It has not been a good summer for iOS 7. Apple’s mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads, which is still in beta, has been critiqued from the moment it was announced, plagued with bugs, seen its developer portal breached and briefly shut down and finally surprised many would-be beta users by locking them out of their devices without warning.
For Apple, iOS 7 may be a victim both of great expectations and a little mismanagement. When the eyes of the world are on one company and one product, every little hiccup along the way gets magnified.
And the iOS 7 beta has had a lot of hiccups.
Foursquare is rolling out a new suggestion feature that will use location information to push nearby recommendations to users. (It's currently in limited release to select Android users.) The company says it will factor more than four billion check-ins and 32 million tips into the new push notifications, which should help resolve prior issues with location accuracy.
The application will send users a notification whenever they're near a location that has recommendations—for instance, by alerting them to a restaurant's best dish. According to the company, the new feature won't cause significant battery drain; running the application in the background throughout the day should be equivalent to playing 20 minutes of Angry Birds.
This feature is only available to a few thousand select Android users for now, although Foursquare says it will bring it to all Android and iOS users in the near future.
App stores from Google and Apple offer developers instant, international reach. But a new study from Flurry suggests most American app makers aren't really taking advantage of that, to their peril.
But one startup, Quip, is seizing that opportunity by offering its word-processing app for tablets and smartphones in five new languages—less than a month after it launched.
Few enough English speakers have even heard of Quip, a competitor to Microsoft's Office 365 and Google Apps. Why reach out to German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese speakers?
The payoff Taylor hopes for: a foothold in the office-productivity app market around the world. "So many developers are U.S.-first," says Taylor. "If you go into the productivity category in the App Store in Spain," there's less competition. But as Flurry's analysis shows, that may not remain the case for long.
For Quip's product, targeting markets where users are adopting smartphones and tablets before they ever get to PCs is particularly apt, since it's betting on mobile adoption. At Facebook, he said, many international users only ever experienced Facebook on their mobile phones. Quip, with its mobile-focused approach to document creation, could have an analogous experience, Taylor suggests.
"It's a low-cost thing to do, and it represents who we are as a company," says Taylor. "We can look at usage, one country is using it more than others, we can put more effort there."
Quip is already working on Korean and Japanese next, Taylor said.
Going international isn't a sure thing for Quip, or any other mobile-app developer. But it's clear that not supporting multiple languages will hold your app back in other markets—and it may be too late before too long The lesson from Quip's announcement and Flurry's analysis: Translate early, translate often.
Flurry, a maker of mobile-app analytics tools, reports that the United States is rapidly losing its edge in software as it goes mobile. In 2008, American companies held 65% of the worldwide software market. Now, 64% of apps are made outside the U.S. Chinese users, in particular, spend most of their time using apps made in China.
That's why app makers should go international early. If not, they may lose their best shot at gaining users abroad.
For Quip, though, the answer was also that it could. CEO Bret Taylor tells me his team was able to internationalize the app far faster and less expensively than previous generations of apps, thanks to good planning early on and the distribution that Apple and Google offer mobile developers.
Typically, internationalization is an afterthought, something to do after a developer conquers a home market. And it often requires rebuilding the app's underpinnings. That's what slows development down and adds cost, Taylor says.
Taylor previously worked at Facebook, and before that, he and his cofounder, Kevin Gibbs, both worked at Google. Those experiences helped Quip's team think about how to build in internationalization and localization "hooks"—bits of software meant to enable translation to multiple languages with ease—from the very start.
See also: How Pinterest Added 70 Million Users Without Overhauling Its Original Codebase
Google, in particular, has added many tools to its Android software-development kits that enable internationalization. But Taylor said those weren't particularly useful, because Quip was aiming to internationalize for three platforms at once—Apple's iOS, Android, and the mobile Web.
The big challenge in internationalization is handling strings, or blocks of text characters.
"A lot of the native platforms have their own ways of doing strings, so we built an internal tool that let us share the same translation framework between Android and iOS," says Taylor. "That was an interesting thing we wish there were better tools for." He says he might consider releasing it as open-source software when Quip's small team has more time.
Smart handling of strings was smart business. On each platform, an app might have a different way to represent an interface element, like a notification that another user has opened a document.
"If you do [translation] naively, you'll pay a translator three times to translate the same phrase," Taylor explained.
In a proposed update to its data use policy, Facebook outlined new features that it says will make sharing information easier, but which also clear up any misconceptions you might have had about what you mean to the company. Yes, you are the product.
Facebook, Now With More Faces Recognized
You might well have missed all this. The disclosures are scattered throughout an official document that outlines what Facebook is doing with all the information you make available to it. You know, the document most users don’t actually read.
