Category Entertainment

Xbox App = Pure Brilliance

The Xbox community is pretty rabid and many use the service for way more than just gaming. As such Microsoft just released an app for iOS devices to give access to your account from anywhere. Not only does it increase the value of having a XBox account they slyly put WindowsPhone 7 on your iPhone.

The app itself is build using the Metro framework but it also includes the default nav bar from their OS. So visually other than the status bar at the top of the screen you’re in WP7 land. What a way to introduce the masses to WP7 without them having to give up their iPhones in the process.

Outside the visuals, the app is pretty impressive. From the animated avatar that reacts to your actions (shake phone, poke, etc.), to full access to your account including messaging and setting of beacons. Beacons on their own are a brilliant move, but together Microsoft has a killer marketing tool disguised as an app that you’ll want to use.

Check it out for your self.

Ticketmaster lawsuit: Sticking it to the man…or does it

I doubt there too many people who are pro-Ticketmaster regarding this case (or in general) and that’s totally understandable their service is horrible, their fees excessive and their monopoly on shows/venues leaves us few options. Though after reviewing the class action lawsuit it seems that the winners in this case are the lawyers and Ticketmaster.

The lawyers are guaranteed to collect $16.5 million and those effected will get a credit towards their next purchase at Ticketmaster. Then there’s fine print, one can only combine 2 credits at a time (for a total of $3) and they expire in 48 months. So the more you were effected, the more you need to support Ticketmaster to collect any restitution. Makes you wonder how many other “class action” suits are nothing more than thin veils for lawyers to extort big businesses.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of Ticketmaster ripping off their customers, but will this lawsuit really stop that? I think not, but competition will.

 

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Class Action Lawsuit Against Ticketmaster – Better Business Bureau

Want to discover more music on Spotify?


If so, you’ll want to check out Spotibot.com, which uses the data of Last.fm to generate a playlist for you. Or tap into you own Last.fm account for more. After giving this a few tries I’m pretty impressed. This will definitely get me to use Spotify more.

All is Not Lost – OK Go’s Viral Tribute to Japan

Once again OK Go has created a great viral video experience. This time they’ve teamed up with Google Japan, director Trish Sie and Pilobolus (a modern dance troupe) to create All Is Not Lost a tribute/message to post tsunami Japan.

The entire video is shot from below making for some interesting visuals all on it’s own, but add the multi-window tiling of video and you get a crazy kaleidoscope effect. If that wasn’t enough there is the viral/personalization feature where you type a message and OK Go and Pilobolus will write it out with their bodies. Simple concept, great execution.

Technically speaking, the use of HTML for syncing multiple videos is still pretty impressive. Be forewarned that this may be taxing on older computers as I know last year’s video/experience for The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown gave my laptop a bit of a work out. For more about how they made the video check out Google’s blog. Regardless of the technology used the most impressive thing is how this all came about as a tribute to a post tsunami Japan.

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Links:
All Is Not Lost (video)
OK Go
Pilobolus
Google’s blog
The Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown

Quick Take on Spotify

Last week Spotify launched in the United States, though It’s been available abroad for years. If that wasn’t enough buzz, invites were hard to come by so congrats if you were lucky enough to get an invite, find a loophole or paid your way in. For those that haven’t had a chance to check it out here’s a quick rundown of the service.

Spotify is a subscription/free streaming music service boasting over 15 million songs in its catalog and offline listening (subscription only). According to Spotify’s promos “Spotify is any song, any album, any time”. I tested out a few of the more obscure bands from my college years and it found most of them that had more than one major label release. Song wise there were more gaps but overall pretty impressive. Their catalog also loaded with new releases, not just forgotten tracks from yesteryear.

The Spotify application is pretty simple and it layout is reminiscent of iTunes and other music apps. Rather then having the play controls front and center, they’re located across the bottom of the app, similar to Grooveshark, which took some getting used to. The search box is located at the top left, hinting that it’s a primary tool for getting around Spotify’s offerings. When using search it returns a list of potential artist, albums and in the main window all the songs that are a potential match. This allows you to go from search to playing pretty quickly.

Despite the top placement of Search the UI seems focused on playlists. To help you get jump started you can import you music and playlists from iTunes. Though beyond the jump-start I don’t see much value with this feature unless you pony up for the premium subscription giving you at-will offline access to your music on your phone. Additionally, located above the playlists is a “What’s new” and “inbox” where you’d find the latest pop hits and music friends shared with you (respectively). Overall it’s a solid service with a large catalog of music that is worth checking out but it does have some issues.

