Uber now lets you pay for rides and food via Venmo

Uber has teamed up with PayPal-owned Venmo to let people pay for rides and food via UberEATS with the funds in their Venmo account. According to the companies, more than six million payments mentioned Uber in the last year. The integration will also enable people to easily split the cost of food orders and rides with friends within the Uber app.

“Adding Venmo as a way to pay within Uber and Uber Eats furthers our mission to provide a seamless way to pay for the services that matter most to our customers,” PayPal COO Bill Ready said in a statement.

For Uber, this partnership is a way to further differentiate itself from its U.S. rival Lyft. Though, this is not an exclusive partnership, so Venmo could also team up with Lyft for payments. For Venmo, this is a way for the service to become more ubiquitous as it faces competition from Zelle, a bank-backed mobile payments service that’s on track to outpace Venmo in number of users sometime this year.

Within the Uber app, once you select Venmo as a payment option, you get directed to the Venmo app.

The integration will officially go live in “the coming weeks.”

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Integration all over the place!

JPMorgan built an online bank for millennials, and it should have apps like Acorns and Stash worried

Legacy organizations have been looking for ways to compete with nimble startups disrupting their respective categories. However, the secret sauce for these legacy giants might be in modernizing their product offering by blending traditional services with disruptive feature enhancements. JPMorgan is looking to disrupt the banking industry by building a mobile-first bank aimed at millennials dubbed Finn.

 Finn which is an end-to-end mobile bank, recently rolled out nationwide. In addition to offering bread-and-butter checking and savings account functionality, it also offers services many firms in the personal finance startup space have built their businesses around.

With Finn, users can create specific rules that determine when money will be transferred from checking to savings. One rule, “Work Hard, Save Smarter,” puts aside a set amount of money on pay day. There’s also “the Limit Does Not Exist” which saves a predetermined amount of cash whenever a user spends over a certain amount on a purchase.

That raises the question: what do fintechs do when big banks decide to step on their turf?

Why it’s hot?

It’s not all about the new kid on the block. Industry giants can compete with startups and even pose greater threats to them by transforming their product offering to meet and exceed their targets’ needs.

image_from_ios 1

Microsoft improves facial recognition across genders and skin tones

Tech is racist and sexist, and one of the many glaring manifestations of that is in the accuracy of facial recognition technology. Commercially available facial recognition as a whole works better on light skin than on dark skin, and also recognizes male faces better than female faces. So overall, the technology is catered toward white male faces and performs worst on female faces with dark skin.

In an effort to reduce this bias, Microsoft just announced an update to their facial recognition technology, available to consumers as the Face API via Azure Cognitive Services. They claim this update has reduced error rates for all people of color by 20 percent, and for female faces by 9 percent.

The reason why these systems are so biased is confusingly simple. AI tech like facial recognition is only as strong as the data used to train them. So, if a facial recognition system is going to recognize all kinds of faces equally, its training dataset needs to (wait for it) include all kinds of faces.

In order to improve their facial recognition tech, Microsoft made three key changes:

  1. Expanded and revised training and benchmark datasets
  2. Launched new data collection efforts focusing on skin tone, gender, and age
  3. Improved classifier to produce more precise results

Why It’s Hot: It’s great that Microsoft has invested a lot of time and money into improving their facial recognition to be more inclusive. But the question remains, why wasn’t it important to the company (and to every tech company) to include women and people of color to begin with? The fact that these systems need to be “updated” is symptomatic of the rampant sexism and racism that still permeates the industry. This update is a step toward fixing a problem that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Further, is this solution truly enhancing facial recognition for all people? Do they have trans and nonbinary people in their datasets? What about people with distinct facial markings or characteristics? Or does this solution update the software to a less blatant, but still questionable, level of bias?

Learn More: Engadget | Microsoft

 

A new purpose for brick and mortar

Startup company B8ta is taking the retail store experience concept one step further. B8ta sells no merchandise itself, instead charging “subscriptions” that brands pay to use their spaces and their Built by b8ta platform, for short or longer terms.

Built by b8ta, a store-as-a-service platform, includes checkout, inventory, point of sale, inventory management, staff scheduling services and other capabilities.

Lowe’s partnered with b8ta in 2016 to roll out a series of SmartSpot shops inside the home improvement retailer’s stores and earlier this month, Macy’s announced a plan to scale its new pop-up concept, The Market @ Macy’s, testing format spaces powered by b8ta’s technology.

Read more at Retail Dive.

Why It’s Hot
As ecommerce continues to rapidly grow and brands try to figure out the interplay of on and offline, we have a front-row seat to retail evolution.

Facebook launches gameshow platform with interactive videos

Some are saying Facebook’s latest interactive video polling features look familiar…

Facebook Gameshows

Rather than build its own HQ trivia competitor, Facebook is launching a gameshow platform. Today the company announced a new set of interactive live and on-demand video features that let creators add quizzes, polls, challenges and gamification so players can be eliminated from a game for a wrong answer.