As part of the proposed update, Facebook says it will include your profile image in the facial recognition database it uses—so far—to push tagging suggestions to users when they upload images. Facebook already identifies photos of you in images your friends upload by comparing them to other images you’ve been tagged in; adding your profile picture to the database is supposed to simplify tagging in images and make it “easier for you to share your memories and experiences with your friends.”
Curiously, this feature is not available in Europe due to concerns from privacy regulators. Which, of course, we don't actually have in the U.S.
An Ad Is An Ad Is An Ad
In addition, the updated policy outlines how Facebook uses personal information for advertising purposes.
Personalized advertising is a huge revenue source for the social network. Between January 2011 and August 2012, Facebook charged advertisers $234 million for "Sponsored Stories," according to Reuters. Facebook's sponsored stories were basically ads that featured users' images and/or Likes as a way of overcoming their friends' resistance to promotional copy.
But in 2011, a group of users sued Facebook, alleging that Sponsored Stories violated user privacy. The company settled the suit and paid $20 million to the plaintiffs and agreed to clear up their privacy policies earlier this week, prompting the release of the proposed data policy.
The settlement required Facebook to include more detailed information on how exactly it was using personal information for Sponsored Stories, according to CNET. Facebook's proposed changes note that it uses your likes and interactions with advertisers, keywords from your posts, and what the company infers from your use of Facebook to show you content that you might find interesting.
The new wording also eliminates any mention of Sponsored Stories, instead calling them what they are—ads.
It’s possible for users to opt out of both facial recognition tagging and having the social network use your information for advertising purposes. But, like changing most privacy settings on Facebook, it takes some clicking around.
There's a mobile ecosystem battle raging, with Apple and Google racing to build end-to-end mobile monopolies. According to VisionMobile, "The triumph of iOS and Android is a testament to the superiority of ecosystems economics over legacy business models." Sadly, this triumph has a casualty, and that casualty is you.
It all worked great when Apple was a hardware company that dabbled in software, and when Google focused on cloud services but didn't veer into hardware. Now that these companies are encroaching on each others' turf, some essential things are getting lost in translation.
Apple Sinks On Sync
We live in an increasingly mobile world, which requires correspondingly tight synchronization between these devices. Sadly, even when buying into one vendor's end-to-end stack (hardware, software, cloud), sync is not guaranteed. At least, not with Apple.
I've written before about Apple's hit-or-mostly-miss approach to cloud services. Perhaps once a year I take up the topic, and each year the story is the same: Apple sync always feels like a kluge.
This isn't because it hasn't had smart people working on the problem. I've worked with a number of people from Apple's MobileMe/iCloud team, and they're exceptional. But Apple never placed a premium on the work they did. Apple's DNA is amazing industrial design with elegant interfaces. Cloud? Not so much.
So I've dumped iCloud for everything but synchronization of Notes from my MacBook Air to my iPhone and iPad. It mostly works. Sometimes. Cloud is Apple's Achilles Heel.
Google's "Standard" Approach To Sync
Which is why I have turned to Google to handle synchronization of my most important data across devices. But even Google's sync has started to falter, though in its case the problem seems to have less to do with technical ability and more to do with political maneuvering.
If you're an iPhone user that depends upon Google services like Gmail, Google Calendar or Google Contacts, life was great when Google supported Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) technology. You'd make a change on your phone and it would immediately be reflected on every other device. Brilliant.
But it also made life easy on rival platforms. So in a move ostensibly to embrace open standards like CalDAV and CardDAV, but very likely done to burn bridges to rival ecosystems, Google announced that starting January 30, 2013, new users wouldn't have access to EAS, and instead would need to use IMAP (email), CalDAV (Calendar) and CardDAV (Contacts).
Suddenly, syncing Google's services with Apple's products doesn't work nearly as well. I can use Google's Gmail app, but it's not deeply integrated into Apple's iOS experience. If you want the premium integrated ecosystem experience of yesteryear, you're out of luck. Or out of sync, as the case may be.
Sync At A Snail's Pace
The genius of EAS was that it was push-based, rather than Google's pull-based approach (or "fetch," in Apple's iOS terminology). In an iOS fetch world, things get around to synching every 15, 30 or 60 minutes, or you can arrange to only sync manually.
This sounds like a minor thing until you move from a push-based world back into the fetch-based Stone Ages. I've been experimenting with Google's CalDAV and CardDAV today, and have found it somewhat infuriating. I made a change in my browser then had to run out the door to an appointment, and waited... and waited... and waited for the appointment to make its way to my device. There is a refresh button which I repeatedly tried pressing to get a manual sync moving, but it didn't seem to do anything.