I know Spotify isn’t alone in their pricing model treating mobile as a premium feature. Regardless it still tops my list of issues. Though the app on both Android and iOS are nicely designed they do little more than offer access to music you already have on the device. Streaming and offline access to Spotify’s music are $5 and $10 a month. On the plus side it does offer the ability to sync via WiFi. Who knows this could change as popularity of free services similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player and Google Music gain more traction.

Another issue is how focused the app is on playlists and albums. Honestly I don’t always have time to create playlists and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. They need to add a “genius” feature, basic stations or any sort of lazy mode if only to showcase the vastness of their catalog. Currently, despite having 15 million songs if I can’t think of it, I don’t know they have it or I’m stuck listening to albums which isn’t always what I’m looking for. If you love Pandora’s ability to create an instant playlist based on a single song/artist I’d say stick with Pandora for now.

My last big issue with Spotify is their advertisements. I know they have bills to pay so I’m not complaining that there are adverts in general but they are either three in a row, feature samples from songs I have zero interest in or worse yet fail completely and not time out forcing me to restart the app to continue to the next song. Their ads also bounce around the user interface, great for advertisers, horrible for the user. With advertising it’s all a game of balance and it wouldn’t take much to fix that balance.

There are a few things smaller things they could fix and be easy wins for the service. An iPad version of the app would be welcomed a welcomed addition, especially since the service is so playlist focused the added screen real-estate would be a blessing. The share feature is a nice addition but the method to do so is a bit retro and more obscured than it needs to be.

Though the big issues aren’t enough for me to stop using the service immediately they also don’t drive me to becoming a paid subscriber. The ironic reality is even though two out of three of my issues would be alleviated by subscribing their existence keeps me from wanting to subscribe. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know I’m not alone in this either. Overall, Spotify isn’t dramatically different than other services available (Rdio, Napster, Rhapsody, Grooveshark or even Amazon and
Google’s new music offerings), it does work well and has a huge catalog. Will that be enough for Spotify to convert people into subscribers?

Pros:

  • Huge catalog (15+ million songs)
  • Connection with social networks
  • Quality search results
  • Off-line access (paid)

Cons:

  • No streaming to mobile without subscription
  • Off-line access additional
  • Playlist/album/search focused
  • Obnoxious commercials
  • No error detection

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Ways to get a Spotify invite:
Don’t Have A Free Spotify Invite? Use Your Klout Perks
Get a quick and easy invitation to Spotify
Spotify Invite Fever Strikes: How to Get In Now

Links:
Spotify
Rdio
Napster
Rhapsody
Grooveshark
Amazon Cloud Player
Google Music

Google Plus a Second Look

I’ve been using Google+ for the last few days, nearly exclusively to get real feel for it over the other options that are so ingrained in my day-to-day. After a few days there are number of things that really stand out to me and other based on things I’ve been reading online.

The biggest stand out is Circles and how they affect your Stream (think News Feed in Facebook). I really like the idea behind Circles and the ability to publish content to the right people rather than one size fits all. I would also love for my organization of people into Circles it would also influence the content I receive. For example, if the “friends” circle is only for close, real-life friends, and “acquaintances” is for those people I’ve met but not necessarily close to, shouldn’t that also influence who shows up in my stream. In my case I added Robert Scoble to my “follow” Circle as he often has interesting things to say. When I say often, I mean he post multiple times a day. Now he overwhelms my global Stream. I know this is partly because he’s posting more than my other connections but I want to know what my friends are doing/saying way more than an acquaintance (or follow). Granted this is not everyone’s use case for G+, so I suggest that Circles and how they bias the content in your Stream be controllable.

The second big thing with Circles is the overlapping content and no quick way to see if you’ve already seen that content. My friend Arpit suggests a “read” option for posts similar to how it works in any email system or Google’s Reader…so they should be able to easily handle this from a technical side. This overlapping also rears its head when managing your circles. For this I think another friend‘s suggestion would be a huge help…displaying the Circles as Venn diagrams. Not for every view but it would be hugely helpful managing the groups.

