Navigational Tech Inspired by Theseus and the Minotaur

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Students in Italy created an app to help the blind navigate using only their smartphone and sense of touch.

Various paths are mapped out through a building with colored tape on the ground, which the smartphone camera picks up as the user waves the phone back and forth. When the line passes under the user’s finger on the screen, the the smartphone will vibrate to provide a tactile indication of where the line falls.

via PSFK

Why I’m Curious

Tales of inspiration like this always seem a bit far-fetched to me. All that aside, this tech has many great applications. I have a hard time imaging this implemented as a visual aid, since many sidewalks don’t even have the regulatory yellow bumps. It could, however, be a fantastic promotional tool or form of branded entertainment. I imagine it best being used in a store: a little kid following a path to his favorite snack at the grocery store. Or at an event, where partygoers have to follow the hidden path to find the location.

Also, 3-D Printed Candy.

Howl For a Party

 

Jose Cuervo wants partying to be easier. As the next iteration of their October 2012 campaign, ‘Who’s In?’ they have created the new app Howl, which allows users to broadcast to their friends that a party is happening. 

The hashtag #partyanimals and animal themed videos have been driving traffic to download the app, but there currently aren’t any reviews. The app currently is unbranded, which seems like a missed opportunity. 

While this doesn’t seem that different than a Facebook Event, it does have som advantages: It will buzz your friend’s phones when a new event is created and it is more impromptu in nature than a Facebook event. The app was created on Foursquare’s API. 

 

Why I’m Curious

While a lot of brands have sponsored apps and then have difficulty getting uses to download them, I’m wondering if creating additional entertaining content around that app might help drive downloads. In this case, it appears Jose Cuervo has build the app from scratch and completely but left it unbranded leaving users who aren’t familiar with their brand campaign in the dark about which brand has made partying easier for them. 

Food Meets Fashion

Clothing retailer Uniqlo has launched an iOS app that blends fashion and food by showcasing 24 recipes from six up-and-coming American chefs.

Each recipe in the Uniqlo Recipe app features a palette of bright colors and textures, which are matched by the chef’s Uniqlo outfits. For example, Chef Brian Leth wears a brown cardigan to introduce his Dark Chocolate Sandwich recipe. Users can click to instantly buy each of the featured clothing items the chefs are wearing. The app also includes a kitchen timer featuring cooking sounds.

Why I’m Curious

It’s amusing to see a fashion retailer pair its offerings with food in this way. The two don’t inherently go together, yet the brand has found a way to connect them through shared attributes like color and texture. The end result is an application that provides functional utility in addition to entertainment. Given the disparate nature of the two elements however, I wonder how many people will actually download the app.

Explore Your City With Your Shoes

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Puma launched a new app, PUMA RUN NAVI, which combines the functionality of Google Maps, Google Places, and the best elements of other running apps to help runners find the best route to meet their distance and sightseeing goals. 

 

Users input the things in the city they want to see and the distance they want to run. The app then generates the best course to meet both goals. During the run, audio cues notify the user of when to turn right or left, how much distance has been run, and when an attraction is reached. 

 

Why I’m Curious

It seems like the app market is already saturated with self-tracker fitness tools, especially running apps, which are dominated by Nike+ and Fitbit. Why add to an already saturated market? 

On the other hand, this app does bring some new routing functionality to the table, but is that going to be enough to draw users? Nike’s app is directly linked to the shoe or a bracelet, whereas here it seems anyone can use the app. The objectives are slightly different though: Nike is aiming to acquire new customers and drive loyalty, while Puma is seeking to merely launch a new shoe, positioning it less as about achieving and more about enjoyment of running. 

 

Say Hello to Winston

Apps for children are nothing new, but one app is breaking down the wall communication between kids and the iPad. Meet Winston, star of “The Winston Show” from the hot app developer ToyTalk. When Winston asks a child a question on the app, he can listen carefully and craft an intelligent response back to them. Oren Jacob, cofounder and CEO, was at Pixar for 20 years before starting ToyTalk, so it’s obvious that the attention to detail in The Winston Show is exquisite.

