What You Need To Know About Amazon Echo

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Amazon’s not-quite-new hybrid wireless device has been made available to the market at large. The Echo, a speaker/home assistant/voice-activated automation hub device, was initially only available to Amazon prime members for a “beta test” discount of $99. Starting July 14th, Amazon Echo is available to all for the much less pithy price of $179.99. But is this device worth the dive? Here are the features of Amazon Echo that you need to know about to determine whether it is a “must have” or a “can miss”.

Meet Alexa

Alexa is Amazon’s Siri equivalent.  A female voice (unable to be changed at this present time), she is your key to Echo’s voice-activated features.  Her voice is described as less robotic than Siri’s and unassumingly pleasant.  Alexa begins to listen when she hears her name (and a volume ring located on top of the 9.25″ canister speaker will light up to indicate this).  Alexa seems to be fairly good at listening and most users report no problems with her understanding their commands.  The only hitch is that the commands cannot always be worded in a grammatically correct way; for instance asking Alexa to look up information on Wikipedia means saying: “Alexa, Wikipedia: Computer” instead of saying “Alexa, what is a computer?”  Still, Alexa has proven to be getting better over the period of her beta test; and since Amazon has opened Echo to third-party developers she should be getting much smarter much faster.

Echo’s Current Features

While Alexa learns new tricks every day, her current roster is rather impressive.  She plays music, and can be asked to run the basic gamut of abilities that a music player will need.  Voice commands like “repeat,” “stop”and “play” are standard for her repertoire.  She integrates completely with Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, Audible, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio, and has some limited integration with Spotify and iTunes.

She can tell you your schedule via Google calendar plugin, but she can’t yet add appointments.  She can also add items to a proprietary to-do list, but does not yet know how to remove items from this list.

She can tell you the weather or the traffic expected for your commute once you acquaint her with the places you most frequently visit via Amazon’s Echo app.

When paired with Philips Hue or Belkin WeMo devices, she can control compatible devices within your home.  She isn’t yet compatible with all Hue or WeMo products, so ensure that you look into each separately before assuming she knows how to deal with them.

The Drawbacks

While the Echo is definitely sized for portability, it does not have its own portable battery and must be plugged in when powered on.  Because of this, the device generally remains stationary which could limit its functionality.

Limited interaction with Spotify and iTunes mean that users who prefer these music systems can only use their most basic functionality and will not have access to things like artist look-up when using them.

As a speaker, the Echo falls short of the mark.  Bass tones are nearly impossible to hear on the device without distortion.  While music without heavy bass tends to be perfectly fine, the device doesn’t compare to other speakers in its price range purely based on sound quality.

Summing it Up

Despite a few drawbacks, we’re excited to see where Alexa goes in the next year or so.  Look for some really astounding features; if not directly from Amazon, then from third-party resources who know how to make home automation work for them.

Danielle R

What Makes Kim Kardashian’s ‘Hollywood’ App So Popular

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Last year, Glu Mobile, the company responsible for games like Deer Hunter and Diner Dash, took a wild leap of faith in re-branding their already popular app Stardom Hollywood. For this task, they employed the help of A-list celebrity Kim Kardashian. Glu approached Ms go now. Kardashian personally to help them develop Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a free to download role-playing app that lets users move up the social ranks in Hollywood. 

Why should we care about keeping up with Kardashian’s latest display of brand power? Well, to begin with, the app raked in $1.6 million in revenue within five days of its release, according to the New York Times, and that amount is expected to balloon to $200 million by the end of 2014. What’s driving the app’s success?

Keeping Users Engaged

Kardashian’s app, which is powered by in-game purchases, does an exceptional job of keeping its users interested and eager for more. The premise is fairly simple: a casual role-playing game that lets you move your avatar from the Hollywood E-list all the way up to the A-list by dressing to the nines, going to photo shoots and other events, earning money, and maybe dating a famous person or two. Kim herself serves as the user’s mentor, offering advice along the way.

