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Tech Savvy: Update Notification

Have you noticed that it is a seemingly endless process to keep your smartphone apps updated? It seems like every time you think you are caught up you get a notice that one — and usually more — of your apps has an improved version for you to download. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 for me. On one hand I really enjoy knowing that the developers are actively working on keeping their programs as current as possible. On the other hand, sometimes it really drives me insane having to constantly update apps or run the risk of them not working. Now that you mention it, I actually have a few right now that are in my update queue.

A hidden treasure in the update battle is that sometimes I do find myself trying an app, deciding it’s not that great or not ready for general use, but come back months later after a major update and find it’s improved so much I begin to regularly use it. Sometimes it’s the reverse, where an app gets so convoluted that I can’t stand using it any more. I thought this week it might be fun to take a look at some on both sides of that equation and perhaps make for some lively discussion with your family this weekend.

• The Good

One of my top favorite improvements came from Slacker Online Radio. As you know, I’ve been a subscriber for some time now and this is one of those services that continually gets better. They recently underwent a complete visual overhaul, changing the entire UI to be more visual and less like the playlist from Media Player. Some people were not fans but I think what they did made a lot of sense, as it makes using the app more intuitive from a smaller device. They have also integrated with other devices, like Roku boxes, and while that partnership in itself isn’t anything new the new interface really lends itself to ease of use.

They are also continually improving the settings so the program can feel more personalized and be more accurate to your tastes. Finally, if you haven’t noticed they have also continued to add new stations so if you don’t feel like creating your own you can select a preset station. If you haven’t given Slacker a try yet, I really encourage you to do so.

Bejeweled Blitz. If this game had a dictionary listing the definition would read “Most Addicting Game.” Ever. I had played this game a lot on my laptop and when I got my iPad a version was released for that. As I have slowly migrated the majority of my computing to my iPad and smartphone, this has been perfect. Just last week it was announced that the long awaited Android version was finally available. Sixty seconds of frantic matching was now available in the palm of my hand. This game has long been my go-to for a time killer. If I have a few minutes to waste while I’m waiting in line or something like that, this is awesome. They also do a pretty good job of updating the game with little things like added bonuses and such that keep it fun.

Google. Almost enough said. Google continually wins my admiration for their dedication to keep pushing the envelope on developing new programs, software and now apps. This past week was the Google I/O event which is their annual report on what they are working on, new developments and improvements. This year has certainly been no exception. Google+, while not a social media behemoth, has slowly been integrated into much of what Google does, including their SEO program. Piece by piece Google has been incorporating more of their existing services into each other which makes it easier to use them together and also helps you use them in your daily lives. One of the more notable features I noticed which didn’t really get a lot of mention was the addition of receipt scanning in Google Drive. This is one of the latest steps Google has taken in wedging themselves in the business door. They have, historically, kept a fairly low profile in the business world but over the years they have been building up steam to become an all-inclusive business back end solutions provider.

• The Bad

If a little of something is good, a lot must be better, right? Everyone can relate to this. Think of chocolate chip cookies (because everyone likes those). Nobody wants to get that lonely cookie that only has two chocolate chips in there, so to counteract that you add twice as many chocolate chips. Problem solved, right? Well, all of a sudden the cookies have too much (if there truly is such a thing) chocolate and they won’t even stay together. The same can be said of tech too. A developer starts out with something great and then tries to add so much into it that the service becomes a burden to use. Whether it’s too much to navigate through or the added features make it run extremely slow, there is a fine line between creating a great app and going overboard.

One thing that sticks out in this category is mobile web browsing. It’s so easy to look at your full version website and determine that everything on it is relevant to your business and that it needs to be available on a mobile version as well. What results is a mobile site that is crammed full of content that is hard to navigate through, or you have to scroll forever through lines of stuff to find what you are looking for. Mobile was designed to be easily accessible and fast, don’t forget the fast part. The majority of mobile users will exit a site after 3 seconds if the site isn’t matching up with what they need, so you have a limited window to show what you need to. Also remember that imagery speaks to people much faster than them having to read through two pages to get the same information. When it comes to mobile you want to make sure of these basic things: Keep your branding, keep it short and make it memorable.

As far as apps go, there aren’t many that stick out in my mind, mainly because I try to avoid them like the plague. If an app has a rating of three stars or less I rarely download them unless I can determine it was not the apps fault or it’s been improved. It is actually relatively easy to build apps now. Third party software will allow you to build apps in iOS, Android or almost any other platform without coding knowledge or prior experience. This translates to hundreds of people who create apps to solve an issue but they do not have much, if any, formal training. What this creates is an app that probably functions but it may not be optimized for a smooth performance — or if an issue does come up, the developer may not be able to fix it. Don’t get me wrong, I highly encourage anyone who is interested in this to try any option to get them into development. It helps you understand and appreciate the ins and outs of what goes into creating an app and it’s a lot of fun to learn. That being said, keep a weather eye out for apps that may not deliver what you are looking for. Bottom line on much of this is don’t add to much to your app or site where it becomes unusable, make a memorable impression and get people to ask more. Or for the cookie analogy — put in the right amount of chocolate chips and just eat the rest while you’re watching them bake.

• The Innovative

Another trend I’ve been seeing, and this matches with my New Year’s prediction, is that more and more devices are integrating services with accessories or peripheral devices. Google has their Project Glass, Bluetooth audio is huge and fitness and other daily life accessories are all extremely popular right now and it’s easy to see why. Smart Accessories, as they’re known, blur the lines between the traditional things we use, like a wristwatch, and pair it with our smart devices to create a hybrid combo that gives us a ton of information.

A prime example is my FitBit that I’ve been using. It is a separate device that is paired with my HTC DNA and the FitBit App and it helps me track my fitness level. Another device along those same lines is the Link Armband by BodyMedia. I just received it for review and you may recognize it as the device used by NBC’s The Biggest Loser competition. Expect a full review in the coming weeks for this, but I can tell you already it is a perfect supplement for my gym time.

Music and audio is always an area that people flock to, and the latest round of devices really raises the bar. You have seen my reviews of speakers like Jawbone’s Jambox, the iTwist and the Braven. They are the latest in a line of top-quality mobile speakers on the market. Another alternative would be the Beats headphones by Dr. Dre, or high-end sets like Bose that have taken headphones to another level. There really is something for everyone now in audio and if you haven’t upgraded in this area yet, now may be the time to check it out.

Keep your eyes open for new smart accessories arriving in the market, and if you want to get ahead of the curve a little, you might want to check out Kickstarter to see some of the great ideas people have come up with.