Via Fast Company.

So far, more than 3,000 lines have been recorded for the app. The ToyTalk team wants to add fresh material to the app every week, and there’s a full-time voice actor on staff to make that possible.

Why I’m Curious:

I think it will be interesting to follow the progress of this app. This doesn’t seem like it’s going to be one of those apps that is released and then abandoned by the developer. If ToyTalk sticks to their intention to update weekly with new content, it can become an incredibly powerful app and an industry standard. I’d also like to see how many developers follow suit and create more apps that “communicate” with users intelligently based on voice input.

NFLPA + Uber = No DUI’s for Your Favorite Players

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They say there’s an app for everything – well now that includes being an inebriated NFL player who needs a ride but would rather not risk a PR disaster.

The NFL Player’s Union has partnered with Uber to provide players with premium access to their car services in any of the 20 NFL cities. All active NFL players receive a personalized keychain card with $200 in starting credit. This new partnership highlights a key piece of Uber’s agenda, “To educate city governments that this [service] reduces drunk driving and gets people out of their cars” – Travis Kalanick, CEO/co-founder of Uber.

Fun Fact: There were 10 cases of DUI/DWI charged to NFL players just this offseason

Why I’m Curious

This is a great example of a great idea, coming to life through a small tech brand/app, solving problems. Uber has been picking up a lot of momentum in terms of partnerships and offline activations in key markets such as Brooklyn’s #BKLovesUberX campaign which gave out free rides during the last weekend of August. With the rise of car sharing/service apps, I am curious to see how these type of partnerships will elevate awareness and impact the way we see and use transportation.

Red Bull Flow

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Red Bull has launched “Red Bull Flow“, an app for the BMX and skateboarding community to film and share their tricks.

With Red Bull Flow, users can stitch together seamless films from their shorter videos, showcasing their tricks, without the need for any editing software or prior editing knowledge. After filming their video clips, users add tags to the video specifying the rider, trick and location. Next, the video is published to Flow and may also be shared on Facebook. In Flow, users can discover, watch and share other people’s tricks on their phone or as collaborative videos – ‘Flows’ – on redbullflow.com.

Watch the video for the app here.

Why I’m Curious

What’s interesting about this app, is that YouTube, Instagram video and Vine already exist for video sharing, yet Red Bull has created a unique differentiator in their branded video sharing app. By building an app catering to their BMX and skateboarding audience, Red Bull is essentially creating a new social network for their target to share their tricks, get inspired and essentially learn from each other. In this way, Red Bull is hosting a relevant, long-term branded social experience.

Order Groceries with Instant Delivery

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Pocket Shop is a new app may disrupt the grocery, convenience store, and take out categories, making obtaining a fresh back of groceries easy to shop for and delivered right to your door.

When users notice that their cupboards are running low on supplies, they can upload a grocery list to the app. The app will ping one of their 20 freelance grocery shoppers via text to head to the nearest grocery. The app also tells the shoppers the quickest route to the grocery and how to most efficiently navigate the aisles within the grocery. Food should be delivered within the hour.

This app competes with services like FreshDirect, which provide grocery delivery direct to your door. But users generally have to wait for a designated delivery time, whereas with Pocket Shop, groceries are delivered when you need them. This might also eat away at the Seamless and Grubhubs of the world, where prepared food is delivered.

Why I’m Curious

There are two trends this app is capitalizing on:

Convenience Trumps Everything

This is evidenced by

  • Crowdsourcing small tasks to save time
  • Desire for instantaenous results
  • Desire for services to fit my schedule

Second, this app brings much utility to the table, saving time, simplifying the shopping process, and solving for laziness.

