All posts in “iOS apps”

Jellies is a kid-friendly, parent-approved alternative to YouTube Kids

As YouTube reels from a series of scandals related to its lack of policing around inappropriate content aimed at children, obscene comments on videos of children, horrifying search suggestions, and more, a new app called Jellies has arrived to offer parents a safer way to let their kids watch videos on mobile devices.

Jellies was built by Ken Yarmosh, founder of Savvy Apps, which has been making mobile apps for years, largely for clients like PBS, NFL, Homesnap, Navient, Levi’s, and others, in addition to passion projects like mobile calendar app Agenda and Today Weather.

As a parent, Yarmosh says he, too, was afflicted by the problems with YouTube that have recently come to light – namely, that allowing an algorithm to dictate what kids should watch will not lead to the safest environment.

“My oldest child is now five-and-a-half, but when he was two and three, he would love watching videos as many kids do,” explains Yarmosh. “YouTube became basically a non-starter because of the ads and him veering into things he shouldn’t very easily. Once YouTube Kids came out, I thought that would be the solution, so I kind of shelved the idea of Jellies,” he says.

But Yarmosh soon realized that YouTube Kids wasn’t working, either. His child was scared by videos for older kids (like one for “Hotel Transylvania 2”); he became obsessed with toy unboxings and egg surprises leading him to beg for toys; and he watched YouTube stars who demonstrated bad behavior, which impacted the way he acted.

These problems led to the creation of Jellies.

Its solution is complete human curation of video content, combined with a focus on videos that allow kids to explore their world, instead of being force-fed videos designed to promote consumerism, distraction, and bad attitudes. That is, the company’s selection of videos won’t include those with “ego-driven online ‘stars,’” the Jellies website proclaims, nor will it feature those where toys are unboxed or videos with inappropriate ads.

In fact, the app doesn’t include any ads at all.

The company instead chooses to generate revenue through a subscription model, charging $4.99/month for ongoing access to its video collection, which includes the addition of new video playlists on a weekly basis.

The video selection process is something the team at Jellies has thought about carefully. The company referenced The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines and age-range data from San Francisco non-profit Common Sense Media, to help with its curation process. This helped Jellies to figure out not just which videos make sense for which age groups, but also which topics should be included in its kid-friendly app.

For example, Common Sense Media suggests that videos inspiring creativity and imagination are important for children as young as two, while those that demonstrate good interpersonal skills – like sharing or waiting your turn – should be shown to slightly older kids. Videos that teach good values, like those focused on personal responsibility and ethics, can be brought in around age 5, Common Sense Media says. And older kids can be encouraged to develop critical thinking skills.

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As any parent with a YouTube-addicted kid can tell you, the videos children watch can also influence their behavior. The kids begin to imitate the smart aleck-y, sassy YouTube personalities they see online, much to parents’ annoyance. Jellies’ position is that the videos children watch should demonstrate better behavior for kids to mimic. That means there are no YouTube stars on Jellies, and its videos are more educational than sensational.

To create the initial round-up of videos featured in Jellies, video viewers watched thousands of hours of YouTube videos to make sure they fit the company’s criteria. There are now over 3,000 handpicked videos across over 100 topics, with 4-5 being added per week, including seasonal topics.

Some technology helps with video selection, but ultimately human curation is the final deciding factor here.

“While we are developing tech to help, notice computers are last in our list. Yes, we get that the industry believes scale is important and values that highly or solely. We believe safety and quality are more important than algorithms that scale as of now,” says Yarmosh.

Beyond the more careful curation of content compared to what’s found on YouTube, Jellies also introduces a number of controls that put parents in charge of what the kids get to watch. Though a “Parents Model” option, moms and dads can select their kids’ favorite topics for inclusion in the app – like trains, planes, baby animals, sea creatures, and the like, for example. They can also add educational content, like ABCs and Shapes, if they choose, and remove other content as they see fit.

Meanwhile, children use the app in a special “Kids Mode” that lets them move between topics and explore videos, giving them a sense of autonomy even though they’re viewing only parent-approved videos.

