All posts in “Apps”

This AR app lets you ‘try before you buy’ plants for your home

Having more plants in your home can absorb airborne pollutants and improve your air quality, which can in turn affect your general wellbeing. NASA knows it, we all know it. But what’ll work in your space, aesthetically?

New Australian app Plant Life Balance uses AR to help you “try before you buy,” and create a tangible shopping list of plants to take to your local nursery.

You can assess your current “plant-life balance” (how many rooms you have, how many plants), then use AR to drop in over 90 plant recommendations, and get an analysis of their benefits.

The app uses data from collated plant studies from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne, so you can quantitatively estimate how “healthy” your space is. The research considered a plant’s ability to absorb airborne pollutants, and also investigated direct mental health benefits of plants, such as improved mood and concentration.

But you can’t just throw a tree into an apartment and expect it to both suit your design scheme and, you know, grow. Here’s where the app comes in. First, you pick one of seven curated themes, say “Desert Dreams,” “Sharehouse Heroes,” or “Child’s Play,” — plants that will survive footballs.


You’ll get a little glimpse at the plants picked to suit your chosen theme, and whether they’re best for indoor or outdoor spaces:


Use the grid system to align your phone’s camera, then drag and drop your chosen plant:


Happy? You’ll get a space rating (estimating air quality and subsequent wellbeing) once you’ve confirmed your design, and you can email the list to yourself to take along to the nursery in person. Pretty neat, huh?

Image: shannon connellan/mashable

Using AR to trial future purchases in your space is a strategy we’ve seen with companies like Ikea. But Plant Life Balance, with no e-commerce element or affiliated nursery to speak of, seems to be more concerned with the health and environmental contribution of its users. 423a 7c90%2fthumb%2f00001

Instagram injects 2X bigger Stories previews mid-feed

Instagram Stories is doing so well, the app wants to ensure you don’t just scroll by its Snapchat clone. Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that it has redesigned its mid-feed re-engagement box for Stories to show preview tiles of people’s slideshows that are twice as big as the Stories bar atop the feed. The box appears slotted between traditional permanent posts part way down the feed.

For now, Instagram says it has no plans to replace that smaller Stories bar you see above the feed with the larger design. But interrupting the feed to get people viewing Stories indicates just how crucial the ephemeral, full-screen sharing format is to the future of Instagram.

Social media pioneer Chris Messina first spotted the redesign over the weekend, prompting us to ask Instagram what’s up. A company spokesperson replied, “We recently updated the design of the stories bar that you see while scrolling through feed. This update makes it easier to preview the stories from the people and accounts you care about.”

The design is similar to fellow Facebook-owned Stories product Messenger Day’s initial layout before it switched to a less obtrusive version that uses round bubbles with smaller previews like Facebook Stories.

Instagram now gets two different swings at getting you to watch a Story. First, it shows the profile photos of friends in smaller circles right at the top when you open the app. This leaves the app enough room to simultaneously show the Stories bar and a full-sized square post below it before you have to start scrolling. Then mid-feed, it uses the preview tiles to tempt you to open Stories you’ve missed, in case what people recorded is more grabbing than their face.

Instagram Stories has 250 million daily users, more than Snapchat’s entire app. Rapid feature launches, slick design quality, fast loading and its combination with the already addictive Instagram feed has made Stories a massive win for an app with more than 800 million monthly users.

This old Stories bar design still appears at the top of the feed. But while it used to also appear mid-feed, it’s been replaced by the preview tiles.

Snapchat has refused to offer any kind of algorithmic sorting like Instagram Stories, instead showing the most recently added-to Stories first instead of those from your best friends. And with Stories cloned, Spectacles selling slowly, user count growing at a crawl and augmented reality filters becoming table stakes, Snapchat will need some serious innovation to keep up the competition against Instagram.

SnapMap, AR art and 3D characters like its Dancing Hot Dog may not be enough. Snapchat will either require a radically new feature or a fundamental reimagining of some of its core product philosophies like chronological sorting in order to gain ground. And even then, Instagram will be waiting to copy and refine what Evan Spiegel pioneers.

Skype’s big redesign publicly launches to desktop users

Earlier this year, Skype introduced a revamped version of its application offering a heavier focus on media sharing and social expression tools, in an effort to better compete with more modern social communication services, like Slack and even Snapchat. Today, the company is publicly launching the new version of Skype to the desktop, including on Mac, Windows 10 (November 2016 update and lower), Windows 8, Windows 7, and Linux.

The app had been in Preview on the desktop since August.

During that time, Microsoft says it responded to user feedback in determining which features to prioritize, as it transitioned Skype’s new look to the desktop platform.

For instance, one of Skype’s more controversial features – a Snapchat “Stories”-like mode called “Highlights” – is not available in the desktop app at this time. The decision was made based directly on Skype testers’ feedback, we understand. While the company still wants to add Highlights to the desktop in a later release, for now it remains a mobile-only feature.

