Category Archives: mobile apps

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By | mobile apps, mobile marketing, social media | No Comments

We love links. They connect us to what we want to read, view, and purchase. It’s a hardly-noticed privilege we’ve become accustomed to–being introduced to a brand online, then simply clicking a link to learn more about said product. For years social media sites have been providing accessibility through direct links. The exception to the rule? Instagram. In 2013 brands acquired the ability to advertise on Instagram, but not link directly to an outside website. Now Instagram is stepping it up a notch.

A few weeks ago, Instagram announced it will be offering advertisers carousel-style photos and weblinks. Meaning, when users come across an ad, they will be able to swipe through multiple photos and click-through to a webpage of the brand’s choice. By clicking the “learn more” button on the carousel, an internal browser within Instagram will open so users can easily jump back to their feed.

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Previously, brands mostly used Instagram ads for billboard space, meaning photos or videos would appear in user feeds as they scrolled through. The carousel feature will allow for a narrative to take place with the use of multiple photos, however this feature is still only available to paying brands.

Instagram  claims they are just evolving brand ads, and this play isn’t about increasing engagement. Still, with this new feature, brands will be able to track click-through rates, likes and comments on their ad, and whether or not users swiped through multiple photos. The carousel ads will just feature photos at this time, not videos.

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The company takes a hands-on approach when working with brands that advertise with them, in order to keep user happiness their top priority — Which is why CEO Kevin Systrom will still have the final approval on all ads shown on the platform. But, with that being said, advertising is part of what keeps Instagram free for those users, so finding a balance that makes both brands and users satisfied is key.

Despite this new feature, brands still won’t have the advertising freedom they’re accustomed to with Facebook and Twitter. However, with Instagram topping over 300 million users this year, the hoops are definitely worth jumping through.

Let us know what your marketing goals are — If you have a vision of advertising on Instagram, we are definitely on board to make it a possibility.

Google Wallet: Smartphones Just Got Smarter

By | ecommerce, google, innovation, mobile apps | 2 Comments

Google Wallet is one of Google’s newest creations has recently gone public for all to try out. This is an amazing innovation in the world of shopping and in-person transactions. Basically Google Wallet is a payment platform, where you wave your NFC (Near Field Communication) enabled cell phone over an NFC card reader and the whole payment process is taken care of in one tap. This removes the need for credit cards and as Google likes to put it “Make[s] your phone your wallet”. This platform also includes shopping history, loyalty cards, offers and allows you to have multiple credit cards within your electronic wallet.

In an ideal world this would be quite a useful tool, and safer than actual credit cards but we don’t live in an ideal world. Here are a few downfalls that Google is working on improving:

  • As of right now there is only one cell phone enabled with the Google Wallet – The Nexus S 4G from Sprint. It was built with the NFC card installed and will be updated with Google Wallet already installed.
  • So far only two credit cards can be used. The first is Citi MasterCard, and the other is a Google Prepaid Credit Card. At least with the Google Prepaid Credit Card you are able to transfer money to the card and do not need to get a new credit card to use Google Wallet.
  • You are limited by the locations where you can use this payment platform. Not every store has an NFC card reader – you might be surprised by how many do – but many mom and pop stores still only accept cash.
  • Not many stores have signed up to give offers or promotions. The “Offers” section within Google Wallet is pretty bare.
  • The “History” section does not provide much information about past shopping location, store, or amount spent. Currently, only displaying the time past purchases.

Google assures they are open to new partnerships and these are just the first steps toward making it the next big thing. More cell phones are now being made with the NFC card. Stephanie Tilenius, Google’s VP of Commerce noted, ”50 percent of smartphones will have NFC built into them by 2014”. More credit cards and banks are signing onto join Google Wallet. With the movement toward these types of payment methods stores and registers will need to be updated and get the equipment to allow their customers to pay however method they choose. Most of these goals will not be realized for a few more years if they actually do catch on at all. Just remember that you heard about Google Wallet from us at Digital Operative first, always at the forefront of technology and commerce.

DO’s App Expertise featured on San Diego 6 News

By | agency life, apps, Digital Operative, interviews, mobile apps | No Comments

When we think about saving money or finding deals here at Digital Operative we go right for our favorite web and mobile apps. When San Diego 6 needed some experts on apps, they found DO and we were happy to welcome them to the office.

If the video embed code isn’t working below, visit this link.