“Video is evolving away from just passive consumption to more interactive two-way formats,” Facebook’s VP of video product Fidji Simo tells TechCrunch. “We think creators will want to reward people. If this is something that works with Insider and Confetti, we may consider rolling out payments tools.”

Why it’s hot

Facebook claims this latest move is an attempt to make videos more interactive for the sake of its users’ mental health, it seems more likely that the company is banking on the popularity of games like HQ to avoid a repeat of recent video failures. Allowing any creator to make an interactive video, Facebook seems to be hoping that partners like BuzzFeed will bring large audiences to the new feature.

Digital Beauty: A new way to do makeup

L’Oreal, as a beauty/makeup conglomerate will launch a new digital makeup experience. With live streaming and augmented reality, makeup lovers will be able to communicate with makeup gurus in help with their final look. Viewers will see with augmented reality what beauty products are right for their skin. From your home, you will be able to test new beauty products and form digital relationships with L’Oreal representatives.

With a partnership with “YourCam Makeup”, makeup lovers nearby will be able to test out new products such as various shades of colored lipstick and mascara on their skin. Instead of going to the physical L’Oreal store, individuals will be able to have a digitized experience from their own home. Individuals with augmented reality will additionally be able to learn about the benefits of L’Oreal products and shop through the online store. L’Oreal hopes to achieve a “seamless” makeup experience” for individuals globally. With augmented reality and the advancement of digital technology, makeup lovers will have an innovative and fun digital makeup experience.

Why its Hot

The digital experience with augmented reality remains to be a hot topic in both the cosmetic and the technology industry. More and more beauty/cosmetic companies are choosing a digital route to give their customers a fun and easy to use experience. Augmented reality is increasingly becoming a hotter tool for use, and is beginning to be utilized across many industries, like L’Oreal to give users a easy and simpler experience.

The emerging era of eCommerce

Snapchat and Instagram, two popular social media platforms are entering the world of e-commerce. Both platforms point users in a shopping direction. Each of the apps increase their competition amongst each other as they battle to gain the most following. In today’s digital era, eCommerce is transforming the way we absorb information and online shop.

For Snapchat, eCommerce is utilized as Snapchat presents the “Shoppable Snap Ads”. In this specific ad, Snapchat promotes Spectacles camera sunglasses. Meanwhile, Instagram utilizes shopping in its feature of “Instagram Stories”. With this feature, retail stores can promote their merchandise one user at a time. Brands are slowly beginning to take over each Instagram user’s feed and what they see. Snapchat like its competitor, has a feature in which users can stay in the know about their favorite brands and see how they can take action.

Snapchat additionally utilizes eCommerce to promote Dunkin’ Donuts. As America runs on Dunkin (no pun intended), it allows for users to interact with the brand by playing a virtual reality game, designed as an ad. Snapchat additionally includes “carousel-style” shopping ads, where users can interact with different filters for their favorite brands and send to their friends.

Why it’s hot

eCommerce remains to be a hot topic in today’s ad world. eCommerce is a major influence to how agencies and brands engage with their clients and users. The social media platforms, like Instagram and Snapchat use eCommerce to their advantage. With fun and eye-catching ads, eCommerce helps increase brand awareness and grow meaningful relationships with clients. As a global customer relationship agency, MRM//McCann works to use eCommerce as a specific tool in which clients can successfully and effectively interact with their users.

Snapchat Expands It’s Ecommerce Offerings with Shoppable Snap Ads

Snapchat, everyone’s favorite love it or hate it app.

To keep up with other social platform’s Ecommerce capabilities, like Facebook, Snap also wants to attract advertisers by convincing them that users do want to shop when seeing an ad on Snapchat.

Snap is currently testing Shoppable Snap and Story ads that can run on both the “Discover” page of the app and between stories. The new Shoppable ads lets consumers shop a product catalog within the app. The new Shoppable Snap ad is simple, and familiar to those who browse through brands on social media. You see a video ad with a product catalog at the bottom. The consumer taps on an item, and they’ll be directed to the brand’s website to complete the purchase. Companies on the advertiser’s side have to enable features like auto-fill or Apple Pay on the mobile website. Something Snap is not responsible for.

The added benefit for retailers and advertisers running these Shoppable Snap ads is using the Snap Pixel to see the total number and value of purchases of an advertiser’s Snapchat campaign.

The Shoppable Snap ads will have to prove it’s worthiness of having low Cost Per Purchase for advertisers, meaning with little spend, receiving a ton of purchase conversions – more bang for your buck for advertisers.

Why it’s hot: Many people in the industry are seeing the future of social commerce. As the next major storefront may very well be a social platform.