Despite its simplistic design, mobile users are taken with the game. For a time, it held the distinguished status as the only app on the iTunes market with a 5-star rating from over 40,000 users, according to Bloomberg, which certainly speaks to the overall app quality. People may have been drawn in by the Kardashian name, but they stayed because the design actually works.

A Personal Touch

Incorporating Kardashian’s likeness, even her real voice, was a wise move by developers, but the personal Kardashian flair goes far beyond that.

“In addition to her in-game audio commentary, she provided a significant amount of creative feedback. She hand-selected the majority of the outfits, accessories, hairstyles, and other in-game items – and her deep involvement continues as we roll out updates and new content – from the aesthetics to new locations and features,” Glu’s chief executive Niccolo de Masi told Forbes.

Ultimately, the authenticity afforded by Kardashian’s involvement lends itself to the app’s quality. Users obsessed with Kim’s outfits or hairstyles have direct access, albeit digital, to experience them as Kardashian herself intended.

Endless Possibilities

Essentially, the game ends up being a simulation of Kardashian’s own life, which could mean a great deal in terms of longevity. De Masi described the game as a narrative that can be extended infinitely to parallel Kardashian’s life.

Currently, users familiar with the Kardashian brand are met with references—some subtle, others not so much—to many of her experiences in the lime light, from catty Twitter wars to good-natured quips at her own storied past and reputation: “ Dating another celebrity will make you more famous,” virtual Kardashian tells users.

Keeping Up With Kim

The app’s seemingly up-to-the-minute reflection of Kardashian’s antics is a big draw, according to Ali Hussainy, a fan of the game. From the Yeezus tour t-shirt to the massive rock on Kardashian’s finger, users will instantly recognize that the app thrives on the present:

“It doesn’t look like the Kim from two years ago, or even a year ago,” Hussainy told Forbes.  “It is pretty much up to date with the Kim you constantly see. You think to yourself, wasn’t Kim just wearing that dress, like, a month ago?”

The app’s popularity is certainly fueled by having a high-profile name attached, but Glu did a fine job of finding the perfect balance of pop culture appeal and exceptional app quality. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’s success depends heavily on high quality content and execution to keep its users engaged and coming back for more.

Dani N

2014 Isn’t the ‘Year of Mobile’

MobileI have officially lost count of how many articles I’ve seen declaring 2014 the “Year of Mobile.” Every time it leaves me thinking “Really, this is the year of mobile? What about the past five years where mobile has been steadily taking over the world? Or the next five years that are predicted to see just as much mobile growth?”

The point is, does mobile really need a year? Mobile isn’t a fad or trend, it’s a new way of life. Declaring an “it” year implies that something has reached its peak popularity, the pinnacle of its achievement, or at the very least the year that it finally broke into the main stream and earned widespread adoption. Mobile doesn’t fit any of the categories.

Mobile has been on an upward trend from the moment users got their hands on an iPhone seven years ago. During the 2010 fiscal year, Apple sold 40 million iPhones. By the end of the 2011 fiscal year that number had nearly doubled to 72 million. By the end of the 2013 fiscal year, Apple had sold more than 94 million iPhones. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, Apple had already sold 55.1 million iPhones. And that’s just one mobile device. Apple’s iPad saw similar consistently climbing numbers. Many other tablet and phone makers show similar upward trends quarter over quarter and year over year.

And mobile growth extends well beyond devices. In 2012, nearly 64 billion apps were downloaded. In early March 2013, ABI Research predicted we’d download 70 billion apps that year. Six months later, Gartner upped that number, saying they expected users to download 102 billion apps in 2013. By 2017 (just three years from now) year app downloads are predicted to reach 260 billion.

IT budgets are also growing to keep up with the still shifting demands. In 2012, 31% of companies reported testing mobile apps and last year that number jumped to 55%.

This continually growing trend is reflected in the fact that the past three years have been declared “the year of mobile.” People have already decided that mobile is a winner, part of their everyday lives and something that’s here to stay. What it appears these articles mean when they say the “year of mobile” is whether or not businesses catch on to and learn to cope with this already established trend. From Forbes:

Attention: Announcing 2014, the third annual “year of mobile.” Yes, we have been hearing this line since 2012, but it seems that 2014 is poised to finally be the year that mobile becomes a mainstream marketing solution. Consumer adoption of smartphones and tablets is now ubiquitous.

