pjhstudios blog

Review of the Star Telegram iPad app

Aug
03

Summary: The Star Telegram app is functional app that delivers content well, but restricts and undervalues the content. Pros: great value, photos look great, environmentally friendly, solid delivery of content. Cons: You’re reading a PDF at first, inconsistent browsing behaviors, the power of the iPad is underutilized, download times vary.

Price: The app is free, with $2/month for print subscribers, $7.99/month, $75/year. This seems like a fair value, or an outright deal if you crunch the numbers compared to buying a paper a day or even subscribing to the print edition. Upon opening the app, you’ll need to sign in to download editions. If you have a Star Telegram Account, you can do this, and add subscriptions to your account, or you can purchase a one month subscription from within the app.

Star Telegram iPad app first screen

The physical layout is the paper layout–familiar but outdated. The iPad can richly deliver text, images and video, with unique behavioral interactions, yet the content remains constrained to a print layout. You cannot select text in this “paper” format. Pictures are vibrant and crisp and benefit the most from the app–no more misaligned color plates or inconsistent coloring ruining photos. Personally, I’d like to see a behavior to zoom in on images or make them full screen. Text is crisp similar to a well formatted PDF, but has to rejigger itself every time you zoom in and out. This is a disadvantage of constraining a print format within a digital format.

Depending on the amount of content in the paper for the day will determine how long it takes to download the day’s edition. Mondays take about 2 minutes, while Sundays take nearly 10 minutes over a high speed internet connection. [This was done at home over a Uverse broadband connection, with the iPad connected wirelessly.] Ads remain prominent, and in Sunday editions, most advertising inserts are not included–very limited set of coupons, no store inserts such as Best Buy ad, etc. Yet the Parade insert is included.

Navigation/Interaction

Initial navigation is to read the paper, a PDF-like image of the paper

  • Swipe or touch translucent blue tabs to change pages
  • Pinch and expand to zoom out/zoom in, respectively
  • Single click on an article to zoom in on it
  • Double clicking on an article will bring up a native text format article, where text size can be changed larger or smaller for readability and copied. You can browse to other text articles via the up and down arrows on the menu. Can also share via email, Facebook or Twitter. The email sharing crashed the app for me, and the Facebook and Twitter sharing worked as expected, where you sign in, or authorize, the ST app to use the respective service to share the app.

Re: Facebook sharing. Why, WHY, does the Star Telegram app need “my name, profile picture, gender, networks, list of friends and any other information I’ve shared with anyone?” I could very easily go to the site, copy the equivalent link for the story and then paste it into Facebook. I refused.

Re: Twitter sharing. Very straight forward, The tweet turns into something like, “Check out this article: (headline) (Bitly shortlink),” which you can edit before posting.

There is no print capability. If you’d like to print out a recipe, or blurb, it might be best to go to the Star Telegram site and print it. (Or email it to yourself, if the email function works for you.)

Menu

  • Can browse 7 days of back issues
    st_app_screens 6 Star Telegram iPad app issue browser  

  • Can bookmark articles for later reading
  • Can search the current paper
  • Three ways to browse sections

A. Drop down menu of sections, includes a count of news stories within that section. Touch a section and a list of stories will appear. Touch a headline, and the behavior of the app will take you to the “paper” view of the story, not the readable, full text of the story. If you click on a front page article, or a column that jumps to another page, you then have to click again to get to the rest of the article. Why not go to the full article?

Star Telegram iPad app drop down menu

B. A series of tabs can be overlaid for each section, and remain there until you go to a text article or choose to make them go away.

Star Telegram iPad app tab menus

C. The River of Digital Paper. Take each flat of 2 pages, line them all up in a row, and make them scroll left or right, depending on where you’d like to browse. It’s an interesting way browse, to get a sense of scale and general idea to hop to a section. You can pinch and expand as you would the rest of the paper, however, It’s not very readable. Quite frankly, you can see all the ads and determine how much content there’s in the paper, which seems sad when put in this perspective.

