Random Acts of App-iness

Traveling for the West Coast tour of the OMMA Ad Nets and Behavioral series left me with a lot of time to kill in airports, on shuttles and online. Perfect for app harvesting. A handful of apps caught my eye I as I did my latest run of serial downloading from the App Store. Each of these apps has ended up sticking onto my deck because they have some piece of app-iness to them, something that makes them more than a tchotchke or a good but shallow idea, which pretty much sums up most mobile apps.  

The Big App Show: One of MTV's original VJs and one of the founders of Mevio, Adam Curry has been bravely exploring new media forms for several years now. His new daily video review of mobile apps is as simple as it is well-executed.

There are a few good lessons here for others. First, this is a video app top to bottom. You open the app and it meets you with a video thumbnail that fills the screen, and a big fat play button that initiates the day's show. You swipe to thumbnails of previous shows.

Many "video" apps still use the very Webby, very text-driven scroll of thumbnails and descriptions to index the clips. But I like the fact that this is a pure video show in an app. You just open-click and the episode plays.

Also very smart is that the video show plays in portrait mode in full screen. Unlike most other video apps that require reorienting the iPhone to two-handed landscape mode, this one makes the video format fit the most convenient use case. The framing has the added effect of making the video feel all the more personal, because we get Curry larger and looking more as if he is standing in front of you.

In this case the format follows the function, because Curry leverages his personality here. His reviews of apps are more enthusiastic than critical. And that is just fine for the intentions of this app: to recommend good picks. Curry has said that he wants to pioneer the app as a media/video format in the same way he did music video and podcasting. This is not a bad start. 

MapQuest 4 Mobile 2.0: Here is a good example of a mobile brand extension that is good enough to make you rethink and revisit the company's core product. I don't know about you, but I gave up on MapQuest years ago. When Google got into the game with much speedier and interactive maps, MapQuest felt as if it fell far behind in usability.

On mobile, MapQuest always enjoyed a dominant place. Before the iPhone app revolution it was pretty much the only mapping game in town on carrier decks, where we used to call them "downloadable programs." Over the years I tracked and reviewed several iterations of MapQuest mobile and always found it more usable on phones than on the Web.

The new version for iPhone is a model of compact interface and efficient data delivery. Overlaid on the map is a fully customizable menu of location icons that lets you pop up restaurants, bars, ATMs, etc with ease. You can assemble your own collection of icons and layer several locations types onto a single map view. While I wish there were some embedded instructions to explain exactly how the saved locations function works, the app exemplifies a clean, clear and simple interface that works intuitively. Voice directions are built in, and the entire app simply moves the user through the task at hand smoothly.

AgencyNewsNetwork: B2B media has been a real laggard in the mobile field, and it is hard to understand why. After all, businesspeople spearheaded the smartphone revolution. Most professionals use their cell phones to access email. So why haven't B2B publishers been all over this medium? Most of them tell me it is a matter of scale and the lack of advertising support.

Well, I would add that precious few B2B publishers have ever been very Web-savvy to begin with. That's changing, as publishers like Penton have been cutting deals with mobile media providers to bring their trade titles to mobile, even if many of them feel like repurposed RSS feeds.

Many of you reading this column will be in the marketing business and should appreciate the agency news aggregation service that AgencyNewsNetwork provides. It pulls together news stories about the advertising world from multiple sources into an attractive interface that breaks things down into news, digital, business, spots/ads, and social media. The headlines click into a summary graph that in turn will click through to the original article. In its first version, the app does not rigorously attribute articles to their source in the summary, but the publisher assures me there will be better attribution in the future.  

B2B publishers should be forewarned by an app like this. Get your act in gear and serve your business verticals -- or another new-media business like this is going to steal the market you should have owned. Business publishers should also anticipate the value of aggregation for a business user and consider providing cross-brand news gathering as part of its mobile service. If you don't do it, someone else will.

Firefox Home: My ongoing love affair with Netflix across iPad, PC and Xbox is a testament to my admiration for great cross-platform synchronization. So it's no surprise that Mozilla's brilliantly simple Firefox Home quickly became among my most used apps. This app ties in with a plug-in on your Firefox desktop browser that makes your current bookmarks and even open browser tabs on your PC accessible to the iPhone.

The embedded browser is very good. I don't have to replicate my bookmarks in my Safari browser or even use any of the other less-streamlined solutions. You can even search your own desktop browsing history to find just that article you know you visited on some Web site weeks ago.

I am a broken record, I know. But seamless synchronization of digital experiences across platforms has got to be a central goal of any media brand.

1 comment about "Random Acts of App-iness".
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  1. Kelly Mcivor from Atomic Mobile, July 22, 2010 at 2:21 p.m.

    Steve, I'm looking forward to discussion about apps that are also available on Android.

    Apps != iPhone

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