Instead, if you want to share what you’re up to with your Skype contacts on desktop, you can change your presence or set a mood message, thanks to the return of status updates.

However, the new desktop version of Skype does include many of the other changes introduced in the redesign, including its overall more colorful and youthful feel. In group conversions, for instance, each person’s messages can be color-coded in shades of blue, orange and pink, with the option to “react” to messages with emoji icons, similar to how you can respond in Facebook’s Messenger.

These reaction emoji are available during video calls, too, allowing you to send a big emoji that’s temporarily overlaid on top of the video caller’s window. It’s the kind of feature that makes Skype seem like it’s aiming for a more youthful demographic, rather than one that serves its professional use cases.

The updated Skype also includes personalization options, like ability to theme the app (e.g., with a new, darker theme, which is currently en vogue with apps like Twitter and YouTube), and the ability to organize your contact list to your liking. You can organize contacts by time, unread or status, as well as pin people and groups to have them more easily accessible.

One of the new Skype’s more useful features is the media gallery associated with each chat that helps you quickly locate shared content from a conversation, like media, links and files. This can be sorted by type, too, for easier searches. And because file sharing is cloud-based, you can send files up to 300 MB.

Like most social apps today, you can now use @mentions to capture a person’s attention in a chat, and like rivals Slack, Messenger, and others, Skype lets you use bots and add-ins to get things done. For instance, a Hipmunk, Expedia, and StubHub bots help you book tickets; Microsoft’s Scoop bot keeps you updated on the news; Giphy lets you share GIFs inside chats; while other add-ins let you schedule events, send money, and perform other tasks. (Bots are broadly available; but add-ins are available to Skype Insiders only for now).

Microsoft declined to say how many total active users Skype today has, which hints that it hasn’t grown significantly since the 300 million monthly users the company announced at last year’s Build conference. (For comparison’s sake, Skype’s latest challenger in the workplace, Slack, announced 6 million daily users in September. Skype, in other words, may not be as ‘cool,’ but it’s still an app used by a sizable group.)

However, Microsoft did point out that Skype has now surpassed a billion downloads on Android, has generated 2 trillion minutes of video calls since 2006, and today’s users make up to 3 billion minutes of calls per day.

The new version of Skype for desktop can either be downloaded manually, or may be rolled out via automatic updates, if enabled. Windows 10 users higher than the November 2016 update will receive an update with the new features.

How to set-up and use Google Authenticator on your phone

Google Authenticator is a free security app that can protect your accounts against password theft. It’s easy to set up and can be used in a process called two-factor authentication (2FA) offered on popular services like Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.

The app (iOS/Android) generates a random code used to verify your identity when you’re logging into various services. The code can technically be sent to your phone via text message every time— but the Google Authenticator app provides an extra level of security. 

SMS-based 2FA has a known security flaw, and any devoted hacker can attempt to socially engineer an attack against your phone company. The Google Authenticator app eliminates the possibility of an SMS-based attack using algorithms to generate the codes on your phone.

Here’s how to set it up:

1. Download Google Authenticator from either the Apple App Store or the Android Google Play store. It’s free.

2. Next, set up two-step verification on your google account. Log into your google account. Under “Security and Sign-In” select “Two-Step Verification,” and then scroll down to select the “Authenticator app” option.

Image: mashable

3. Select your phone, Android or iPhone.

Image: mashable

4. Open the actual Google Authenticator app your phone and tap the plus button:

Image: mashable

5. At the bottom of your screen two options will show up, “Scan barcode” and “Manual entry.”

Image: mashable

You only need to choose one of these options to complete the process. Using the “Scan barcode” option takes a bit longer to complete, requiring you to download a QR scanner from the app store and then pointing your phone at the QR code on your computer screen to verify Google Authenticator’s connection with your account.

Image: mashable

In contrast, “Manual Entry” just means that google will send you a 16-digit code to an e-mail address. You then enter the code to complete the verification process:

Image: mashable

Make sure the “Time Based” option is toggled to ON, to ensure the code you’re entering is aligned with the Authenticator’s most recent passcode generation.

Now, each time you log into the account you’ve connected with Google Authenticator, the account will ask you to enter a six-digit verification code. Simply open the Google Authenticator app, and the app will generate the new, randomized code for you to enter.

Image: mashable

(Remember, If you stay logged in, you won’t need to go through the 2-FA process during each login. 

Congratulations. Your account is not only protected with two-factor authentication, but with the added security of Google’s six-digit authenticator code. 

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Why Snapchat Spectacles failed

How come only 0.08% of Snapchat’s users bought its camera sunglasses? Hundreds of thousands of pairs of Spectacles sit rotting in warehouses after the company bungled the launch. Initial hype and lines for its roving, limited time only Snapbot vending machines led Snap to overestimate demand but underdeliver on quality and content.