Geo-Fencing: Coca-Cola Personalizes Billboards

Using geo-fence technology, Coca-Cola Israel notches on another innovative “Share a Coke” campaign extension. Anyone who downloaded the associated app would be able to enter their name. Once the they begin to approach one of the many Coca-Cola billboards, their phone would connect and broadcast their name in a message “Enjoy Coca-Cola with…”

Coca-Cola Personal Road from Gefen Team on Vimeo.

Why I’m Curious
Geo-fence technology is becoming more fascinating as the worlds of social and mobile continue to collide. The possibilities for brands to add value to their relationships with consumers are boundless. Beyond a cool branding experience, how can this kind of technology be leveraged to build equity in other core activities such as customer service, point of sale, and more. 

Audi’s Augmented Reality Car Manual

Audi has created a replacement manual for their A3 in the form of an augmented reality app called eKurzinfo.

eKurzinfo covers over 300 different elements of the car, all of which can be easily identified with the iPhone’s camera. In addition to identifying various parts of the car, the app can help owners learn how to fix them as well. For example, if the engine is overheating and the warning symbol comes on inside the car, you can scan it with the app to find out how to deal with the problem, which may be as simple as topping up the coolant.

Why I’m Curious

We’ve been seeing a lot of augmented reality applications over time and many of them are purely for entertainment purposes. I thinks it’s great that the automotive industry is adopting this technology to offer practical functionality to its customers.

Peer-to-Peer App Connects Hungry Strangers with Leftovers

Whether it’s physical goods, digital wares or simple services – there’s probably a peer-to-peer network out there for it – now there’s even one for leftovers as well. Leftover Swap is a smartphone app that makes it possible to barter or give away any leftovers you might have after a particularly big meal. While some people might recoil in disgust at the idea, it could be an excellent way to deal with the huge amounts food that Americans waste every year.

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The concept is simple, snap a photo of whatever it is you have leftover and post it to the app’s database. Strangers in the same geographic area then have an option of trading you for the food — or just taking it off your hands.

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Why I’m Curious: I’m curious how people will receive this concept of food-sharing. I know a fair share of germaphobes in this world, and I am interested to see if there are enough people out there who can get on board with the idea. I find it to be a very clever solution for minimizing the enormous amount of waste and feeding people in need. The concept seems to be much like the idea of couchsurfing where you have to be willing to show a little faith in other people.

There is a huge potential for environmental impact with an app like this, especially considering the fact that current rates of food production around the world won’t be enough to feed everyone by 2050.

Augmented Reality Furniture Shopping With IKEA

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In 2014, IKEA will release a new catalog that allows its consumers to augment reality with their tablet or mobile device and view the brand’s furniture in their home – right then and there. By placing the magazine in the chosen location for the piece of furniture, the buyer can use their device to test out different models, colors, and other products until they find the one they like.

From The Huffington Post,

“There are 90 products available to try, letting you get a rough idea of the size and dimensions of whatever you’re going to buy. All they need now is a version that will help you work out if the flat packs are going to fit in your car to get it all home.”

IKEA

Why I’m Curious:

Virtual shopping is a curious subject because it allows the consumer to make purchase decisions in the comfort of their own home. Augmented reality allows the consumer to manipulate their space, which opens doors to other categories of shopping – for instance, apparel brands. I predict other industries will get involved in augmented reality mobile apps, for example clothing brands, shoe brands and even jewelry designers. Perhaps one day we won’t even need to leave our homes to go shopping – all thanks to the nature of digital and its ability to create immediacy and efficiency in our everyday tasks.

Be Happy! There’s an App for That.

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Happier is an app that launched in February aimed to make a community centered around happiness.  Nataly Kogan is the founder of the small start up and was inspired by her quest to feel fulfilled.  She found that a social network can make you happy and the concept spread pretty quickly.  In the short time that it has been available to the public, there are over 100,000 users who have shared over 1 million happy posts.