Source: https://www.adweek.com/digital/snapchat-introduces-shoppable-snap-ads-amping-up-its-ecommerce-offerings/

Birthual Reality

The irony of being called “expectant parents” is that many actually have little idea what to expect from childbirth.

While they certainly understand the general process and medical procedures involved, one can’t really understand the full experience of birth until you’ve witnessed it first-hand. Given that childbirth is a relatively private moment—at least in terms of the number of people on hand—most people don’t have that experience until it’s time to meet their own newborns.

The uncertainty about the birth experience can create anxiety for expectant moms and dad alike, so one insurer came up with a compelling way to help.

Sweden’s Gjensidige Insurance worked with a hospital to film a childbirth in 360-degree video, creating a VR experience that anyone can watch. In fact, you can watch it right now as a 360 video on YouTube.

Luckily, it’s a rather uneventful pregnancy in the sense that the process goes smoothly. (And the birth itself is shot at a respectful angle that makes you feel you’re standing alongside the mother rather than in the place of the doctor.) But it still conveys the physical and emotional struggle of childbirth, along with the singular joy.

Why its hot?
-Preparing people for something that has been almost impossible to prepare for
-Great strategy to be top of mind child insurance provider (without selling insurance)
-A very real, authentic human gesture from an insurance company

Source: Adweek and https://www.gjensidige.se/birthualreality

Microsoft announces new adaptive Xbox controller

Microsoft announced a new video game controller on Thursday, aimed at gamers with mobility limitations. Larger buttons and joysticks and an ecosystem of peripheral devices that plug directly into the game pad enable gamers with a variety of abilities to create a system that works for them and can be customized for any game they play on the platform.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is the most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company.

Made with the help of a community of disabled gamers, this system of controllers is an important step to opening up gaming to a wider community.

Patient Jonah Karpman, left, watches as Mike Luckett of Warfighter Engaged plays during Craig Hospital's gaming night.

Why it’s hot

Microsoft retail learning specialist Solomon Romney was born without fingers on his left hand and was an early tester and adopter of this new technology. To him, the new device is about inclusion.

Growing up, he was always “the other, the person on the outside, the one who’s different.” Even as an adult, he struggles with being around children, whose blunt observations can sting. A sense of belonging was something he craved but never had. Talking about what it means to have a device created for gamers like him, Romney becomes emotional, his eyes welling.

“It goes to the core of everything I am, everything I’ve grown up with, everything I’ve experienced,” he said. “It’s nice when a person considers you. It’s unbelievable when a company does it, when a company thinks about you, designs something for you.

“All of a sudden, I’m not the person on the outside.”

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/videoplayer/embed/RE25Rw4

Read more at Microsoft.com

Interruption Advertising Dies Hard

Despite growing consumer resistance to intrusive mobile ads — over 600 million devices have ad blocking software installed, 62% of them mobile — Snapchat has broken from its longstanding policy of voluntarily-only ad viewing with the introduction of six-second forced-view ads promoting movies like Deadpool and Adrift and products such as Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Snapple. The move comes in response to pressure from advertisers unhappy with the dismal two-second average view time for Snapchat’s skippable spots. But it risks blowback — both from users, who recently forced Snapchat to roll back a widely hated redesign, and from advertisers, who will lose the ability to link the new ad units to longer videos or e-commerce experiences.

The ads display a bar showing the exact time remaining if the viewer tries to skip by tapping the screen.

Snapchat Introduces A Redesign… Again

After Snapchat swore that they were going to stick by their decision to separate “Friends” stories and “Professional” stories they have updated their platform yet again. This time, they’ve kept the stories separated but now you can view all of them on the same page.

Users and celebrities alike commented on how much they did not like Snapchat’s (former) redesign. Back in February, Kylie Jenner Tweeted out that she doesn’t even open the app anymore. This little Tweet led to Snapchat losing $1.3B from it’s stock market value.

Snap’s CEO, Evan Spiegel spoke on the new redesign stating, “We are now focused on optimizing the redesign based on our ongoing experimentation and learning,” he said, explaining the changes. “For example, when we separated friends’ Stories from creator Stories, we also moved them to the left side of the camera and merged them into the Chat feed. We learned that combining watching Stories and communicating with friends into the same place made it harder to optimize for both competing behaviors.”

Why It’s Hot: It seems as though Snap’s former redesign all but killed off the platform. It will be interesting to watch and see if this latest update will win back some love from their (former) users.

Source: Newsweek 

Undetectable Commands for Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa Raise Serious Security Risks

Researchers in the U.S. and China have discovered ways to send hidden commands to digital assistants—including Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant—that could have massive security implications.

Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doorswire money or buy stuff online — simply with music playing over the radio.

This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.

“My assumption is that the malicious people already employ people to do what I do,” said Nicholas Carlini, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in computer security at U.C. Berkeley and one of the paper’s authors.

Last year, researchers at Princeton University and China’s Zhejiang University also found voice-activated devices could be issued orders using inaudible frequencies. Chinese researchers called the technique DolphinAttack.