Admittedly, many major companies (not just marketers) have not fully committed to mobile yet. From B2C:

Less than half (45 percent) of Fortune 100 companies have dedicated mobile websites, and only 57 percent of the top 100 brands have optimized their websites for mobile, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. These numbers show that big brands still have a long way to go when it comes to a successful mobile marketing strategy.

In that sense, maybe this will be the year companies and business people realize that not embracing mobile will start to hurt their top line, but they’ll be late to the party. For everyone else, they year of mobile happened in 2007.

It’s the age of mobile, not a year. And it simply isn’t slowing down.

Native App Performance Still Beats HTML5

HTML 5 versus Native AppsAccording to Forrester research, native mobile apps outperform their HTML5 counterparts. HTML5 apps are a one size fits all approach where just one set of code is created for every platform. Native apps are designed specifically for a certain operating system. One of the major points of differentiation in the performance of each type of app is load speeds. Serdar Yegulalp of InfoWorld writes:

Mobile HTML5 apps are known to be slower than native mobile apps. Some of this is due to delayed updates or bugs in stock browsers on mobile platforms.

Also, Forrester found that 59% of time, HTML5 apps took longer than planned to complete with a lot of time lost fixing issues and retesting. Despite this, Forrester’s survey in October 2013 showed that 43% of IT managers were using HTML5.

But don’t completely discount the usefulness of HTML5 apps. Forrester notes that they still have their place like for apps that put content over interaction. Also, it is possible to use a hybrid approach of both native and HTML5. Serdar Yegulalp sums up the Forrester report quite well:

HTML5 is useful as one weapon in the mobile arsenal, but is still no silver bullet.

When creating a mobile app, there are a variety of factors, like cost and time, to weigh when deciding between a native or HTML5 approach. One major part of the equation should be the effect this choice will have on your user’s sentiment. For example, if your app is taking too long to load, it may instill negative feelings. Whether you choose HTML5 or native apps, pay special attention to load time. Since the app ecosystem is becoming increasingly crowded, having a top quality app is the only way your company will win – and keep – users.

This post originally appears on the Applause App Analytics Blog.

Mobile App Downloads to Top 260B in Next Five Years

Mobile appsMobile apps are a big deal, but are set to become an even bigger deal over the next few years.

According to Mobile Marketing Watch, data from Gartner shows that mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times within the next three years:

“By 2017, mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times, generating revenue of more than $77 billion and making apps ‘one of the most popular computing tools for users across the globe.’

It’s no surprise that apps have become a huge opportunity for brands to interact with customers, however, in today’s apps economy the users hold all the cards:

‘Mobile apps have become the official channel to drive content and services to consumers. From entertainment content to productivity services, from quantified-self to home automation, there is an app for practically anything a connected consumer may want to achieve,’ said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner. ‘This connection to consumer services means users are constantly funneling data through mobile apps. As users continue to adopt and interact with apps, it is their data — what they say, what they do, where they go — that is transforming the app interaction paradigm.’”

Gartner adds that as the use of mobile devices and wearables expands into other areas of consumption, apps will become even more significant. However, in order for companies to get a piece of that $77 billion in revenue, their applications have to maintain a quality user experience and win over users.

Blau hits on a key point in that listening to what users say is transforming the app interaction paradigm.  Tracking and understanding this data will become increasingly important for brands who want to engage their customers through mobile.

This post originally appeard on the Applause App Analytics Blog.

Video Roundup: Mobile News from CES 2014

Now that the Consumer Electronic Show has wrapped up for the year, it’s a good time to look back at some of the hot mobile news. While mobile was fairly quiet during this year’s show, there is still plenty to talk about. Here is a collection of videos highlighting and discussing the cool mobile innovations unveiled at CES 2014.

