Archive for May, 2011

BOOM! Goes the dynamite.

It’s that time of year again, when warm weather is just around the corner. Everyone I know is putting a little extra effort into their workout routine to get ready for their sundresses and swimsuits, so I thought this was a great time to try out a few new fitness apps. This first of three fitness apps that I am going to review is Nike’s BOOM app, free to download on iOs.

The Boom app rates #27 in Apple’s free Health & Fitness apps. In that broad category, it is the 8th most popular app for working out (versus diet and nutrition), three of which are Nike apps. It is described as a motivational app that “syncs your music with your dynamic training workouts, with your sport’s most elite athletes and coaches motivating you along the way”. Upon downloading the app, there is no forced registration or Facebook connect. The first screen has a floating layer that prompts a download of motivational pep-talks from athletes and coaches. I think they could have skipped this part and automatically included the motivations, which is the primary reason behind downloading the app. Next, I was prompted to choose a sport: The options include football, basketball, hockey, rugby, soccer, baseball and cross training. This app is obviously geared to men because every visual is of a male athlete. I don’t think they should alienate women from the app, so I would suggest including a more gender neutral approach.  

Upon selecting cross training, I was given the option to watch a demo or go straight into my workout. The demo is really well done, explaining how to get the most out of the app and tailored to my sport selection. After that I was served with a footer navigation panel to scroll through, which included  working out, intervals, gameday, review my workout history, and setting. I moved forward by going into workout and chose a 45 minute cardio session. They floated another screen that suggested connecting to Facebook so that I could receive virtual cheers from my network. After selecting this option, it served an auto filled message to post to my wall, though I tailored with ease. Next, it integrated with my playlists and I was able to choose my “May Gym” playlist. While this seems like a lot of steps, it only took about two minutes.

I really enjoyed the user experience during my workout. It kept track of warm-up and cool down time and interjected motivational pep-talks from athletes about every five minutes. The part that really made me smile was every time one of my Facebook friends liked or commented on my wall I would hear a loud crowed cheer. It sounds cheesy, but it is actually really fun! After my workout, I could see the comments that my friends left in my workout history.

Overall, this was a really engaging app with an intuitive UX. I’m definitely looking forward to using it again. Great job, Nike!

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An example of why RIM is losing the smart phone race.

I received an email from my father on Friday morning saying that he needed help. The Facebook application was frozen on his BlackBerry and he was concerned that he was using unthinkable amounts of data while it continuously checked for new messages. I called him to see what I could do to help. It turns out that when the problem started last night, he called Verizon Wireless to see if they could help. Their first suggestion was power down and back up. This didn’t solve the problem. Their next solution was to remove the battery so that there was a complete reboot of the device. Interestingly enough, this also didn’t work. When he went into the app it was still actively searching for new messages. He grew increasingly frustrated when he was on the phone with customer service because they didn’t have any additional insights into how to solve the problem. Their last suggestion was that he should just take the device into a Verizon store for technical assistance.

After hearing this story, it was pretty obvious to me that the easiest approach would be to simply uninstall and reinstall the Facebook application. I knew that he has had his phone for not quite two years, so made an assumption that he had the BlackBerry Torch 9800. I searched online to find the device support page. (http://us.blackberry.com/support/) I browsed through several sections before finding the navigation to uninstall 3rd party applications. Unfortunately there were no visuals, so I walked my dad through it as best as I could. It would have been really helpful to tell him what icons to look for while performing the task. We got the application uninstalled and the next step was to reinstall the application. This step was definitely trickier. I couldn’t figure out how to get him into the RIM app store for an easy instillation. The next approach was to use his browser to go to Facebook’s mobile site. The browser had a hard time rendering and finally on the third attempt, there was a download icon. The first time he tried to download it, the process cancelled halfway through. The second time it downloaded successfully.

The application didn’t automatically create a shortcut. In order to find it, he had to navigate through several menus. Upon finding it he had troubles logging in the first time. I advised him to go into Facebook through his desktop computer to make sure that he was using the right username and password. He was in fact, so I ended up at a loss. We were over 45 minutes into the process and we both had to get back to our work day.