 

Amazon told The New York Times it has taken steps to ensure its speaker is secure. Google said its platform has features that mitigate such commands. And Apple noted an iPhone or iPad must be unlocked before Siri will open an app.

Still, there are several examples of companies taking advantage of weaknesses in the devices, from Burger King’s Google Home commercial to South Park‘s stunt with Alexa.

And the number of devices in consumers’ homes is on the rise. Digital assistants have been among the hottest gifts of the past two holiday seasons. And Amazon, alone, is expected to sell $10 billion worth of the devices by 2020.

Source: NY Times and Fortune

Why It’s Hot

It seems like every week we are posting something else about Voice (Alexa, Google Home) and emerging capabilities or how brands are using them. As with any tech, there are concerns about how it will be used. I do wonder though if there’s something positive here, versus scary?

Fitbit (FINALLY) Adds Period Tracking Functionality

Fitbit’s plan to launch “women’s health” tracking (aka period tracking – not necessarily just for women!) has finally come to fruition and was launched this week. The tracker is available on the Fitbit app and on two devices, the Ionic and Versa smartwatches. All Fitbit users who have self-identified as female will receive a notification that tracking is available; all other users who wish to use the tracking have to opt in manually.

The tracker offers four features, none of which are new or revolutionary at all:

  • In-app period tracking: Log your period, record symptoms, and get notifications alerting you to predicted period start date
  • Smartwatch integration: See where you are in your cycle directly from your smartwatch
  • “News You Can Use”: Tracker includes relevant content written by doctors
  • Community feature: Fitbit created new community groups focused on periods, birth control, trying to conceive, pregnancy, and perimenopause/menopause

One perceived benefit could be that users can now see their period tracking data alongside their other health data – but even that isn’t a value-add for Fitbit specifically, because many standalone period tracker apps integrate with Apple Health so that you can see all your data side-by-side through that platform.

What’s the most interesting about this development is how uninteresting it is, ultimately. The fact that Fitbit just now, in 2018, rolled out period tracking is pretty bad optics. Apple Health, after much outcry, added period tracking in 2015! As The Verge notes, Fitbit itself admitted that period tracking has been a top-five user requested feature for “a while” (sideeye). Is it purely a coincidence they’ve finally decided to focus on period tracking after a dismal holiday earnings report, a bad year last year, and the news that they are no longer the top wearable maker in the US? Their users currently are over half men, so creating this female-focused feature seems like a pretty transparent grab at a new audience segment.

Why It’s Hot: A seemingly thoughtful, well-meaning update meant to benefit a historically ignored population turns out to (probably) be a thinly veiled ploy to buy more customers.

Learn More: Engadget | The Verge

Instagram introduces Emoji Slider Stickers

Want to know just how smiley your followers are from your post? Just slap an emoji slider sticker on your video or image post and see the feedback come in!

Why it’s Hot:

  • Followers can give more detailed reactions to posts
  • Fun and useful way to add interactivity to stickers

Asking for gender identity or sex on forms

When asking for gender identity or sex on forms, it’s easy for designers and marketers, especially cis designers and marketers, to revert to binary options, or to conflate assigned or biological sex with gender identity. Luckily lots of people have written articles and guides to help with asking questions to help ensure that data captured is quality and that users feel confident in responding. Below are 7 tips for being more inclusive in gender forms from UX Collective writer Sabrina Fonseca.

  1. Give a reason for asking.
  2. Be clear about who is receiving this data for safety and privacy purposes.
  3. Make it optional or provide an “prefer not to say” option.
  4. Include options for “gender nonconforming”, “genderqueer”, or “questioning” responses.
  5. Ask for pronouns to make things simpler to parse, or just an open field.
  6. Allow for custom or complicated answers if you require more detailed information.
  7. Think about if it is really crucial to the information you are capturing.

Bonus: internationalization applies to questions of gender as well, as some cultures have their own labels and pronoun guidelines to follow.

Why it’s hot

Gender diversity inclusion is work. It requires thinking, training, researching, testing, testing, testing, iterating, and keeping up with labels. But it’s worth pursuing it as gender fluidity is likely to become a more and more widely accepted concept in our society. Trans & GNC people and their allies want to see organizations take action rather than just say they’re supportive. Accommodating for people’s different choices is part of that. So making a small change like this can be beneficial to your target audience, they will appreciate your effort and desire to listen, even if the first attempt is not perfect. – Sabrina Fonseca

Read more at UX Collective, HRC.org, and Mailchimp

Meet Tess: the mental health chatbot

If you’re experiencing a panic attack in the middle of the day or want to vent or need to talk things out before going to sleep, you can connect with Tess the mental health chatbot through an instant-messaging app such as Facebook Messenger (or, if you don’t have an internet connection, just text a phone number).