10 Reasons The Android Is Taking Over The Mobile Marketplace

By | mobile apps | No Comments

  1. They are available on multiple carriers (iPhone will lose the battle based purely on availability unless they open up to other carriers)
  2. The amount on restrictions, or lack there of, on developing applications
  3. Competition – Multiple phones manufactures pushing each other to make the best Android phones
  4. Video – Superior video capturing capabilities as well as higher usage of video among owners than competitors
  5. The phone can be tethered right out of the box
  6. More Android owners are using apps than all other smart phone owners
  7. The Android web traffic is trending up (recently passing the iPhone) where as the other major smart phones are trending down or flat
  8. A third of all Blackberry owners would like to switch to an Android smart phone
  9. There are 65,000+ Android units being shipped per day which shows a steady and continuous growth in the shipment numbers
  10. When the iPhone came into the marketplace there the closest competition was the Blackberry, which was mainly a business tool at the time. The Android however is taking market share at a high rate despite the steep competition which includes not only the iPhone but the new Blackberries, Palm, and Windows Mobile devices

On mobile phones, “distance” isn’t really important

By | design, innovation, location-based, mobile apps, product design, user experience | No Comments

DO has been cooking up a location based mobile game over the last month or so, we’re still early on in development but I wanted to share an interesting conclusion I came to tonight while building one of the interfaces.

Our game requires the user to make a new ‘match’ and invite his or her friends to it. While the user will be able to do this from the web interface, we also want it to be possible to start up a new match on the go, right from the mobile device. Essentially a match consists of three things: a starting location, the radius of an area surrounding that location, and a title. The problem I ran into with creating an interface for this is that capturing all of that information can get clunky. Below is the initial layout I came up with based on discussions with the team (disclaimer, I am a programmer practicing design without a license, these would normally be cleaned up before going into production).

Initial Interface

Initial Interface

So I didn’t really like the interface here, but I kept rolling along with development anyways, it’s still early enough in the process that overlooking aesthetics is alright. However, as I continued about my merry way writing code to support the interface I just built, it slowly dawned on me that everything wasn’t as ‘alright’ as I thought it was. Problem one came up when I tried to actually convert the distance entered into the text field to an appropriately sized circle on the map. The map on the iPhone only allows you to specify dimension in terms of one metric: latitude and longitude differences. So I dusted off my trigonometry skills and started to write the code that converts from a distance in meters, to iPhone friendly units. I then realized this still hadn’t exactly solved my problem, as it turns out, users at different elevations can’t exact distances the same way when using latitude and longitude to measure them. So for instance, if I’m at the top of an office building, the distance covered between a single degree of latitude is not identical to the distance covered between that same degree at the bottom. Well, needless to say my head started to hurt a little bit here, and I went back and re-evaluated why I was in this situation.

Reworked Interface

Reworked Interface

The conclusion I came to was that distances in feet or meters really aren’t always appropriate metrics to be using for mobile map interfaces. Granted, if you’re getting directions it’s nice to know how far down the road you need to continue, but on the other hand, how often do you evaluate the distance as drawn by a line on the map, and how often do you evaluate distance by looking down the road and approximating ‘another 200 feet’? I would wager that the map will almost always provide more accurate context for distance than any hard number would. So taking that as granted, I reworked my interface (and the concept of what a ‘match’ consists of) completely without any units of distance.






Our new interface has a few benefits:

  • The user doesn’t have to worry about how far away three miles is, they just zoom in on the area they want their game to take place, the red circle remains the same size (relative to the screen) and they have chosen their game radius without having to enter it in a text field.
  • The issue of whether they are using kilometers or miles is completely a moot point
  • We’ve saved ourselves hours of development time, and the headache of ever having to convert or worry about distance
  • The interface is cleaner and simpler

I imagine that the same issue of converting distance for iPhone maps has occured countless times as more and more location based apps make their way into the app store, keep a look out for this: do you notice many of them bothering to note distances directly on the map?

Social Media to become more about Where I Am then Who I Am

By | digital marketing, facebook, google, location-based, mobile apps, mobile marketing | 3 Comments

When crafting a Social Media Strategy, we often think about the people and who were are trying to engage and activate. So you look at demographics, what tools, apps and websites they are using; you begin to build out these utopian profiles for the people you feel your message will resonate with.

So how is this going to change moving forward?

Let’s take a look at the some of the recent news in the area of “location-based services“:

  • Twitter turns geo-location on – read more
  • Facebook enabling its 400M users to share their location – read more
  • Google dilutes its efforts between Buzz and Lattitude – read more
  • Foursquare is testing its new business analytics dashboard – read more
  • Gowalla inks deal with Travel Channel – read more
  • SXSW becomes global battle dome for location-based Davids competing against the Goliaths – read more
  • Loopt in chats with Facebook and repositioning around check-in specials for consumers – read more
  • Plancast seals its future with funding – read more

So what does all this news mean?

Well you better be aware of what is out there because the social media strategy you spend 4-6 weeks crafting better include location-based marketing tactics, metrics and the ability to scale as these services continue to offer the end consumer more game-like features to keep them engaged and business owners a suite of tools to connect in real-time conversations both unobtrusively and geographically.