Star Telegram iPad appriver of digital news

Misc.

Blue highlighted text is clickable–email, websites, phone numbers, in both the paper and text versions of the articles.

If app is minimized, or closed, and reopened, it will take you back to where you were. If a day passes, the app will take you to the front page for that day.

Other tests

Out of curiosity, I did an airplane test, or what can I do without an internet connection test. It appears, if you’d like to read the Star Telegram iPad app without a connection, you must first connect and download the edition you’d like. That makes sense. However, you’re limited to the “paper” version. You cannot double click to get a text formatted article. Not horrible, but slightly disappointing.

Also, I did a Mom test. I handed the iPad to my mother, and asked her to browse the paper. For the most part, she figured it out, but there were two hang ups. The Search icon is a magnifying glass, which to her meant to zoom in. She wanted to zoom but didn’t get it. Perhaps a different icon would help? Secondly, once she found the text version of the article, she tried to swipe left and right to the next articles. This is inconsistent with what you’d do in the paper version. Why make the behaviors different?

Potential and final thoughts

I’ve lived in Fort Worth for nearly 12 years, and remember the Star Telegram as a content rich paper, with numerous features and news articles. In those 12 years, it’s devolved into a shell for sparse local coverage and wire service articles. Have you picked up a Monday paper in a while? It’s sad, kind of like seeing a loved one lose too much weight to the point they look unhealthy.

The iPad app is a healthy boost for the content, but I can’t help feel it’s restricting the content they wish to provide. Here’s a device that 12 years ago existed in the fantasy of science fiction, yet, is being treated as a digital microfiche viewer, you know, those bulky boxes where you’d put a film slide of newspaper over a light and you could view it. At the time, that was a great way to share archives of newspapers. Today, treating your content as microfiche film undervalues it.

Make it rich, make it interactive, get out of the grid of a print layout. Why can’t advertising go to the sponsor’s website (business opportunity!)? Why can’t Amazon affiliate links go into content (business opportunity!)? Why can’t trailers (or Galloway and Hate videos) be included for movies, books and whatever else (business opportunity!)? Why can’t classifieds be structured differently, ala a Craig’s List, instead of squinty little boxes, a holdover from the 19th century (business opportunity!)? Why can’t daily deals, the Star Telegram equivalent of Groupon (business opportunity!), be integrated? The photos look great, why not add photo stories, ala The Big Picture to focus on the vivid and diverse settings and people of the Metroplex.

Granted, this is a 1.0 app, and with first versions, you want to get the core feature set right, which, for the most part, they did. The app is functional, and the content is there, and feels much better than the Star Telegram website.

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What I learned from 46 days of no Facebook

Apr
24

In keeping with the Catholic tradition of sacrificing something for Lent, I chose to give up Facebook. In the past, I’ve given up chocolate, sweets, dessert, beer, alcohol, caffeine, soda, (listening to) music. Forsaking a technological medium that seeks to connect people, and purposefully disconnecting from it, goes against the instant gratification of modern life. I still had email, cell phone, Twitter, a mail box people could send mail to (I received a postcard during that time). At one point, I consulted with a Lentor, to determine if I could view Facebook at all or just my own account. Consensus deemed that viewing Facebook through others to be OK.

As an aside, the term Lentor was coined at a birthday dinner when a friend had a question about not swearing. A different friend quickly intervened, heading off any moral quandary and designating himself as a Lentor, one who can determine the applicable boundaries of a Lenten sacrifice. I’m sure a priest could have served the role, but what lay person wouldn’t want to help set some tangible, real world spiritual chalk lines?