Tess is the the brainchild of Michiel Rauws, the founder of X2 AI, an artificial-intelligence startup in Silicon Valley. The company’s mission is to use AI to provide affordable and on-demand mental health support.

Tess mental health chatbot

A Canadian non-profit that primarily delivers health care to people in their own homes, Saint Elizabeth recently approved Tess as a part of its caregiver in the workplace program and will be offering the chatbot as a free service for staffers.

To provide caregivers with appropriate coping mechanisms, Tess first needed to learn about their emotional needs. In her month-long pilot with the facility, she exchanged over 12,000 text messages with 34 Saint Elizabeth employees. The personal support workers, nurses and therapists that helped train Tess would talk to her about what their week was like, if they lost a patient, what kind of things were troubling them at home – things you might tell your therapist. If Tess gave them a response that wasn’t helpful, they would tell her, and she would remember her mistake. Then her algorithm would correct itself to provide a better reply for next time.

Read more: The Guardian

Why It’s Hot
While the accessibility of support like this is appealing, Tess raises the usual questions of mis-use and ‘mistakes’.

Death to passwords!

It’s life in the Dashlane.

A new web standard is expected to kill passwords. The Web Authentication (WebAuthn) standard is designed to replace the password with biometrics and devices that users already own, such as a security key, a smartphone, a fingerprint scanner or webcam.

One example of how WebAuthn will work is that when a user visits a site they want to log into, they input a user name and then get an alert on their smartphone. Tapping on the alert on their phone then logs them into the website without the need for a password.

The W3C has moved WebAuthn to what’s called the “candidate recommendation” stage – the penultimate step before it becomes an approved web standard – inviting sites and services to begin implementing it. The web standards body announced that Google, Microsoft and Mozilla had committed to supporting WebAuthn, meaning that all major web browsers short of Apple’s Safari will implement the new standard.

Source: The Guardian

Why It’s Hot
Haven’t we all been waiting forever for this? They say we’ll be safer too. We’ll see!

Speak and thou shalt receive


Google has issued its first voice-activated coupon, a $15 offer for Target orders placed via Google Assistant.

Using a Google Home, a phone with Google Assistant built in, or the Google Assistant app (on either Android or iOS), simply say or type, ‘Spring into Target.’ If everything goes as planned, you’ll get a small paragraph informing you about the credit you’ve just received,”

The paragraph reads: “Three cheers for Spring! You’ve unlocked the Spring promo. Save up to $15 on your next order from Target on Google Express. You can order essentials like paper towels, laundry detergent, and trash bags. To try it out, ask me to order something you need from Target.”

Of course, it would be weird if this happened without any hitch. ‘Android Police’ reported potential confusion between “in to” and “into,” requiring a manual edit of the voice entry in some cases.

Why its hot?
Voice enabled things starting to hit adolescence. This coming of age means they are ready to go beyond basic stuff like weather to playing music to finally enabling hardcore retail sales. The possibilities are endless.

Source: MarketingWeek

Microsoft AI Knows When to Interrupt You

In an interesting social/behavioral development, Microsoft’s latest Xiaolce chatbot AI upgrade includes learnings for when to interrupt human conversation.

The functionality is called “full duplex voice sense” and what it does, on a basic level, is that it allows the chatbot to talk and listen simultaneously. (The old, walkie-talkie way of AI conversation is called “half duplex”.) It can predict what you’re likely to say next, and knows when to interrupt you with relevant information.

There are two goals for this functionality:

  1. Provide a more natural flow to your conversation
  2. Users don’t need to use a wake word every time they respond during conversations

Microsoft plans on spreading this technology to Microsoft’s chatbots in the US and Japan, though it could quickly catch on in other conversational AI tools as well.

Why It’s Hot: What makes a computer feel more human? I’d venture to say that human speech patterns have a lot to do with it. How will having a more human-like AI assistant change how we speak to our computers, how we interact with them, and on a bigger level, how we start to view them within the context of our lives? Will this change how we feel about our computers, how we rely on them in our daily lives? Will our brains begin to process AI like how we process other humans? (Basically, will we all be like Joaquin?)

Learn More: Engadget | Microsoft

A tale of two feeds

Pinterest is the latest social media site to shift its news feed algorithm from predominantly prioritizing brands/publisher content, to the activity of our friends (in Pinterest’s case, our Followers). This update comes a few months after Facebook introduced a similar approach that splits the news feed apart from brand/publisher content, and keeps friends’ posts more chronological for the most part. For Pinterest this means less algorithmically curated content in your main feed, unless that’s what you’re looking for– in which case you click over to the “Explore” section.

WHY IT’S HOT:

It’s clear that the push towards algorithmically recommending “relevant” content is so 3 years ago. Social platforms are thinking about ways to make their content more “meaningful” (in the words of Zuckerberg) and transparent. Seeing Pinterest, Snapchat, and Facebook choosing bifurcation of feeds does threaten the engagement of advertisers/publishers, but may ultimately lead to more valuable experiences for users (think: less mindless scrolling, more stuff you actually want to see). As a Pinterest user, I find the user experience simple and personally, I enjoy this divide– we’ll see if the rest of their users agree.