The app is similar to Twitter and Instagram in terms of feed and brevity.  If you like a post you simple hold down the smiley face and spread your positive feelings.  Kogan chose this platform because it seems to be, “more personal and less braggy.”  Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter gives the user the ability to have an online persona that could be completely different from that offline.

Why I’m Curious

I am curious to see how many people have tried the app and if they find themselves having an enjoyable user experience.  Studies show that if your expressions intensify your emotions, so if you are smiling for say 10 minutes while reading Happier posts then you could possibly be happier.  This is only the first step in Kogan’s discovery for happiness she plans on developing a media company and lifestyle brand focused around it.  I think happiness spreads fast and people would like to see a network that is completely selfless and geared toward pursuing a better life.  It will be interesting to see if the app grows rapidly in terms of users and posts in the next few years, like similar networks have.  Maybe in a year looking at Happier when you wake up will replace your morning routine.  Ten minutes of smiling could be a world of a difference.

Candy Crush Saga: A Killer Social/Mobile Combination

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If you own a smart phone or have a Facebook account, chances are you’ve heard of or at least evaded the Candy Crush rage. The simple bejeweled-esque mobile game has reeled in a whopping 15.5 million players so far and tops the charts as one of the highest grossing free apps on the market. The game forces players to depend on their Facebook friends to grant them access to new levels, or else it’s $0.99 a pop (and there’s a lot of pops, pun intended). It’s a killer yet simple combination of social and addictive game design.

From ABC,

“The game, which was released for mobile phones in November 2012, has topped Zynga’s Farmville 2 and other popular mobile games such as Texas HoldEm Poker, Bejeweled Blitz and Subway Sufers. But why? What is it about this game that’s really no more than a simple puzzle game that has made it so popular? It’s a combination of mobile and social elements, says the makers and experts.”

Why I’m Curious:

Before Candy Crush I took pride in having a clean record when it came to these bandwagon social/mobile game rages. These games often have either the addictive or social piece nailed down, but not often do you see both being integrated so well. The dependency on one’s Facebook network that the game has garnered can reduce even the most conservative social networker to a shameful spammer. I am confident that Candy Crush has set a new bar and has facilitated a new upcoming wave of social integration in mobile gaming.

Boycotting Made Easy

Buycott

The Buycott app allows consumers to identify if the products they’re purchasing are related to any organizations/causes that they oppose or support.

How it works: First, users determine which campaigns they are for or against. There are several existing campaigns, including “Say No to Monsanto”, “Avoid Sweatshop & Child Labor”, “Support Veterans” and “Equality for LGBTQ.” When the user scans a product with the app, Buycott will up the product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand (and who owns that company, ad infinitum). It then cross-checks the product owners against the companies and brands included in the campaigns the user has joined, in order to tell them if the scanned product conflicts with one of their campaign commitments.

Why I’m Curious:

This is a simple concept that many people would find quite useful. For instance, the US government doesn’t require any GMO items to be labeled; and big food corporations actually spend millions of dollars to keep this kind of information off their packaging. This app is a great example of how technology can be utilized to empower people to intelligently make decisions about issues concerning their values and livelihoods. If successful (and technically sound), I think this app has potential to inspire an environment that would hold many corporations increasingly accountable for their actions, as the knowledge gained will directly influence consumer perception and ultimately demand.

Makr Shakr: Be Your Best Bartender

MIT Sensible Lab, Pentagram and SuperUber is collaborating to create Makr Shakr, a robotic bar capable of preparing approximately one googol (equal to 10 power 100) crowd-sourced drink combinations. Through a mobile app, users will be able to design their own drinks, learn from other people’s recipes, and leave a few tips for the next user. The three robotic arms will then concoct their chosen mixture.

Users can gain inspiration by viewing other users’ recipes and comments before sending in their drink of choice. The cocktail is then crafted by three robotic arms, whose movements reproduce every action of a barman – from the shaking of a Martini to the muddling of a Mojito, and even the thin slicing of a lemon garnish. It is previewing during Milan Design Week from April 9th-14th, before being unveiled in its final configuration at Google I/O in San Francisco on May 15th.