Massive piles of assembled and unassembled video-recording sunglasses sit unsold, contributing to Snap’s enormous costs and losses, says The Information. Internal Snap data shows less than 50 percent of buyers kept using Spectacles a month after purchase, Business Insider’s Alex Heath reports. A “sizeable” percentage stopped after just a week, with a source calling the retention rate “shockingly low”.

What was the problem? Snap generated huge hype for Spectacles, but then waited 5 months to openly sell them. Once people actually tried Spectacles, few kept wearing them, and word of mouth about their disuse spread. Snap never got visionary video markers onboard. And as Snapchat’s popularity waned in the face of competitors, the fact that Spectacles only interfaced with its app rather than a phone’s camera roll became a burden.

Snap did some things right with Spectacles. The fashion photo spread announcement felt classy and surprising despite clues and photos of CEO Evan Spiegel trickling out ahead. The initial launch was a marketing extravaganza, with multi-hour lines of cool kids waiting on the Venice Beach boardwalk to buy them. And the Snapbots being dropped in random locations was exciting and made people feel special if they got ahold of them. But once people put them on their face, the excitement died off.

Karl Lagerfeld’s photo of Snap CEO Evan Spiegel donning Spectacles for their September 2016 reveal

Here’s a breakdown of the major flaws that emerged with Spectacles in the year since their debut, with a focus on the stilted launch strategy:

Botched Roll Out

Snap first announced Spectacles with some Karl Lagerfeld photos of Spiegel wearing them on September 24th 2016. Hype was high despite the beachey color options that turned some people off. It took until November 10th for the first Snapbot vending machines to launch. While the hype had cooled slightly, demand was huge as people wanted to be the first on the block with Spectacles, and lines stretched down streets.

But Snap whether it was because Snap wanted to milk the Snapbot promotion, couldn’t tell if Spectacles should be exclusive or widely available, or it had supply chain problems, it took until February 20th for Snap to start openly selling Specs online.

Waiting five months after the initial announcement was an eternity in the fast-moving teenage fad cycle. They weren’t cool by the time they were buyable. Everyone had already seen the sunglasses and circular video all over the Internet, most owners had long since stopped using them, the holiday season had passed, and few people wanted to buy so late. It took until June, 8 months after their debut, for Spectacles to become available in Europe.

If Snap had instead made its announcement, quickly outfitted some lucky normal users and celebrities with Spectacles, then launched a giant Black Friday sale at the peak of its hype, all those people fascinated with the gadget might have bought immediately. Everyone would have paid before word got out that people weren’t going to wear camera glasses all that much.

Alternatively, Snap could have gone the path of exclusivity lit by its fashion-focused debut. Rather than ever selling Specs openly, it could have gotten them into runway shows and magazines while sticking with the limited-edition Snapbots. Then after a few months it could have ceased all sales, turned existing pairs into fought-over collector’s items, and saved the mainstream rollout for an eventual v2 launch. Unfortunately, Snap seems to have got stuck between these exclusive and mass-retail strategies.

Where Were The Spectacles Influencers? – To drive demand, Snap needed to demonstrate all the creative things you could do with Spectacles, and the cool people who wore them. Yet at the time, it still had a very hands-off approach to dealing with traditional celebrities and web influencers. Snap didn’t make outfitting creators with Specs and training them to use the camera glasses a priority. Instead of top Snappers constantly posting circular videos and encouraging fans to do the same, Snap effectively left the gadget out to dry. Snap let random Spectacles buyers, often over-enthusiastic social media amateurs, define the image of the product, similar to how Google’s core mistake was allowing geeky developers to become the face of Glass.

TechCrunch’s video host Tito Hamze became a de facto face of Spectacles as there were so few influencers using them

Few Examples Of Great Content – Stemming from Snap’s failure to foster a Spectacles creator scene, it did a terrible job of showing off how Spectacles could be used beyond the initial commercial. Neither Snap’s in-house team or independent social stars were recruited to make videos exposing the creative opportunities of the device. It did little through event marketing or in-app promotion to encourage Spectacle content creation. Karen X. Cheng was perhaps the only Spectacles influencer lighting the path, with her first-person mirror dancing video and Spectacles-on-babies ad she helped Brawny make. But Snap should have ensured the Internet was flooded with these videos proving what you can’t do with your phone’s camera, and why you should buy Spectacles.

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People Are Still Freaked Out By Camera Glasses – Google Glass tainted the market with its “not sure if you’re recording me” design. Even though Snap put more obvious recording signal lights on Spectacles, people would still question you about whether they were on camera. That not only made people uncomfortable being around Spectacles, but made you feel like a bit of a creep just wearing them even if you never tapped the shutter button. Their appeal was further limited by their polarizing  “fashion-forward” design (some would call ugly), while the only non-black colors were aggressively bright teal and coral.