 

“And the Grammy goes to… Lo-Fi Hip Hop Anime Chill Beats To Study and Relax To”

“Lo-fi Chill Beats Study Mix refers to a series of playlists featuring ambient trip-hop and hip-hop beats, often created for the purpose of studying or relaxing. They often feature noted producers such as Nujabes and J Dilla.”

You can find these mixes on Soundcloud, Spotify, and most popularly, YouTube, where they’ve become associated with anime and video game visuals, prompting a stream of memes and parody versions.

https://twitter.com/Jet0o/status/974072482503319553?s=20

One of the most popular instances of this trend is ChilledCow’s live stream (above), which features different artists’ music. Users tune in and out as they like, and the comment stream is always full of appreciative fans from around the world.

Why it’s hot

Often times our goal with experiences is to engage and immerse the user, but this trend speaks to the other role of online experiences, which is to interact more passively with the user and even calm or relax them. Chillwave, ASMR, slow TV, and other trends speak to our need to slow down, chill out, and maybe relax or study.

gesture control comes to amazon drones…

Amazon has been testing drones for 30 minute or less deliveries for a couple of years now. We’ve seen their patents for other drone-related ideas, but the latest is one describing drones that would respond to both gestures and commands. In effect, they’re trying to make the drones more than sentient technological vessels, and more human-friendly, so if the drone is headed toward the wrong spot you could wave your hands to indicate its error, or tell it where to set your item down for final delivery. As described in the source article:

Depending on a person’s gestures — a welcoming thumbs-up, shouting or frantic arm waving — the drone can adjust its behavior, according to the patent. As described in the patent, the machine could release the package it’s carrying, change its flight path to avoid crashing, ask humans a question or abort the delivery.

Among several illustrations in the design, a person is shown outside a home, flapping his arms in what Amazon describes as an “unwelcoming manner,” to showcase an example of someone shooing away a drone flying overhead. A voice bubble comes out of the man’s mouth, depicting possible voice commands to the incoming machine.

“The human recipient and/or the other humans can communicate with the vehicle using human gestures to aid the vehicle along its path to the delivery location,” Amazon’s patent states.”

Why it’s hot:

This adds a new layer to the basic idea of small aerial robots dropping items you order out of the air. The more they can humanize the robots, the more they mimic actually deliverymen. And given the feedback we have seen on social about Amazon’s own human delivery service, this could be a major improvement.

[Source]

A Drone That Understands You

Amazon is filing for new patents. Not for a therapy drone, but a delivery drone that responds when you call or wave at it. The concept drone is designed to recognize human gestures, and then respond accordingly. Gestures the drone would recognize include, for example, waving arms, pointing, the flashing of lights, and speech.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/22/17150868/amazon-drone-patent-delivery-wave-speech-recognition

“The human recipient and/or the other humans can communicate with the vehicle using human gestures to aid the vehicle along its path to the delivery location,” the patent states. The patent gives an example of a “shooing” motion, which the drone would recognize and stop moving closer. The drone would also then adjust its speed and the direction it’s moving in. If a person waves their arms in a welcoming manner, the drone can interpret the gesture as an instruction to deliver the package.

There’s no word on when or even whether the gesture-recognition system might debut. Amazon declined to comment.

Why it’s hot:

  • It’s the evolution of drone delivery. Human-machine interaction is changing as devices need to cater to individual needs.

PUBG Hits #1 on iOS and is Full of Bots

For anyone that doesn’t know, PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds), is a Steam game in which 100 players get dropped onto a map that slowly gets smaller and smaller as they kill each other until there’s only one of them left. It’s more of a thriller game than an action/shooter. There are 99 other players out there, and any one of them may have you in their crosshair. Players are extremely vulnerable the whole time so most hide until the map edge starts approaching them and they’re forced to get closer to other players. 20 minutes could go by with not much happening but the player is always on the edge of their sit because of the tension in the air. At any moment they could lose. The game is huge in eSports right now (well fortnite is slowly taking over . Tournaments with large cash prizes keep an audience engaged for most of the game. There’s just a couple of issues that need to be worked out.

PUBG Mobile is the Most Downloaded iOS App in 48 Countries

Anyways, on March 19 the game launched in multiple regions globally on iOS and Android platforms. PUBG Mobile might be the top downloaded app in 48 countries! Amazing feat for a game that had almost no marketing put into it. So I started to look into what made it work so well on mobile that helped it climb to the top.

Turns out, the mobile version of the game is full of bots.