Why I’m Curious: I love this concept for quite a few reasons. First, the app could be a signal of this “Third Industrial Revolution” paradigm as it empowers a consumer with the ability to be a bartender.  Second, alcohol brands could leverage this compelling tool and establish connections with their audience. As the best drinks become the most popular and can be shared through social media, I think this is a beautiful case of merging the physical touch world with the digital space. And lastly, I’m fascinated by the fact that the gestures of Makr Shakr were inspired by Roberto Bolle, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, as they were filmed and used as input for the programming.

Mosaic App Stitches iPhones and iPads Into a Single Display

– David Geller

Mosaic is an iOS app that lets you stitch together a single display using multiple iPhones and iPads.

Why I’m Curious

There is a cool/WOW factor to this – the possibilities for this technology are only limited by our imagination…from in-store displays to apps w features that can only be accessed by using multiple devices. We always talk about ‘social’ in terms of connecting online/virtually, but this let’s us connect digitally while we’re physically together.

Starbucks Pick of the Week Goes Mobile

Starbucks_Pick_of_the_Week_270x527Ever picked up one of those Starbucks “Pick of the Week” cards while you were waiting for your latte? Now the experience is being completely integrated into the Starbucks app, so you can seamlessly download apps, books, and songs while waiting for your caffeine fix.

The process is pretty simple with the Starbucks app – log onto the store’s free Wifi and you can download all the company’s curated picks straight from your in-app inbox. (more at CNET)

Why I’m Curious

Even if you were a fan of the Hootie and Blowfish song Starbucks was giving away, the paper card you picked up to download it probably ended up in the trash or the bottom of your bag. Integrating the experience with app and the Starbucks Wifi not only encourages more downloads of the already popular app, it also encourages customers to stay in the store longer to download their freebies. And maybe start a game of Angry Birds.

Lighting The Way To Sales

South Korea’s largest retailer, E-mart, has rolled out new technology, called E-mart Sale Navigation, to help shoppers find discounted items in its often gargantuan stores. The feature has been incorporated into the retailer’s app and uses Visual Light Communication (VLC) technology.

Shoppers inside E-mart stores install the retailer’s app on their smartphone and then place the smartphone in a holster attached to each shopping cart’s handle. From that position the smartphone receives signals from the store’s LED lighting, directed through a lens in real time. Shoppers see a map of the store and their location, along with directions to nearby discounts. When the cart approaches an on-sale item, the app flashes the coupon on the screen to alert shoppers of the deal.

Why I’m Curious:

I think this is a valuable utilization of VLC technology for marketing purposes. This in-store applicability is a creative way to draw more users to the store’s app. As this technology expands to use in individual stores, perhaps it will show up in malls and shopping centers as a means to attract shoppers looking for a deal.

MARS App: An Augmented Reality Guide to Life

Navigating something can be difficult. Whether it’s a new town, car, or blender, a little extra information when you’re first getting acquainted can be useful. But unfortunately, we don’t always carry those around. But we do usually have a phone, which is where the PAR Works MARS app comes in.

The app, which was up for a SXSW 2013 Interactive Award, basically makes life easier by cutting down on the time needed to figure something out. It enables anyone to embed information about a place or product by taking a photo. Once the info is uploaded to the database, other users can take a photo to recognize the place or product and pull up the info using an Internet connection. (more at Digital Trends)

Why I’m Curious

MARS has a ton of potential to make it more convenient for consumers to access information or manuals, find out where to buy a product they like, or receive a discount at a store – just by snapping a picture. I think augmented reality service like MARS are definitely something we will be seeing more of in the future. But for now, the process seems a little clunky – will customers or companies manage uploading? Will the data only be accessible through the app? Can you save data once you access it (in case there’s no Internet connection)? In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing where application likes MARS are going.