Almost as bad, for those of us who use Google's services for both work and home, Google's sync has a range of known issues with iOS, including serious limitations in how it handles managed calendars. That is, in order to avoid jumping back and forth between tabs for home and work calendars, both of which are stored in Google, Google lets me manage my home calendar from my work calendar.
But not on my iPhone. And enabling my work Google account and a separate personal Google account results in Google sending me double alerts for every event (I can't seem to turn one off). So not only is Google's new and improved sync terribly slow, but it's also overly chatty.
Can't We All Just Get Along?
Third-party tools don't help. I bought CalenMob to help me tame sync by completely bypassing Apple's iOS calendar app, and I almost as quickly decommissioned it. The interface is pretty, but the functionality is lacking. CalenMob entries make it to my iPhone Calendar app, but not to the Google server. (Bizarrely.) SMS notifications get turned into standard pop-up notifications. And so on.
Has anyone else found a way to live happily on Apple's hardware using Google's cloud services? Don't tell me, "Android comes with native integration of its services." I know that. But the point is that I, and much of the market, isn't interested in an end-to-end, cradle-to-grave affiliation with one particular ecosystem. We want choice. And right now our only choice is broken-by-design sync.
Planning a trip to a major world city? You could hire a travel planner to give you some suggestions. Or you could simply log on to Pinterest.
In an unusual gratis service for social media, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts wants to be your concierge via Pinterest. In a promotion called Pin.Pack.Go., a human concierge will give you personalized travel tips. “We’ve been doing this for 50 years, face to face and over the phone,” said Sorya Gaulin, director of global public relations and social media for Four Seasons. “We’ve just extended it to Pinterest now.”
It's just one more interesting way businesses are exploring Pinterest as they figure out how best to capitalize on its big and still fast growing user base.
Pinterest As A Business Platform
Many brands have already embraced Pinterest as a new way to make money. Neiman Marcus experimented with offering a handbag you can only buy on Pinterest. J Crew released an entire catalog the same way. Numerous brands have used Pin It To Win It contests as a way to drum up business through a giveaway.
Pinterest began offering business accounts in November of last year, and many of the account tools are still in their infancy. Pinterest’s own suggestions for businesses focus on the basics of curation. As a result, there’s really no precedent for the experimental ways businesses like Four Seasons are harnessing Pinterest.
According to Pinterest power user Sonja Foust of Pintester, Four Seasons isn’t just trying something we haven’t seen, but targeting a different group than a contest would. “There's a lot of potential for reaching an audience they wouldn't have otherwise been able to reach, since they're pinning to a shared board that the traveler's network will see,” she said.
Here’s how it works: you leave a comment on this Four Seasons pin with the city you’re interested in visiting. Provided it’s one of the cities where one of Four Seasons’ 91 hotels is located, the hotel in that city will begin following you on Pinterest. Invite your new follower to a board titled “Pin.Pack.Go.” and watch the personalized suggestions roll in. You don’t have to buy anything, or even prove you’ll be staying at a Four Seasons.
This is my board. Within 24 hours of following the instructions, the Four Seasons San Francisco social media manager began offering me sightseeing, dining, and other travel suggestions based on the information I gave about my itinerary and interests.
A Promotion Exception, Or A New Era?
Danny Denhard, a marketing consultant who specializes in Pinterest, predicts that we’re seeing the beginning of a shift from product giveaways to service offerings.
“Because of the visual nature of Pinterest, it’s difficult again to follow up and really interact with the winners of a Pin It To Win It contest,” he said. “The main draw for Four Seasons is the ability to converse with potential clients right there on their own boards.”
Denhard hasn't seen any other company doing service promotions on Pinterest, making Four Seasons an interesting outlier. However, he said this isn't the company’s first service-oriented promotion on Pinterest. Last year, the company hired wedding planners to discuss Four Seasons hotel weddings to potential brides in Four Seasons Bridal.
But like most pioneers, Four Seasons is facing unique issues with its promotion. For one thing, Pin.Pack.Go.’s directions are a bit of a mouthful if you’re not a regular Pinterest user accustomed to commenting, following, and board building. For another, only 70 pinners have signed up for the promotion (out of Four Seasons’ 4,000 plus followers). Perhaps users are still skeptical of a promotion that doesn’t require a purchase.
This is probably why Four Seasons isn’t at all concerned about scaling the service, which requires manual assistance from each of its 91 hotels. “If I’m a guest, my time is extremely valuable as well. I don’t think I’d put together a board and engage with a hotel unless I was actually staying with them,” said Gaulin.
But even if it does blow up, Foust suggested that even personalized pins don’t require as much labor as we might think, given that each hotel is in charge of just one location. “As far as labor, if they've already got a list of pins loaded and ready to go for each location, maybe the labor isn't too bad,” she said. “I really hope it works for them. I haven't ever seen anything like this before, but I love it.”