My last thought on Circles is to connect them with Sparks (topics), Arpit touches on this with his “Smart Circles” idea in his post on ways to improve Circles. Currently Sparks is completely generic feeling with generic topics and stock art topic images. These should be join-able, like a public Circle based on around a topic. It’d be a perfect way to bring content I’m interested in into my Stream. For example, there’s one on recipes, as a foodie I’d like to join this and maybe post to it as well. Thus offing salacious recipes intermixed with my friends and family’s social updates.

One lacking with Google Plus’s Stream is the ability to +1 a comment. Though many feel this ability to “like” a comment on post is unnecessary within Facebook it’s actually something I felt myself looking for when reading stuff in G+. I don’t use it often on Facebook, but it comes in handy as a way to agree/acknowledge a statement without having to write “I agree”. Granted this may add little to a conversation on its own, but it does let the writer know their message was received/read and used as a way to filter responses on post with more comments than could be displayed in a reduced state.

Some of the other issues come from the newness of the service: lack of diversity of the membership (most conversations are about Google+, hello worlds and technology), updates being out of sync (Gmail is the most up to date, then site post refresh, then the Android app), and figuring out how it fits with the rest of my social outlets. Minor UI issues on the Android app which are both personal learning curve from previous experiences and potential misses on a V1 app. These things happen.

The issues above are minimal and far from deal breakers but when Google is up against Facebook and the habits of its 500 million users Google needs to over deliver again and again. Since they’ve already made some updates since Tuesday’s launch the future looks promising for Google Plus.

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Related articles:
- Some Ideas for Google Circles by Arpit Mathur
- Why yo daddy won’t use Google+ by Robert Scoble

Netflix steps up the competition with Cable (rumor)

According to Deadline Hollywood (via engadget) Netflix is in bidding war with channels like HBO & AMC for a new series from David Fincher staring Kevin Spacey called House of Cards.

Needless to say this would be a huge coup for Netflix. In the growing competition between the online video service this would clearly set them apart from Hulu+ and Amazon Prime‘s video offerings. It also makes them a clearer threat to the current cable business model. Even if this rumor fails to become a reality, the seed has been planted and the game has changed.

Only time will tell if this is Netflix’s first step in becoming a premium content provider? And if so, will the masses change their habits and think about “tuning” to Netflix to catch up on their latest show.

UPDATE: This is a rumor no more, Hollywood Reporter writes Netflix Outbids HBO for David Fincher and Kevin Spacey’s ‘House of Cards’

Your TV’s New Best Friend

Yesterday Comcast released their XFINITY TV app for iOS. Basically it’s a cleaned up TV Listings grid, updated On Demand guide, the ability to change the channel, set your DVR and (coming soon on the iPad) streaming content. These options are also available online via XfinityTV.com but having them in your phone makes it so much more relevant. Though I’ve seen the demo versions for months (I work at Comcast) it’s something else to use it in the real world.

The set-up was simple, especially since I’m already using the remote DVR service that was released earlier this year. Once inside the app the TV Listings scrolled through channels and hours with ease. After seeing the smoothness of this interaction you’ll wish all other grids could work this well. There’s still a ton of channels to browse through but way simpler then anything a set-top box can offer. There’s also a search feature should you already know what you want to watch but need to know where. The On Demand section is also way quicker to navigate then via the standard remote.  And since you can instantly tune your TV to anything you can pull up in the app you may never pick up the old remote again.

Unlike many other iPhone remotes this one works over the Internet rather then your local WiFi so there is no start up time every time you take the phone out of sleep mode. It’s also great tool to mess with people watching TV as you can change the channel even if they’re the ones holding the TV remote. Granted my girlfriend didn’t enjoy this feature as much as I did.

I’m not the only one that seems to like it:

The app is free, so if you’re a Comcast/Xfinity customer there’s no reason not to give it a try.

Last but not least, I need to give props to all my co-workers that have been working killer hours to make this a reality.

How quickly things change

In yesterday’s weekly recap I reported on Zynga out doing EA in their financial worth. Just a bit shocking as Zynga has been around for around 4 years and produce simple albeit social games. While EA has been around since the early years of computer gaming, and now own the rights to just about every sports franchise there is. Clearly EA has more overhead but who would’ve thought selling virtual goods could be worth so much.

Well, it seems as though EA has seen the light and just signed a 5 year deal with Facebook for game distribution. While last week EA bought the publisher of Angry Birds, the current gaming zeitgeist.