It’s not just Who Am I. It’s becoming Where Am I.

Zipcar // beep, beep over their iPhone app

By | mobile apps, mobile marketing, product design | No Comments

With the whole iPhone app craze going on, many brands are finding ways to not only add value to their current customers’ experience, but also provide a gateway for browsers. Zipcar is one of those brands that gets it.

With the introduction of their new iPhone application, Zipcar is enabling current and potential customers to:

  • Find Zipcar locations, Browse for cars and make your iPhone go beep, beep!

Members have the ability to:

  • Reserve and find cars available.
  • View, extend or cancel reservations.
  • Honk your Zipcar’s horn with your iPhone to find it in a crowd
  • Unlock and lock your Zipcar with your iPhone after scanning your Zipcard at the start of each reservation

Then I started thinking about what type of iPhone app features Zipcar could add for some of their customers. So for the absent-minded moms that leave their kids in the car when they need to run into the store real quick … I’ve invented an iPhone app feature that lets moms do the following:

  • A notification shoes up on screen that states: “Your child is crying”
  • Mom can toggle through an action carousel: “Play DVD”, “Play music”, “Start childseat vibrator”

Google Chrome OS, Wave and Voice – A digital revolution on the cloud

By | google, mobile apps | No Comments

Recently there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding a few services that Google is releasing in the coming year, but I’ve noticed something conspicuously absent from most articles about them: what they mean systemically for Google. I’ve got a few things that have been brewing in my mind about the implications of these services and what I think they will eventually come to mean to not just people on the cutting edge, but anyone who owns a cell phone or a computer. We’ll start with Chrome OS in order to provide a little context for the other two services: Wave and Voice.

Chrome: A cloud OS

Google Chrome Operating System

Google Chrome Operating System

Google has implicitly been a supporter of cloud computing since its inception, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you access pretty much everything they have to offer through a web browser. What I find extremely exciting about Chrome OS is the fact that it shows explicit support for the cloud as a viable computing platform. They are confident enough in this platform to release an operating system whose sole function is to access it. I’m not even concerned as to whether or not the OS itself is a success because Chrome itself isn’t going to be that groundbreaking, you can already achieve all of the same functionality that it will afford on any existing computer running Windows, OSX or Linux. What I am interested in, and eagerly awaiting, is the paradigm shift in application development that Chrome heralds. There are already a few services that have seen the light, and understand that applications running in a browser are the only real way to ensure maximum compatibility across platforms, whether its your computer, cell phone, xbox or iPod, a web application can be made to work on all of these devices simultaneously. So Chrome doesn’t hold any significance for me from the standpoint of Google entering the OS market, it holds significance for me because it lets me know that Google is ready to rock on the cloud.

Riding The Wave

So this leads us to our next topic: Google Wave. Wave is a pretty good example of how to leverage the cloud as a platform.  I won’t waste my breath detailing all of the features, it’s been reviewed ad nauseum by blog after blog, a quick search should turn up a ton of information about it.  Something I will note about the service is that it’s a truly digital form of communication, and a much needed change of pace from email, which essentially just emulates the age old process of sending a letter to someone.  Where this service gets interesting is in some of the features that it employs which we don’t traditionally associate with a web application, such as dragging and dropping files from your computer into the browser.  It starts to blur the lines between what we would consider a desktop application, and a web application.  And guess which browser is going to be the first to support such features? Google Chrome!

Voice, like GMail but for your phone calls

Google Voice is another example of an application running in the cloud, but it’s not quite as groundbreaking in its feature set, it really is just like gmail except instead of saving your emails, it saves your phone calls and text messages.  The interesting thing to note about this service that I haven’t seen very widely discussed, is that it positions Google pretty well to become a cell service provider.  There have been whispers of Google inserting audio ads before placing phone calls or listening to voice mails, but I think the patent filed by Google is being misinterpreted.   The entire purpose of voice is to add convinience to your phonecalls, not take it away by adding ads.  So then why is Google filing patents for voice ads?  I’m pretty certain it’s because they want to provide free, or largely discounted cell service and supplement the cost of doing so by interspersing ads throughout.

So what does all of this mean?

These three services provide a picture of a new direction Google is headed.  Their primary source of revenue is currently context specific advertising through their search and AdWords/AdSense products, but I think Google knows that they can’t own the search market forever, and they are starting to diversify.  We’re starting to see a shift from Google’s core focus being on search, and a broadening of their focus into service based advertising.  YouTube, Google Maps, Docs, Voice and Wave might not exactly be cash cows right now, but something they all have in common is that they are positioned for (or already enjoying) immensely wide exposure, and they all run on the cloud.  This means that each of these services provides a wide range of eager consumers for Google to push their advertisements to, and in virtually each case their services are provided for free.  In the case of Google Voice, AT&T has already seen the writing on the wall, leaning on Apple to deny the official Google Voice application from their App Store.  Google has always been an innovative company, but as they start to foray into new markets I think we’ll see a lot of kicking and screaming from their competition.  In any case, it’s an exciting time to be a web developer, here at Digital Operative we are already involved in the developer program for Google Wave, and several of us are in the beta release of Google Voice.  The web changes rapidly and taking a cue from Google, it’s never too early to innovate.

