plex to organise and consume my TV Shows and Movies. Plex isn’t new, in fact it’s been around for ages. But if you are looking for a better way to consume your media, Plex could just be for you.
Here is a quick guide to getting the most out of Plex:
What is Plex?
Plex basically consists of two parts. The Plex Media Server is an application that organises your media library and matches artwork, descriptions and other metadata for all of your files. This is particularly great for TV shows. The other part of Plex is the Plex Client which is available for including Mac, PC, Chromecast, selected Smart TVs and set top boxes as well as all your iOS and Android devices.
Pro Tip: Plex also syncs your media across devices. So if you are halfway through a movie you watched on you laptop, it’ll pick up where you left off when you start watching again on your tablet.
Watch Your Media on Your TV
While it’s great to watch your media on your laptop or computer, it’s even better to watch it on your TV. You can get your media on your TV by connecting your computer or laptop to your HD TV through an HDMI cable. Alternatively, you can wirelessly stream your media to your TV through a Chromecast, supported set top boxes or through Plex apps developed for selected Smart TVs. You can even get Plex running on a Raspberry Pi, which is super impressive.
Stream to Your Mobile Device with the Plex App
You can also stream all of your media to your tablet or smartphone through the Plex app for iOS and Android via your local wi-fi network. This is one of the reasons I have fallen in love with Plex as I spend most evenings lying in bed with the electric blanket switched on, watching episode after episode of The Sopranos. Occasionally, chips are even eaten.
Another feature of the Plex mobile app is that you can use your tablet or smartphone as a remote to control Plex. That is great if you using Plex to consume your media on your TV. People who still watch TV on TV might not think that having a remote control is a big deal, but for cord-cutters, it’s awesome.
Pro Tip: If you are on Android, I would recommend using the Plex Remote app.
Access Your Media Remotely
With Plex, you can access your media remotely (i.e. outside your local Wi-Fi network). This is one of the more advanced features of Plex and requires you to forward a port on your Wi-Fi router (here’s how). To be honest, I’ve never had to make use of this feature so I’ve never set it up but it’s nice that you can do this if you ever need to.
Share Your Media Library with Family and Friends
If you sign up for a MyPlex account (it’s free) you can also share your media libraries with family and friends. This is another great feature but speed and playback quality may be affected by the speed of your internet. Once again, another great feature if you ever need it.
While you may have to pay a few dollars for Plex’s mobile apps, the majority of the Plex experience is 100% free. But Plex offers you even more if you sign up for a Plex Pass subscription. Some premium features include syncing files to your mobile devices for offline viewing and cloud syncing so you can stream your media from Dropbox when your home library is unavailable.
Plex is a great product for those that love their media. Hopefully after reading this post, you have everything you need to get the most out of Plex. You can find out more about Plex on their website and download the Plex mobile apps for either iOS or Android.
The UP24 is the latest fitness tracker from Jawbone and aims to help you “act in the moment and live better”. But can a fitness tracker really make you healthier and happier? I decided to give one a try and find out.
Design and Hardware:
The UP24 has a stylish yet understated design. In fact, most people would probably mistake it for for a bangle or a bracelet instead of a hi-tech fitness tracker. The device is made from a soft rubber which is both comfortable and lightweight, which is good since you need to wear it almost 24/7.
Unlike other fitness trackers like the Nike FuelBand, the UP24 doesn’t have any sort of screen on the device itself. This means that you’ll need to check your phone in order to see any of your fitness data. I actually didn’t miss having a screen on my wrist as it made the UP24 lighter and less obtrusive. I also really liked using the excellent UP app which syncs wirelessly with your band throughout the day.
It should be noted that the arms of the UP24 don’t fasten, clip or lock into place. Instead, the arms of the band kind of just wrap around and hug your wrist. Initially I thought this would cause the band to keep slipping up and down my wrist but thankfully this wasn’t the case. Just make sure you get the right size band for your wrist if you decide to buy one for maximum comfort.
The UP24’s battery life is really impressive. The device only needs to be charged about once a week which is fantastic. When you do charge the device, you’ll need to plug it into a mini headphone jack / USB adaptor. Both the adapter and the headphone jack cover on the device are quite small so you just need to be extra careful not to lose them as I imagine they will both be quite difficult to replace.
The UP App:
The UP app is incredibly well designed and makes it easy to access and keep track of all your fitness data. The UP app primarily focuses on three main areas:
- Measuring how much you move
- Measuring how much and how well you sleep
- And measuring what you eat
In addition to measuring the above, the app also prompts you with recommendations based on your data, offer tips and make recommendations to help you reach your health goals. It’s like having a friendly little gym buddy that is always looking out for you.
The app is very functional, allowing you to easily log exercise sessions and meals and does a great job of visualising your data. If you use other fitness apps like Runkeeper, My Fitness Pal or even, IFTTT, you can even connect them to the UP app to take your training further.