Weekly Rewind: Viral Gamification

The battle for the mobile space is fierce as ever and according to Adobe’s recent survey users prefer a the mobile web for shopping and media rather then downloading apps. Though the same survey showed for single goal oriented tasks (social media, games, etc.) apps were preferred. Hopefully this will help guide companies into making decisions on where and how best to reach their customer’s needs. See the press release for more stats from the survey.

If you looking to get out there an promote your product/site you have a few options for building up the buzz, and SocialTwist’s new report on viral stats may be a good place to start. According to the report 55% of referrals come via email, 24% from social media and 18% through IM. Though that’s not the whole story, when it comes to click-throughs Social is king with 60%, followed by email’s 31%. Twitter is earning around 19 clicks per link, to Facebook’s 2.9 clicks per link. Lastly sharing is dominated by Facebook at 78%. What does all this mean? Each service has it’s strengths and to maximize your viral potential you’ll need to work them all.

Want more numbers…well Tweetdeck’s got you covered. They looked at the Android ecosystem to see product penetrations and found over 500 different phone models and around 120 different OS versions.  On one side it shows how fragmented the Android market is, on the other it shows how well Android handles that fragmentation. Feels like history repeating itself (Windows/Mac).

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Search gets social as Facebook goes with Bing as it’s search partner. According to Yusuf Mehdi, a senior vice president for online business at Microsoft, Bing’s results will soon be biased by the number of “likes” a link has received from your Facebook friends. It’s not a surprise that Facebook didn’t team up with Google as they are reportedly working on their own social platform. Though Mark Zuckerberg points out that with Bing being the underdog they are going to work harder, innovate more. He expands on this point in the Q&A event post the announcement. The New York Times also points out that Places uses Bing’s maps rather then Google’s as well.

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Cupertino must be celebrating after winning a patent on the “pinch-to-zoom” gesture. Though the patent is very specific and doesn’t pertain to all pinch-to-zoom gestures only those that are followed by an additional gesture to continue the zooming (figure 4A in the patent application). Still this is one more weapon in Apple’s legal arsenal…along with the 17 other patents they were awarded on Oct 12.

Apple is already suing HTC over 20 patents that according to Apple the manufacturer is infringing upon. As of this week, HTC is no longer alone in this fight. Motorola has decided to back HTC in this fight and is pushing for the entire suit to be thrown out of court on the basis that they are invalid. Separately, Motorola is suing Apple over patent infringements of their own.

Aside from the patent wars there is a growing number of designers/developers questioning the app craze in favor of web-based solutions that work across all the platforms. Zeldman, a constant advocate for standards, offers a succinct argument that the iPad has become the new Flash. Personally, I don’t think he’s too far off the mark but not only from the coding aspect but as far as UI’s. Just like with Flash there are many iPad designs based solely on showing off this, that or the other thing rather then providing a good, easy to use UI. Ultimately, it was the show-off designs and poor user experience that became the poster boy for the anti-Flash community. Sure it’s not a open standard, but it is a standard that is supported by 96+% of the users out there. Every tool has it’s purpose just like the iPad and platform specific apps have there place.

One thing not to be missed from Zeldman’s editorial is the link to LukeW’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide.

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Who doesn’t like to play games now every once and a while? Since everyone likes games adding game elements to your site is the latest/greatest way to build synergies with your customer/user and solves just about every business ask. So next time you’re solutioning a business problem think about tossing a progress bar in there.

Ok, so that’s not really a good idea after all, but I’m sure it’ll come up just like all the other buzzwords. When it does offer to take a breather and play a few rounds of Progress Wars. Adding game mechanics to your site is more complicated then offering badges and progress bars. My buddy @Arpit recently posted his notes on Game Mechanics, a collection of links, books and a great SlideShare (Pawned. Gamification and its Discontents) on the subject. One great item from Pawned is “Games are not fun because they’re games, but when they are well-designed.” So what Is Gamification? @Adachen gives an excellent breakdown of the different types of games and how they are being used.

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  • What is BLADE? It’s a new anti-maleware app that blocks websites from launching their services just by you visiting their page. BLADE will be a must have for any Windows user (once it’s released). I know once it’s available I’ll be installing it on my mom’s computer ASAP.
  • Calling themselves the Internet DVR is a bit of a stretch, but if you like YouTube videos enough to want to keep them Dirpy maybe for you.
  • Love Flickr but don’t have the time to explore all it’s goodness then check out Flickr for busy people.