PhoneGap – Cross platform mobile development

By | mobile apps, user experience | 2 Comments

BJ sent me a link to PhoneGap yesterday and asked me to take a peek at it, here are my two cents on it.

PhoneGap as a whole is extremely impressive, but it’s probably more ambitious than functional at this point. The main selling point for the platform is that there is practically no barrier to entry for web developers. You develop applications on it using css, html and javascript, which is going to be a welcome alternative to objective-c / Java for most of us. Another immediate advantage to this is that it makes creating a seamless experience between a website and an iPhone app pretty easy, you can just copy the css from your website to keep the same look and feel. PhoneGap extends portions of the APIs for Android, iPhone and Blackberry devices and abstracts them into a javascript framework, the key here is that it abstracts them all into the same javascript framework, so your code will run on all three devices in more or less the same fashion.

All of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt though, there is still a lot of functionality you lose out on, the PhoneGap wiki has a nice chart that lets you see what you can accomplish so far. Needless to say, the lack of support for features like the camera or the local filesystem is a little disappointing. The other main gripe I have with the platform is that it kills the efficiency of your applications, I made up a little chart to give an idea of what is going on when you create a PhoneGap app, we’ll focus on the iPhone since it’s the best supported platform so far:

Basic structure of a PhoneGap application on the iPhone

Basic structure of a PhoneGap application on the iPhone

Normally when you write an iPhone application, your code executes directly on top of a “sandbox” area that is kind of like a sequestered portion of the operating system which the iPhone gives limited access to. It’s not a terribly efficient process to begin with, but it gets the job done. For PhoneGap applications, they run their framework in that sandbox, which in turn runs safari, and then safari’s javascript interpreter (webkit) which itself is a virtual platform, executes your code. The entire process decreases the efficiency of your application by quite a bit. Aside from efficiency, there is other baggage that comes with writing your applications on top of a javascript interpreter: you’re at its mercy. If at some point in the future there is an update to webkit which doesn’t jive with the code you have written, your entire application is hosed and you’ll need to release an update for it.

In any case, despite its shortcomings, PhoneGap is a promising platform for simple iPhone applications, the project is well documented due to an active and knowledgeable community, and that’s a good sign of it maturing as time goes on.

All Aboard! Big Retailers Launch iPhone Apps for Holidays

By | digital marketing, mobile apps, viral marketing | 3 Comments

Luckily we’re pretty tapped into the retail industry over at Digital Operative and we love watching to see what the giants are working on in the background with their big agencies. So today’s news comes from two well known brands: Target and Gap

Both brands are moving a bit of viral marketing and advertising in their apps to push products. So let’s take a look at each one and weigh in on what we think based off of the brief info and screenshots.


Everyone loves snowglobes and if you go on eBay it’s a popular item this holiday season. What if you could shake your iPhone, be presented with a product recommendation and then either buy it or forward it to a friend? Sounds good right? Maybe.

What’s cool?

  • Snow globed Products
  • The actual shaking action to switch products
  • The randomness or potential mystery behind what will it recommend next?

What could make the Target iPhone app totally chilled?

  • Integration into online wishlisting app
  • Rating the recommendations provided for better compatibility
  • Random deals, coupons, codes presented as you shake snow globe

More info on the Target iPhone app here.


Imagine all your favorite Christmas carols remixed by popular artists and being able to play dress-up on your mobile phone and then buy the items you’re mixing. Enter the Gap “Merry Mix It” iPhone app. It features six music videos which are reproduced carols like “Jingle Bells” performed by Flo Rida and Trey Songz and models that you can dress up and buy items, utilizing the GPS feature.

What’s cool?

  • Viral Marketing – Tapping pop culture and celebs to spread the word
  • Options – Cool content + Interactive
  • GPS Integration

What could make the Gap iPhone app totally chilled?

  • Again, wishlist app integration
  • Upload your own model
  • Content syndication – output Mix Ups to Facebook, Myspace, etc.

More info on the GAP iPhone app here.


Overall it’s great to see the big retailers leveraging the iPhone community to promote their products, but beware the line of advertising for advertising sake. I’d like to see these iPhone applications more integrated into an already existing culture of social networking, profiles and social media.

More integration = better engagement = customer satisfaction

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