The point is, this was a ridiculous process. There was nothing simple or intuitive about it. Not only could the carrier not walk him through it, but even someone who lives in the mobile world struggled with the process. RIM is trying to compete with iOs and Android, yet something as simple as uninstalling and reinstalling an app takes multiple people, a support guide and a couple hours. They should really improve the UX if they want to keep their ground in the smart phone industry.

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Research on regional magazines and their mobile approach

For the final project, my team is working with Tiger Oak Media to develop a mobile strategy. Tiger Oak publishes many local magazines, including Seattle Magazine. They currently do not have a mobile optimized site, although it does render onto the iPhone cleanly. They also do have an iPad app, which is a PDF of the most current issue. As part of my research, I have been actively searching out other regional magazine from across the country. My goal is to get a better feel for how many of the publications are providing mobile users with optimized mobile sites and/or mobile apps. I’ve been surprised to by my findings thus far. It seems as though this is an industry that hasn’t yet embraced the potential increased reach that a mobile strategy can provide if executed well.

The only major metropolitan magazine that automatically redirected me to a mobile optimized site was New York Magazine.  I searched for the magazine from my iPhone and was automatically redirected to m.nymag.com. The layout was clean, with the mobile user context clearly in mind during the design development. The interface provides access to five of the primary blogs – Daily Intel (news), Vulture, Grub Street, The Cut (fashion) and The Sports Section.  The videos played without any problems as well, which is a great feature for the phone. The one obvious function that was missing was a way to share/like articles on Facebook. Social media and mobile really go hand-in-hand, so hopefully that functionality will be built into the site in the future.

San Francisco Magazine offers a free iPhone application. I wasn’t able to find it in my initial search, because I searched for San Francisco Magazine. The iTunes store showed zero matching apps so I searched online and discovered there is no space in the apps name. After searching for SanFrancisco Magazine, I found the app and easily downloaded it to my phone. The app includes the four most current issues at no charge. One feature that I enjoyed was that it gives the option to view the issue you are going to read online or you can download it.  If you are going to have Internet access, it can be viewed online without using up data by downloading the whole issue. However, if you are going to be without connectivity, the download functionality is quite nice. The app is really just a reader and doesn’t provide special search functionality to the consumer. For example, a reader can’t search for recommended boutiques or restaurants, which would be a nice utilitarian feature.

This exercise was quite beneficial as I begin to think about the best approach for Tiger Oak Media. It makes me question why more local publications haven’t created a mobile optimized site or useful utilitarian app. Is the industry just slightly behind the curve or is there a fear that they wont see healthy return on their investment?

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Alaska Airlines SMS campaign

I am a frequent business traveler and a faithful Alaska Airlines customer. They have the best mileage program, friendliest flight staff and best customer service in the industry. I am also an avid mobile media consumer, so it makes sense that I have been keeping my eye out for advancements in their mobile strategy. Lately, I have been especially interested in their SMS campaigns. Overall their approach seems well thought out. I only receive a few texts from them a month, so I don’t feel bombarded with contact from them. Typically, the text messages are promoting a fare sale. This is an interesting use-case for an SMS alert, especially if it is a flash sale. The alert creates a sense of urgency that drives consumers to buy the tickets fast before the price goes up.

Today I received a text alert from them that wasn’t executed quite as well. The SMS was promoting the re-launch of their website.  There were two things that I noticed that didn’t work well. First, the brief message included two URLs, one for Alaskaair.com and one bit.ly URL. There was no clear call to action directing me to visit one site over the other, but I assumed the bit.ly URL would take me to a remodeled mobile site.  It did in fact take me to a mobile optimized site, but there aren’t any noticeable changes to the mobile site. The other URL took me to the full site, but I don’t believe that the intention is to have people view the full site from their mobile phones, because the improvements (which are great and were much needed, by the way) aren’t apparent from a small screen.

The other error on the text message was that it finished with what appears to be a random , 15character alpha-numeric code. Unfortunately, the error takes up a full line of real estate that could have been used to make the URL call to action more clear.  My alternative copy suggestion using the same amount of characters would be AlaskaAir: Alaskaair.com was remodeled! Be sure to visit us to see the improvements. Visit http://bit.ly/kCHrv7 to view our mobile site.

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