Facebook is pervasive

If Lenten sacrifices have blurry lines, then Facebook obliterates whatever constraints social communication had. For so long, communication remained tethered to the real world. Written letters, phone communication, voice mails, face to face, text messaging seems fairly grounded in comparison. In casual conversation, referencing Facebook is such a common occurrence that Facebook itself is the communication medium. Yes, its content resides on a digital cloud somewhere in California, but consider:

“… posted pictures on Facebook…”

“… on Facebook, [so-and-so] said [funny/stupid/innocuous/inane/sad/maddening comment] on my wall…”

“… received a Facebook invite for…”

“… just send me a message on Facebook…”

“… are you on Facebook?”

“… you can get our hours of operation on Facebook…”

“… did you see [so-and-so’s] status on Facebook?”

[Insert entire recounting of Facebook realm drama here that ultimately makes its way in to every day life.]

While waiting for someone at Blue Mesa, I overheard two different conversations related to things occurring or having occurred on Facebook. It wasn’t the internet, a blog but a website that, as we all learned from watching the Social Network, put the social experience online. A website that stands to make money off electronic social interactions better than any blog ever did.

At a birthday party, I joked with an acquaintance that we weren’t officially friends since we weren’t Facebook friends. Since this occurred during Lent, I told her I couldn’t friend her right away.

“Can it wait until Easter Morning?” I said.

“Sure, I’ll be expecting a friend request at 12:01, Easter Morning.”

“What about after sunrise service?”

The Fear Of Missing Out

Facebook makes us more connected in a passive way, making it easy to see photos, updates and changes in people’s lives. It also accentuates something that’s always existed–the fear of missing out. That sense of anxiety when there’s something out there that we’d like to experience but are not able to for some reason or another, often due to simply not being informed.

In grade school, you’d figure out which birthday party you missed by hearing about it on Monday while hanging out by the monkey bars. Now, someone you don’t even know will upload a photo from a bar while hanging out at a bar with a stuffed monkey in the back room and tag a friend you know, alerting you of fun you never knew existed. Or were invited to.

The fear of missing out applies to keeping up with status updates and the miscellany of conversation commenting on photos, videos or links. We want to be part of those conversations, even if we’re lurking, passively consuming the updates. What if we miss out on something funny, or engaging or interesting? We want to know. This has been true for any media or form of communication. We’re social creatures, despite however much someone claims to be an introvert. We want to be connected to others and validated by others. I’m guessing there’s some evolutionary biology behind connection and validation. Survival of the species, perhaps?

Biologically, within your brain, you’re wired to become engaged with novelty, things that interest you. When something interests you (intellectually, emotionally or physically) your body will crank out various hormones to further engage you. Dopamine, adrenaline, oxycontin are a few, and to enjoy those activities more, we need a more novel or bigger hit of those activities. This is why relationships are hard work–the novelty of the initial attraction wears off, and then you have to work at maintaining that attraction.

And Facebook is an amusement park of attractions, the equivalent of a 100 different roller coasters of digital crack. It’s novel, interesting, engaging, relatively easy to consume and there’s always a reason to come back for more. A good drug dealer gets you hooked with free. All Facebook costs you is time. So a free means to engage passively with social connections leads to all sorts of things, one being the need to keep up with others so you don’t miss out.

Curated lives

In keeping up with others, there’s the opposite, informing others. Anyone who posts things to Facebook is a publisher, a modern day William Randolph Hearst, albeit at a much smaller scale, for a much more individual purpose.

Hearst is credited with saying to a photographer, “You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” Regardless, if he ever said it, the point is that what ever means is used, we can justify the ends to say something. We might not be selectively curating lolcat pictures or YouTube videos for war, but we selectively signal our interests and intentions by what we share or say.

Travels, growing families, melancholy thoughts, persistent witticisms, innocuous oversharing, politics, sports, gossip, social causes, personal happenings… Imagine whatever you publish to Facebook as a room in your own personal gallery. What’s that gallery going to look like? Curators discern what hangs on the wall at a museum with subject matter smarts and an intent to editorialize to show or say something.

Wouldn’t your Facebook postings do the same?

You know yourself (you should), and you want to tell people something, and you choose what you want to say.

