Archive: March, 2011

Early thoughts on Amazon’s Cloud Drive

This week Amazon unveiled Cloud Drive, an online storage system for Amazon users to upload their music collections for both on demand streaming and backup. It’s unquestionably huge tech news; Amazon is the first company of this size and stature to provide a cloud based service on this large of a scale. Intrigued, I’ve spent the last two days putting the service through its paces and in the process have come to several conclusions:

Mainstream users will rush to embrace cloud-based services (albeit slowly at first)

While it’s true that the tech community has heavily utilized cloud-based file services like Dropbox and Crashplan for years, Amazon’s Cloud Service is really the first to nail it for a mainstream audience: Unlike most other cloud solutions, there’s no additional drives to be mounted or cumbersome software to download. Instead, Amazon requires just a small Adobe Air app used to upload music (in a nice touch, Amazon auto scans your HD), the music player itself just a web site. Given that level of simplicity, Amazon’s solid customer service, not to mention 5GB free for anyone that has an Amazon account, a lot of households will jump onboard.

Expect this to be the first major step for mainstream users to incorporate cloud-based computing into their day. Music is a great starting point: millions already use web-based streaming clients like Pandora and Rdio so jumping over to an Amazon website to listen to their music library is a natural progression. I’d predict that competitors like Dropbox and Apple will make great efforts to make their services more enticing for a non tech audience (simpler UI, more competitive pricing plans, more devices) and in the process their respective user bases should grow exponentially.

This all takes time; it’s a big step from uploading songs from one’s music library to enterprise sharing and larger scale backup plans. Nevertheless, as the other heavyweights like Apple, Sony and others join in (post Amazon’s move, it’s inevitable), demand will spike.

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The New York Times Paywall

This week the details of The New York Times online subscription and paywall model were finally revealed to the public. It’s huge news for both future of online journalism and for myself on a personal level; I’ve spent more than a decade considering the Times an essential resource, from the print version in my early college days to the iPhone and iPad apps in heavy use today. That said, after pouring over the details, I’m very dissatisfied with the Times model, and I feel strongly the paywall will fail for three reasons: it’s confusing and complex, it provides no added benefits or perks for paid subscribers versus what’s available today and the monthly cost is too high.

I’ll go into each of these points in greater depth, but it’s important to first note I believe strongly a subscription model makes sense. The existing internet standard of advertising can’t support coverage with such international breadth and depth that the Times provides; something has to give. That said, a subscription plan as poorly thought out as the Times, especially after 14 months of internal deliberation, is inexcusable.

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Keeping it simple: Folder Watch, Minutes

Like its iOS counterpart, the Mac App Store excels in its variety; I regularly scan the top download lists and I?ve stumbled on a few inexpensive, focused apps that fit my interests well.

While there?s been at least six such apps that I?ve tried since the App Store?s debut, two have gotten by far the heaviest use: Folder Watch, a file syncing utility and Minutes, a simple, colorful timer app. I?d recommend checking out both.
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Camera+ and successful UI design

Being a fairly prolific iPhone photographer, I?ve been interested in the meteoric rise of the Camera+ (C+) app over its competition like Camera Plus Pro (CPP). C+ has dominated the sales charts for weeks, the only photography app regularly in the top 10 of all paid apps in the App Store. Curious to learn more, I decided to give C+ a try.

After putting C+ through it?s paces for few weeks, I?d argue the app?s appeal is straightforward and instructive for almost any designer: the app adds less functionality than its competitors to avoid being overwhelming, yet throws in enough to feel like a noticeable upgrade coming from Apple?s default app. At the same time, C+ better identifies its audience than its competition, providing an appropriate, well thought out user interface in the process.

Admittedly at first glance C+?s pared down approach appears to be a losing proposition in a crowded and feature rich app market. The economics don?t help either; almost all apps trend in the $1-2 range and it?s hard to stand out with one killer feature.

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Recommended reading: February edition

For this month: The Egyptian revolution, alternative rock’s rise and fall in the 1990s, a nostalgic look back to adventure gaming’s golden era and Marc Jacobs up close.

Letter from Cairo, On the Square
The New Yorker

Cairo?s recent democratic uprising rightfully received heavy news coverage from practically everyone, be it the Sunday talk shows, CNN or the New York Times. Nevertheless, to my surprise, for weeks an extended written chronology from the ground had been missing.

Leave it to The New Yorker to fill the void. Reporter Wendell Steavenson camped out in a hotel adjacent to Tahir Square, conducting interviews and reports both inside and around the historic area with everyone from low level military officers to anti-Mubarak protesters. Even with a 7000 plus word count (Steavenson reported for a full two week period leading up to Mubarak’s resignation) it?s a fast read given that much of the piece focuses on action (e.g. skirmishes, clashes with police) from within the square.

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