The app also has a social component called ‘My Team’ which allows you to to see the activity of friends who are also using Jawbone devices in your UP news feed. It’s great to see friends activity and be able to encourage each other but a small part of me does feel a bit creepy knowing when my friends are sleeping. Or is it just me?
Speaking of sleep, it’s one area where UP24 stands out. It does a really good job of tracking your sleeping patterns and explaining how they affect your health and overall mood. The app even allows you to set a smart alarm that wakes you up in the morning while you are in a specific part of your sleep cycle so you feel more refreshed and energised.
If you are looking for a fitness band that does more than just count your steps, you should seriously consider the UP24. It has a sleek, comfortable design, excellent battery life and wirelessly syncs all your fitness data with your phone. It makes it easy to track your fitness, your food intake, your sleeping patterns and your overall mood. If you are looking for that extra bit of motivation, the UP24 could just be for you.
- Stylish design
- Excellent battery life
- Awesome app
- Great sleep tracking
- Social integration for friends
- Some might want a screen on their wrist
- Some might prefer a clasp or some way to tighten the band depending on their wrist size
8 out of 10
The UP app is available for Android and iOS. You can find out more information about the app and check device compatibility by clicking below. UP24 devices are compatible with devices running Android 4.3 and later as well as the iPhone 4S, 3rd generation iPads, iPad Minis and 5th generation iPods and newer.
The world of social media and tech is constantly changing and evolving. There always seems to be a brand new trend that could potentially disrupt everything. But there is also a lot of bullshit and buzzwords out there and not every trend will be the “next big thing” that takes off the way an industry of social media experts predicted. So how can you get better at predicting which trends will catch on and which trends will fail?
To answer this question, it’s worth looking back at the check-in; the once “next big trend” in social media and tech. Cast your mind back a few years back when “location” first became a buzzword. Google was dominating local search and trying to make Google Maps more social with products like Latitude. Foursquare was battling Gowalla to become the number 1 check-in app…and then there was a little app called Burbn.
Like Gowalla and Foursquare, Burbn was just another check-in app. All of these apps were all built on the assumption that people care about where their friends are at a given moment in time. But as time would go onto show, most people don’t care about where their friends are. Unless it’s somewhere cool but we’ll get to that…
With so much competition in the check-in space, Burbn would famously pivot into a little photo sharing app called Instagram, amass over 200 million users, popularise the selfie and get acquired by Facebook for $1billion.
Gowalla would also get acquired by Facebook but that was more an aqui-hire for Facebook to get more engineers. And Foursquare would become the best local search company in the world, but would never become a viable, mainstream social network. And the check-in? The check-in would ultimately become a feature that the majority of social media users seldom use.
Foursquare, Gowalla and Instagram – all three companies started at the same point but only one achieved massive success. Why?
My theory is that all three companies got the initial insight right but only one got the “expression” of that insight right. People do want to tell their friends that they are somewhere awesome. But instead of being a pin on a map, people want to show themselves being awesome, at awesome places, doing awesome things.
The mobile photo was the next big trend, not the check-in. For users, “location” wasn’t about metadata, it was part of the experience that they wanted to share, visually.
While this may seem like just another bit of “ancient” social media history, I believe it gives us everything we need to build a framework to predict whether something will be the next big trend in social media or tech.
It doesn’t matter if it is wearable tech or ephemeral messaging, whether a trend will succeed or not will depend on how it answers the following questions:
- Will this thing catch on with normal people? Will it catch on with enough people? Or will it catch on within a specific niche of people? A yes to anything at this stage is a minimum requirement.
- Is this thing worth worth the effort? Does it create enough value or sufficiently improve an experience? The bigger the yes at this stage, the more potential there is for the idea to succeed.
- Is this trend based on a compelling-enough insight about human behaviour? Is the execution or expression of that insight right or is there a better way to do the same thing? If there is a better way, try find it…
Just because something is technically feasible, doesn’t mean it is a good idea or will catch on with the masses. Today, ideas can come from anywhere, not just programmers or tech people. A few weeks ago at the SnapScan launch, Standard Bank spoke about a new trend where companies are breaking down the silos between R+D and the rest of the business, working with behavioural psychologists and crowdsouricng ideas to get fresh perspectives. But if you are looking for the next big thing, I think the above questions are a good place to start.
SnapScan is an award-winning and locally-developed app that allows customers and merchants to complete transactions by scanning a QR code on a customer’s smartphone and confirmed with an SMS sent to the merchant. And yesterday, it was officially launched into the South African market by Standard Bank.
Credit needs to be given to both developers FireID and Standard Bank for making SnapScan as open as possible. Whether you are a consumer or a merchant, you don’t need to be a Standard Bank customer to use the service. SnapScan is also completely free for consumers and the only cost to merchants is a 3% fee on each transaction.