You’re curating your own life. And we each have our own reasons for doing that.

Offline

But what about those that don’t reside on Facebook, or never post anything beyond setting up their page with a picture and basic information? I don’t think they’re missing out, despite the pervasiveness and growing necessity to communicate via Facebook. They have their ways of keeping in touch, getting whatever social interaction floats their boat and living life how they want to. Meaningful lives can still be lived without Liking or Statusing or Poking or Inviting or Messaging. Meaningful lives can still be lived with conversations, however infrequent they may occur. Meaningful lives are not defined by the content or quantity of Facebook updates.

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The story of Z. Vex effects pedals

Apr
21

Z. Vex creates handmade and painted guitar effects pedals, a business that started as a hobby.

Vex: “My first Z.Vex pedal was an improvement on an Apollo Fuzz-Wah fuzz, which was the Octane. I showed it to Nate at Willie’s American Guitars in St. Paul and he immediately ordered three. I hadn’t planned on going into business, it just happened by accident. I started making a living within about two months after the pedal company started. A meager living, but a living. I believe my apartment was about $300 a month.”

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Jambox wireless speaker by Jawbone

Apr
02

Everything about Jawbone’s portable wireless speaker, the Jambox, is well done. The speaker itself, the included cables and charger, the ease of use, the carrying case and even the packaging all show serious thought in the design, presentation and experience of the product.
Jawbone Jambox wireless speaker

The Jambox comes in four different colors: black, red, grey and blue. Shaped like a rectangular brick, it measures approximately 2.25″ tall, 6″ long and 1.5″ deep and is a solid 12 ounces. The build feels solid, with quality materials–a rubberized top and bottom allow for a solid grip when holding and maintaining position on an uneven surface. The speaker’s grill is styled aluminum, where each color has a different design.

As for buttons, there are only four: the on off switch, increase volume, decrease volume and a function button. Pushing the function button once will cause a voice to speak the approximate battery life remaining. Very smart. Also, the function button can be used to send or receive calls if paired with a bluetooth phone.
Jawbone Jambox side view

To connect the Jambox, there are several options. The primary means is via bluetooth. Pairing is as simple as turning on the Jambox, and then going into the device’s bluetooth connection screen. I’ve used an iPhone and an iPad to connect to the device with no issues at all. Also, there is a stereo line in jack for devices that lack bluetooth.

Speaking of stereo line in, a 3 foot stereo to stereo cable comes with the Jambox, along with:

  • 60 inch micro USB cable (for charging and syncing to a computer from longer distances)
  • 12.5 inch micro USB cable (for charging and syncing to a computer at short distances, and for traveling)
  • a wall charger with a plug that folds out
  • a neoprene like carrying case

Jawbone Jambox with case

The case is especially clever. It’s made of a synthetic neoprene-like material that fits over the Jambox like a sleeve. The ends consist of foldable tabs with a thin magnet within the sleeve. As the tab encloses the end, it gently snaps to the case. One drawback, the case fits almost too snugly, and may take practice to push/pull the Jambox out of it.

But how does it sound? How does a $200 portable, wireless speaker sound? Impressive. Don’t expect something compared to a $2000 hi-fi, but you’ll hear a full range of sound with good bass response. I played numerous albums on it from a variety of artists: The National, Mumford & Sons, Iron & Wine, Rilo Kiley, Feist, Ella Fitzgerald, Broken Social Scene, The Beatles, Vampire Weekend, classical guitar. It tends to lose the high end, but it keeps the feel of the music clear and crisp. It can get loud enough to drive a small party in an apartment or living room or patio.

Lastly, the device is intelligent. Pushing the function button will state the battery life, but it can be upgraded with apps and firmware modifications to do more. Not a fan of the pre-installed voice–you can change it from 4 different voices, and that doesn’t even include the other languages it supports. If you create an account with other services, you can add apps to assist with caller id or voice dialing.