CNet Dialed in Live: Phones That Mattered at CES 2014

Talking Tech with Consumer Reports at CES 2014 – Smartphones, Tablets & Wearable Tech

Crave: CES 2014 Video – Top 5 Mobile Technology Innovations

 The Verge Mobile Show at CES 2014

The Verge Mobile CES 2014

 

Mobile App Use Jumps By 115% in 2013

By the end of last year, Apple’s App Store had brought in $10 billion, 3 billion iOS apps had been downloaded in December alone and Gartner was predicting that 1 billion mobile devices running Android would shop in 2014. Both the Apple App Store and Google Play reached the 1 million apps mark and web use via mobile devices made a dent in traditional web’s traffic. What else happened in the mobile world last year? According to numbers released by analytics company Flurry, mobile app use jumped 115%.

According to Flurry, every single app category saw an increase during 2013 – and two saw a year-over-year increase of more than 100%. The overall winner last year was Messaging & Social apps, which saw an increase of a whopping 203%! Utility & Productivity apps saw a boost of 149%, certainly a big number but not too surprising when you think about how much mobile is seeping into users’ everyday lives and taking over tasks historically performed with other tools. Other categories that already had good app representation – such as games, music and fitness – saw good growth, but to a lesser degree.

Mobile App Use Growth 2013

Internet Use on Mobile Devices Jumped in 2013

Mobile internet usageSince users are increasingly shying away from laptops and desktops in favor of smartphones and tablets, it should be no surprise that internet consumption on mobile devices skyrocketed this past year. From The New York Times:

In the United States, consumers used an average of 1.2 gigabytes a month over cellular networks this year, up from 690 megabytes a month in 2012, according to Chetan Sharma, a consultant for wireless carriers, who published a new report on industry trends on Monday. Worldwide, the average consumption was 240 megabytes a month this year, up from 140 megabytes last year, he said.

But what’s in a megabyte or gigabyte anyway? A megabyte is about the amount of data required to download a photo taken with a decent digital camera, or one minute of a song, or a decent stack of e-mail.

So using that analogy — 1.2 gigabytes of mobile data a month looks something like 1,200 photos that a person downloaded to the Internet from a mobile device each month, compared with 690 photos he downloaded a month last year.

Since Cisco predicts that mobile internet usage will surpass traditional internet use by 2016, this might be a good time to make sure your app can stand up to heavy load or consider responsive web design.

Mobile Predictions of 2014

Mobile predicitions fo 2014We haven’t done any traditional end of year posts on Mobile App Testing yet this year, so here’s one for you! Marguerite Reardon of CNet recently wrote up her top mobile market predictions for 2014. Some will excite you as a tester, others will excite you as a mobile fan in general. Here’s a peek at what she sees on the horizon.

Wireless bargin hunters rejoice, carriers are finally listening

While I don’t expect carriers like AT&T to slash pricing across the board, I do think there will be more pricing options available, which will result in better value for some wireless customers.

Wireless operators lobby hard in Washington

While the much needed low-band spectrum from the broadcast incentive auction is still more than a year off, the FCC is preparing two other wireless auctions for 2014. The first is the H-block auction, which has only one significant bidder, satellite TV provider Dish Network. The next auction of the so-called AWS-3 band of spectrum is expected to get a lot more attention. This spectrum auction is set for September 2014. It’s expected to create a lot of buzz, so stay tuned.

Carrier consolidation continues

The past couple of years have already been filled with a lot of M&A activity among wireless carriers. The trend is expected to continue in 2014. …

There are already rumblings that Sprint is putting together a deal to buy T-Mobile, which isn’t a huge surprise given that T-Mobile’s parent Deutsche Telekom has not been shy about its desire to exit the US market. But it’s unclear at this point whether federal regulators would approve such a deal. It could be hard given that both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission have been pleased with T-Mobile’s recovery in 2013 following its failed merger with AT&T in 2011. …

But other deals may also be in the works.

T-Mobile shakes up the industry yet again with more of its “Uncarrier” strategy

T-Mobile is readying the next phase of its “Uncarrier” strategy. …

The company’s executives say they aren’t done yet. Recently, CEO John Legere took to Twitter to promote an upcoming announcement in early 2014 that will “eliminate another customer pain point.”

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