Many new users played their first game on a touch screen device instead of on a computer and ended up winning their first game. Desktop players know that winning your first game is almost impossible, winning any game is impressive, so what’s going on here? The mobile version of the game has a difficulty curve built into the design so it pairs new players against bots that are easier to beat than other players. Over time, the ratio of players to bots is widened until the user is always playing against other players.

Why It’s Hot:

  • PUBG design is great overall. The way they dealt with balancing the mobile version is innovative solves a big game design challenge.
    • It shows how the different audiences need different UX Design to keep them engaged in the game. The Steam audience would probably deem the game too easy if they were paired against bots while the mobile audience pushed the game to the top of the stores.
  • The game sky rocketing to number one on the charts may help ease concerns for other eSports games that were wary of releasing on mobile.
    • There is no revenue for PUBG Mobile just yet, but Fortnite, which also recently was released on mobile, has passed $2 million so far putting it near the top of the grossing charts.

https://www.vg247.com/2018/03/21/pubg-mobile-bot

https://www.pcgamer.com/pubg-iem-oakland-results/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/42651127/pubg-not-esports-ready-yet—but-will-be-one-day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz9CqEgaIlo

Strangers looking at the moon is beautiful and pure

Filmmaker and space enthusiast Wylie Overstreet took his telescope onto the streets of Los Angeles to show strangers the moon, and recorded their reactions with his creative partner Alex Gorosh. They created a lovely short film about the process.

Why it’s hot

There are a couple of things that this film brought to mind. The first is how we engage people in experiences. Overstreet’s simple invitation of “Would you like to look at the moon?” is simple and enticing. He does not go into details about his telescope or astronomy, but allows people to see for themselves, untainted by anyone else’s expectations.

The second lesson is about demystifying science and technology and bringing it to people within the context of their everyday lives. The unexpected view of the moon, which is easily Googleable, elicited awe from the people in the film because it gave them a direct connection between the moon in the sky and the moon they were seeing. How can we aim to bring that feeling to people through digital experiences?

Ikea has put on a twist on customer research

In November 2017, IKEA created an innovative survey about co-living spaces. This study explores what the future of co-living will look like in 2030 when there are 1.2 billion more people on the planet with 70% living in urban areas with limited spaces and resources. IKEA’s future living research lab Space10 launched One Shared House 2030 developed by interaction designer Irene Pereya of Anton & Irene. This is an interactive take on customer research.

  • It’s an experiment: there’s an intentional pioneering spirit in the survey
  • Empathetic for its subjects: the research was inspired by a documentary Pereyra did about her own co-living experience from when she was a child; giving authenticity to the survey and creating a deep sense of empathy
  • Beauty: the research is visually beautiful with bold geometric shapes and intense colors; it’s inviting and makes you want to participate
  • Playful: the research is positioned as playful research that is designed more like an app vs. survey with music and pop-up windows
  • Setting it in the future: the survey doesn’t act you to imagine the future – it sets the whole survey in the future; it tells you it’s 2030 and the world is more crowded – allowing people to get into the right mindset

Now, the results are in! More than 7,000 people from 147 countries answered the survey. People of all ages, and are in any life situation from all countries on average:

  • Would prefer couples, single women and single men in their community
  • Are happier with access to multiple homes they could easily move between
  • Prefer members to share equal ownership of the house
  • Only want the common areas to come furnished and furnish their own space themselves
  • Want house members from different walks of life
  • Think the two biggest pros of living with others is having more ways to socialize and splitting costs and getting more bang for your buck
  • Most are interested in living in shared houses between 4 and 10 people

Why it’s hot?

The Survey: is engineered as a digital experience. Everything from the empathetic positioning to the sonic // visual design pulls you in. IKEA demonstrates that CX is something that should trickle across all aspects of your business – even market research.

The Results: show that no co-living company has really figured out the right balance between an economically feasible scale and a scale that favors human connections. It shows that there is still ripe opportunity to re-think the co-living space.

Sources:

  • https://www.inc.com/ayse-birsel/think-customer-research-is-boring-here-is-how-ikea-made-it-fun-utterly-inviting.html
  • https://www.fastcodesign.com/90161409/what-todays co-living-spaces-get-wrong
  • http://onesharedhouse.com/

Chrome Music Lab makes music education fun and accessible

Google recently released Song Maker, the latest web-based music tool from Chrome Music Lab. All of the previous tools in Music Lab have been intended to demonstrate and visualize concepts like chords and oscillators. In “Song Maker,” users can create music with drums and melody and have the power to change instruments, adjust the tempo, and set the key. Even with little to no music training, it’s easy to make fun little songs in no time at all. It’s also compatible with MIDI keyboards.

My favorite one to play with is Kandinsky, inspired by artist Wassily Kandinsky, where each shape you draw becomes a sound in your masterpiece.

Kandinsky inspired masterpiece

Why it’s hot

These are great examples of interactive demos that aren’t too open ended to be fun. I could (but definitely did NOT) waste a ton of time making little tunes, giving Google my time and attention and probably training a neural network or two for them.