There are no other costs for merchants to register and start using SnapScan which makes it extremely attractive to both formal and informal merchants. In South Africa, this addresses a real problem for smaller merchants who may not be able to afford the cost of setting up a POS machine combined with interrupted or unreliable connectivity.
Signing up as a merchant can be done on the SnapScan website and is quick and easy. Hopefully more and more merchants do so as the success of the service will ultimately depend on whether it catches on with local merchants.
The service has already signed on a number of merchants at local craft markets such as Neighbour Goods. This is great news for merchants as well as customers like me. From personal experience, I always run out of cash at these types of places and spend more time bumbling about like a cash-less idiot than I do enjoying craft beer and Balkan Burgers.
FireID has worked hard to make the service and the app as simple and as easy to use as possible. Once you download the app, you add the details of your credit or debit card, enter your name and you are good to go. To make a payment, all you have to do is:
- Scan a merchant’s QR code at their point of sale
- Type in the transaction amount
- Enter your unique SnapScan PIN
I tested the service by paying for some Coffee at Motherland and the whole process took less than 30 seconds. It was weird not paying with actual money or a card but it was one of those magical moments when you feel like you are living in a futuristic science fiction movie.
The app also has a Find Merchant feature that let’s you search for nearby places that use SnapScan. This feature has a lot of potential, especially once more merchants sign on. In addition to being a payment app, it could also help you find new interesting places and provide merchants with an additional way to attract customers.
SnapScan is a well-designed, simple and easy to use service for both consumers and merchants. The service has a lot of potential and the developers have already hinted at some exciting future plans, including being able to use SnapScan for online payments. It’s great to see something like SnapScan developed locally. Let’s hope local merchants and consumers take advantage of it.
- Locally developed
- Great platform for merchants and consumers
- Use it no matter where you bank
- Simple, slick and easy to use
- Makes you feel like you are living in the future
- May take some time for more merchants to sign up
8 out of 10
Find out more about SnapScan and / or become a SnapScan merchant at www.getsnapscan.com and download the SnapScan app for your smartphone.
My initial attempt to review the Marvel Unlimited app turned into a rant about the merits of digital comics versus real comics. At the time, the Marvel Unlimited App was poorly designed and extremely buggy. But one year later, I can honestly say that Marvel Unlimited has become one of my favourite and most used apps. And after a recent and major update to the app, I think it’s finally time to do a proper review.
Marvel Unlimited is an annual subscription-based service that gives you access to roughly 13,000 digital comics that can be read on your smartphone, computer or tablet. It costs $69.99 (R700) a year which could be an incredible deal depending on how many comics you are going to read. For example, digital comics cost between $2 and $4. In the past year, I’ve read about 200 digital comics on the app, which means that I’ve essentially consumed at least $200 worth of comics. So if you like to geek-out hard, this could be the app for you.
When the app first came out, the comic book reading experience was quite clunky, very buggy and would often crash. Thankfully, this has been fixed in the recent update and the reading experience is on par with other comic book apps like ComixOlogy. Another feature that started working after the recent update is offline reading, where you can save up to 12 issues onto your device. This is incredibly handy if you have a Wi-Fi only device or are about to get stuck on a plane…
The sheer variety of comics available on the Marvel Unlimited app is still amazing, astonishing, incredible, fantastic and spectacular…It’s still pretty awesome having access to everything from classics from the Golden Age of comics to the latest issues of Marvel Now. No matter what type of Marvel comics you’re into, the app will keep you pretty well covered.
The only downside is that Marvel only loads a comic onto the app 6 months after it has been published. This is not a train smash, but if you like your comics fresh off the press, you will need to make another plan.
Despite this, I cannot overemphasise how many great titles are on the app. There are plenty of great Marvel Now titles including Uncanny Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis’ excellent run on All-New X-Men, Thor: God of Thunder (the most Sandman-like comic since Sandman) and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye which is my favourite Marvel series ever. It has an entire issue told from the perspective of a one-eyed dog and is just generally fucking incredible. There is also the complete Age of Ultron series which will form the basis for the next Avengers movie (just saying).
There is no shortage of great comics on the Marvel Unlimited app. If you like reading comics, want to catch up with what’s happening in the Marvel Universe or just explore it; download this app and just give Marvel your money. I know it’s quite rare to write a review after spending almost a year using a product or service…but I have loved this service and look forward to spending another year in the Marvel Universe.
- The updated app actually works
- Amazing, astonishing, fantastic and spectacular content
- Updated weekly with new mix of classic and recent comics
- Good value for geeks with lots of time on their hands
- Newest comics are 6 months old
- Occasional bugs (although more and more of them are being squashed)
8.5 out of 10