Though Jellies does feature videos for schoolagers, not just preschoolers, it may be hard to pull older kids out of YouTube’s world after having been immersed for years.

It may be easier for parents with younger kids to just present them with Jellies, and never make YouTube watching an option.

A number of apps over the years have tried to offer curated versions of YouTube, but Jellies is hitting at a crucial time – when things have gotten so bad on YouTube’s platform that brands are even freezing their advertising due to its unsafe nature for children. That could help the app find an audience.

Jellies is a free download on the App Store with the subscription available via in-app purchase.

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Apple’s iOS App Store adds weekend deals to boost app downloads

With the introduction of iOS 11, Apple redesigned the App Store with a heavier focus on editorial content, including articles, interviews, how-to’s, lists and other round-ups with app recommendations. Now, it’s adding another feature, as well, called “This Weekend Only.” The new section lists deals that can be found inside apps, as opposed to discounts on downloads of apps themselves.

As Apple’s editors explain in the feature’s introduction:

Today, we’re kicking off a new way to save using your favorite apps. You’ll get great deals, available only through these apps, on everything from apparel to food delivery, hotel reservations to movie tickets.

To see the discounts, head to the Apps tab each Thursday. There you’ll find an app labeled “This Weekend Only” with an exclusively promotion that’s valid through Sunday.

The note also adds that Apple is offering five deals instead of just one to kick of the promotion.

This weekend’s list includes a 40 percent discount on HotelTonight bookings, a free case from Warby Parker, $20 off Under Armour orders, free Chips & Queso from Chipotle, and 15 percent on orders at Shoptiques.

9to5Mac and other sites first discovered the new App Store section when it debuted on Thursday.

The launch has likely been timed to capitalize on the busy holiday shopping season ahead, where it’s being forecast that mobile holiday shopping visits in the U.S. will surpass desktop for the first time.

It makes sense that Apple would want to capture some of consumers’ interest in mobile commerce by pointing people to apps where they could save on purchases, as well as on other holiday expenses, like travel.

But more broadly, a recent analysis of the revamped App Store found that its new “App of the Day” and “Game of the Day” features – though notable in terms of driving downloads – did better on weekdays than on weekends.

For example, the weekday download boost from being featured was 2,172 percent compared to weekends’ 580 percent boost.

That leaves room for a different type of app promotion to target weekend iPhone users.

“This Weekend Only” gets started before the weekend begins, however. Apple’s note indicates that the deals will pop-up starting on Thursdays and run through Sundays.

Skype launches Photo Effects – sticker suggestions powered by machine learning

Not content with merely launching its own take on Instagram and Snapchat’s Stories, Skype today is adding another copycat-like feature to its app: photo stickers. The company says it’s introducing new “Photo Effects” (as it’s calling these stickers), which include things like face masks, decorative borders, witty captions, and more. However, unlike the photo stickers you’ll find in other social apps today, Skype will actually suggest the stickers to use based on the photo’s content, day of the week, and other options.

The new feature is based on technology Microsoft introduced earlier this year in a silly camera app called Sprinkles.

The Sprinkles app leverages Microsoft’s machine learning and A.I. capabilities to do things like detect faces in photos, determine the subject’s age and emotion, figure out your celebrity look-a-like, and suggest captions. It then lets you swipe through its suggestions – for example, various props to add to your photo, funny captions, and stickers displaying its guess about your age, among other things.

Similarly, Skype will suggest its photo effects automatically with a press of a button.

To use the feature, you’ll first snap a photo then tap the magic wand icon at the top of the screen to access the photo effects.

As you swipe right through the suggestions, you’ll be prompted to add things to your photo like a smart face sticker, the weather, your location, a caption that references the day (e.g. “turn that frown upside down, it’s taco Tuesday!”), face masks, a celebrity look-a-like, or even a mystery face swap.

Microsoft says these photo effects will change often – like on different days of the week or holidays, for instance.

The resulting image can be shared with Skype friends in a conversation or posted to Skype’s new Highlights feature, which is the Instagram/Snapchat Stories clone introduced earlier this year.