Read more about Song Maker on Pitchfork, and play around with the full suite of tools on Chrome Music Lab

IndieCade East Recap

This past weekend there was a festival for indie games at the Museum of Moving Images in Queens. There were a ton of amazing talks and indie games doing all sorts of interesting and unique things, but here are a few I saw that stood out to me:

Blinks:

During the festival there was a 10 hour game jam going on where game designers had to create a new alt-ware game using an unreleased platform, Blinks, inspired by the work of the indie game designers, Jason Rohrer.

Blinks is a new alt-ware gaming platform where there are multiple hexagon tiles that can “talk” to each other. Games can be programmed on one tile and then transfer data about the game to others.The designers of the platform needed more games for the platform so they made it extremely easy to code new games on it and sponsored this game jam. A few teams were able to finish making games in a couple of hours so they decided to make more. Here’s a video and instructions for a game on the platform:

  1. The players take turns.
  2. On your turn, you break the array of tiles into two chunks and put them back together in another formation. 
  3. When a tile has at least two neighbors but none match its color, it blinks with happiness.
  4. The first player whose tiles are all happy at once wins.

Getting Over It:

The creator of the popular frustrating game QWOP and GIRP is back with a new ridiculously challenging game called Getting Over It.  The user plays as a man stuck in a pot trying to get over a trash mountain using a giant hammer. Just like Foddy’s other games, this one involves very unintuitive controls making the interaction of controlling the avatar the challenge of the game. The best part about seeing it at the expo is that the creator was there giving encouraging commentary to users as they failed miserably at playing his game. It was hilarious.

You can buy it on Steam here for Windows and MacOS.

You can buy it on the iOS App Store here.

 

Beyond the screen:

Oh man, this talk was so good! Here’s the description from the schedule:

Ubiquitous computing, Internet of Things, Immersive Theater, Physical Computing, Augmented Reality – the stunning growth of technological and artistic possibility for interaction design is driving games, play, and interaction out of our flat screens and into the truly interactable space of the real world. IndieCade co-founder Celia Pearce explores this brand new world of play in a talk for designer and players alike.

One of the cofounders of indieCade, Celia Pearce, went through a presentation that highlighted dozens of the great games that broke away from using a screen as the interface. I’ll try to hunt down the full deck and see if she’s maybe able to come in to demo a few of them to us if that’s something we think is useful, but here’s the one I thought was most unique.

Fear Sphere is a horror game played in a pitch black inflatable sphere. One person crawls inside an inflatable dome with a projector with a gyroscope inside of it, to help them find their way out of a virtual maze. Other players stay outside with a map to guide them. The projector is used like a flashlight to give a sense of being in a pitch black world.

 

Thoughts and Prayers the Game:

This game wasn’t at the expo but I was told about it while there. It’s a great example of how games can include political opinions and have messages within them. The idea of the game is that you send thoughts and prayers after mass shootings and your score is how many lives you’ve saved. Spoiler: it’s always zero.

http://www.thoughtsandprayersthegame.com/

 

More info about IndieCade here

The Future of Access

Latch, a competitor in the smart-lock space, revealed today that they will be the lock maker of choice for Airbnb’s newest housing experiment Niido. Latch is a patent lock system that would allow e-commerce orders to be delivered directly into a home – while offering access credentials to any service.

Latch is only sold to managers running apartments and condos, for the simple fact that those managers buy in bulk and also face more complex problems related to building access. Users can use a key pad, phone or key card to get in to a building. The app allows for residents and managers to send out access codes to whoever they like that expire however long they designate. The delivery of hardware and service is the appeal for Niido – building managers can centrally manage all the Airbnb guest and create an accurate activity log. Every tenant using the service is charged $5 – as the lock itself is only an aspect of Latch’s business model.

What is Niido?

Niido is a new residential design concept specifically for home sharing. Tenants will sign annual leases and will be permitted to home share individual rooms or their entire units through Airbnb for up to 180 nights per year. Tenants who choose to share their homes will be part of Airbnb’s Friendly Buildings Program, in which hosts and landlords share revenues generated from home sharing.

Why It’s Hot

In a sea of smart locks, Latch stood out by targeting real estate developers rather than the average consumer – helping property managers navigate the operational burden with ease. Latch is demonstrating their value as more than a hardware or software company, and instead positioning the brand as a service that offers security, seamless access and simple management to consumers and customers alike. We’re moving towards a future where your user profile replaces your key.

Sources

  • https://www.fastcodesign.com/90160614/the-future-of-airbnb-and-amazon-might-hinge-on-a-smart-lock
  • https://press.atairbnb.com/airbnb-niido-to-partner-to-support-home-sharing-in-apartments/
  • http://fortune.com/2017/12/19/airbnb-niido-branded-apartments-investment/