Of note, Jawbone took consideration to the packaging, too. The hard plastic case covers the Jambox, and a tab on each side of the case clip into a heavy paper box. Inside the box, the cables are neatly placed and labeled along with the carrying case and charger.

The utility of the Jambox offers a lot of value from dialing and syncing to phones, and also pairing with devices to provide richer sound beyond the devices tinny, mono speakers (e.g. the iPad). Instant parties can be had, watch movies or play games away from a TV, create a conference room speaker. This is definitely one, cool little, electronic brick.

 

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The Zen of Social Media Marketing – Shama Kabani

Feb
07

The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Kabani

primes people for how to use online social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and more. It’s mainly introductory, best suited for someone who’s new to social media. She takes old marketing strategies and shows how social media uses them online — attract, transform and convert.

Kabani breaks down:

  • Websites, Blogs, and SEO (search engine optimization) – fresh, relevant content is where it’s at.
  • Facebook – more of a breakdown of the different parts of Facebook
  • Twitter – what it is, and how to have conversations
  • LinkedIn – professional networking online
  • Video – various video mediums online, more than just You Tube
  • Social media policies – you should spell out the rules of use

She pulls out key learning points as Zen Moments. Each chapter contains relevant anecdotes from people who have applied the concepts, and the last part of the book tells of numerous case studies of how people used social media as a whole for success.

Kabani knew this book would become dated, so she encourages people to go to her website for updated content… and enter a password to do so.

If you’re digitally savvy, you can pass on this book. If you’re not, and need to get online, this will be a good start.

Google museum view

Feb
03

Google takes its street view concept to the world’s top museums:

Cameras mounted on a special trolley travelled through empty galleries after the public had left, taking 360 degree images of selected rooms which were then stitched together. So far 385 rooms are navigable, and more will be added.

Five months

Jan
20

Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt went from a simple idea–a tripod mount for an iPhone 4–to an actual, physical product, called the Gliph, in five months.

This turnaround, from idea to market in five months by two guys with no retail or manufacturing experience, signifies a shift in the way products are made and sold — a shift only made possible in the last couple years.

Provost details the whole process. What they did when, why, how, who they had to contact. It helped that they understood design, so they could relate to the people who would make their product real. Amazing stuff.

A Day in the Future

Jan
14

As I rise and stretch, I notice I’m sore. Not from tending the fields though. I have no fields. Some unseen person does all the field-tending for me. Sometimes I forget that there’s any field-tending going on at all.

Lyrically written.

Curation is the new search

Jan
13

Google has been much maligned of late, due to its increasingly spammy and gamed results. Paul Kedrosky makes a point that curation of web content will be on the rise.

The answer, of course, is that we won’t — do them all by hand, that is. Instead, the re-rise of curation is partly about crowd curation — not one people, but lots of people, whether consciously (lists, etc.) or unconsciously (tweets, etc) — and partly about hand curation (JetSetter, etc.).

Disney, masters of theme park operations

Dec
28

Disney has theme park logistics down to a nimble operation that monitors all aspects of a park. They use a combination of weather reports, historical records, airline and hotel reservations to predict park capacity, but once the Magic Kindom opens, ride queues, cash registers at in park restaurants, foot traffic in particular areas are all monitored from a command center. From central command, more boats can be deployed if the queue reaches a certain thresh hold. Or:

Another option involves dispatching Captain Jack Sparrow or Goofy or one of their pals to the queue to entertain people as they wait. “It’s about being nimble and quickly noticing that, ‘Hey, let’s make sure there is some relief out there for those people,’ ” said Phil Holmes, vice president of the Magic Kingdom, the flagship Disney World park.

And sometimes, they even throw parades.

What if Fantasyland is swamped with people but adjacent Tomorrowland has plenty of elbow room? The operations center can route a miniparade called “Move it! Shake it! Celebrate It!” into the less-populated pocket to siphon guests in that direction.

It seems like a fun way to earn more dollars.