Like Stories on other platforms, Highlights are somewhat ephemeral. But instead of lasting a day, they’re available for a week. They’re also not shared with your entire Skype network – only those who have opted to follow your Highlights directly.

Highlights remains a mobile-only feature for now. When Skype’s revamped interface launched to desktop users in October, Microsoft told us Highlights was not a priority for desktop integration at this time, based on user feedback. However, the company insisted it still aims to bring Highlights to the desktop in a later release.

The addition of Photo Effects is arriving on Skype for mobile users in the latest update. Skype’s release notes list Photo Effects as “upcoming” in Android version and iOS This version began rolling out on Monday, but will gradually release to the install base over the next week.

Album+ organizes photos with A.I. that runs on your phone, not in the cloud

A new iOS app called Album+ is taking advantage of the increased A.I. capabilities and GPUs in modern iPhones to help people better manage their photos. The app’s features are similar to those found in something like Google Photos – it can also de-duplicate photos, for example, as well as categorize the people, places, and objects it finds in your images. But the difference is that Album+ organizes and ranks photos using on-device, offline machine learning – there’s no need to connect with the cloud, that is.

This allows for increased consumer privacy, the company explains.

“We believe user content privacy will be the main concern for consumers over the next decade,” says Sam Sabri, head of growth at Polarr, the company behind Album+. “No one wants to upload their photos to a server that might leak their behavioral patterns to advertising companies, but most people still need the computing services provided by the cloud, such as image classification and search categorizations,” he says. “Our team spent a lot of time compressing A.I. models to make sure they can run fast and energy-efficient on mobile devices.”

The app also demonstrates how powerful smartphones have become.

Like Google Photos, Album+ can also automatically recognize, categorize and organize the people, objects, places, documents and receipts in your photos. It can remove duplicate photos and other poorly shot images, as well as rank similar photos based on aesthetics. And it offers a variety of tools to help you do more with photos – like a collage maker, and a way to batch edit hundreds of photos at once to do things like apply filters, mass delete, etc.

Above: Album+ finding similar photos

But what’s notable about the app is not necessarily its feature set alone, rather that it’s doing the work on the device.

“We believe we’re the first company that’s able to run A.I. image clustering, face recognition, aesthetic ranking object and scene detection fast and efficient across entire user albums,” says Sabri.

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Polarr is not new to the photo app market.

The company is already cashflow-positive thanks to its flagship product, Polarr Photo Editor, released two years ago. That app has 10 million users and landed on Apple’s “best of the App Store” lists in both 2015 and 2016.

In fact, the success of Polarr Photo Editor led to the creation of Album+, as the company already had a large data set on hand it could use to train its machine learning models. It combined this with public data sets to create its own machine learning technology that’s used to organize and classify iPhone photos.

Because its machine learning requires a more powerful phone, Album+ only runs on iPhone 6 and up. The app also uses different machine learning models that execute at a different speed and accuracy, depending on which device you’re using. On iPhone X, for example, the app will switch to iOS 11’s CoreML framework to run its fastest model, the company says.

The Stanford team of ten worked on Album+ for more than six months ahead of its recent release. Apple has since featured it in the “New Apps We Love section” of the iOS App Store.

However, the consumer version may ultimately serve as a technology demo for Polarr’s developer-facing business. The company has also created an SDK to help other developers and vendors run A.I. offline on devices, and this is now in testing with a few partners.

For consumers, Album+’s full feature set, including unlimited photo indexing, is available via subscription for either $1.99/month or $12.99/year.

The app is available on iOS, iPhone 6 and higher, here.

Apollo for iOS is the only Reddit app you need

A former Apple intern, Christian Selig says he wasn’t happy with the selection of iOS apps for browsing Reddit, so he decided to build his own. The developer this week launched his own Reddit client called Apollo, which offers a beautifully designed browsing experience for either iPhone or iPad, as well as customizable gestures, a media viewer, a full Markdown writing editor, and other features inspired by Reddit user feedback.

“Other Reddit apps for iOS don’t follow iOS design guidelines well, and look quite out-of-place as a result, creating an unfamiliar experience for users that doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the iOS ecosystem,” explains Selig, about why he was motivated to build a new Reddit app. “They also don’t serve as a full replacement for the desktop website,” he added.

With Apollo, he hopes to offer not only a better mobile version of Reddit, but one that beats browsing the site via the web, too.

The first thing you’ll notice about Apollo is its look-and-feel, which does feel more in line with Apple’s design than some of the other Reddit clients on the market today. It’s a beautiful, clean and modern app, and is easy to navigate.

The app includes five tabs: Posts, Inbox, Account, Search and Settings, all accessible from the bottom of the screen.

From the main screen (Posts), you’re able to browse the Reddit homepage in either an expanded or compact mode. The former is the default and is a better experience for viewing the imagery and videos accompanying the posts, but if you prefer a denser look, you can switch over to compact mode from the “more” button at the top-right of the screen.

From there, you can also sort the feed by what’s hot, favorite items, hide the posts you’ve read, and share items.

The app also includes its own built-in media viewer for viewing Reddit content, as well as those from sources like Imgur, Gfycat, Imgflip, XKCD, Streamable, YouTube, Vimeo and others, when attached to Reddit posts.

From the viewer, you can upvote or downvote the content, tap to view the comments, or access more functions, like saving the image or GIF to your device, opening the content in Safari, sharing or saving the item, or tapping to view the user’s profile or the subreddit.

There are a number of little touches in the app that speak to the thoughtfulness behind its design. For example, while you’re reading through comments, you’ll notice with each indent in a long thread, the line next to the comment has a different color, making it easier to differentiate between the posts.

When comments include links, they open in a web viewer right in the app, instead of launching Safari. That way, you can view the link then tap “Done” to quickly return to the discussion.

The app makes good use of gestures, as well.

You can swipe on posts and comments to collapse them, reply, upvote or downvote, and save. However, in the Settings section, you can completely customize these gestures to your liking, including the those for your inbox, profile posts, and profile comments, too.

Beyond changing the gestures, Apollo is highly customizable in other areas, too. You can pick between a light theme or dark, and can even configure it to turn on based on things like screen brightness or local sunset times. (Or you can press and hold on the nav bar to toggle it at any time.)

You can pick which favorite subreddits appear in the app’s “Jump Bar” (nav bar).

You can head into the Settings to configure more controls, like filtered keywords, filtered subreddits, and blocked users.

And you can add multiple accounts to the app – something that should appeal to those who like to keep their identities separate.

You can even change the default app icon from a selection of over a dozen.

Because of Selig’s familiarity with Apple, he’s put the latest technologies to good use in the app. In addition to being built in Swift 4.0, it also uses 3D Touch extensively, as well as the Taptic Engine, Safari View Controller, and implements Apple’s smart invert introduced in iOS 11.

“Fundamentally though, it was built entirely with Apple technology to take full advantage of the platform and really feel at home on it and immediately familiar to anyone who uses iOS,” Selig says. “In a nutshell, my goal was to make it feel like if Apple built a Reddit app, so I’d consider it a really great first class citizen of iOS.”

While many of the features and customizations will please heavy Reddit users (and so far, their feedback is largely positive), the app also appeals to those who aren’t part of Reddit’s core base, because of its attractive design, emphasis on media content, and ease of use.

Apollo is a free download, but an in-app purchase of $2.99 will unlock extra features including the ability to submit posts using the Markdown editor (free users can submit comments with the editor); the Automatic Dark Mode; the ability to customize your gestures; change the app icon, and more.

Thankfully, the app is not cluttered by ads, but there is an in-app Tip Jar – a newly permitted option for app developers.

The app is clearly a labor of love from someone who really enjoys Reddit. And it’s been in the works for quite a while, as it turns out.

Selig, who’s based in Halifax, Canada, says he’s been working on Apollo since September 2015 – when he graduated from Dalhousie University where he had studied Computer Science. And he worked on it part-time the year before, after he briefly interned with Apple as an iOS developer on the Enterprise iOS team.

He now plans to continue working on Apollo full-time, but may do some independent contracting on the side if time permits, he says.

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