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Higby, a set of friendly interventions for those technological pocket distractions

To help you make real connections with those closest to you during the Christmas period, and other times of course, Higby blocks your headphones so you can tune into real life. His heart covers your camera’s eye, so you can see through your own two eyes. And Higby’s arms hug your phone and your friend’s phone together so there aren’t any screen distractions when you’re spending time together.

Higby is an experiment in using design and technology to make delightful, useful, and valuable new things possible for people.



Fun Virtual Museum Field Trip Apps for Kids

There are more than 900,000 apps and counting, raking in more than $25 billion annually, news.com.au reports. The upside to a market stuffed with apps is that there are plenty of educational ways to keep kids entertained. But the downside is, with nearly a million apps to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start.

Launch your app search for the kids with virtual field trips in mind. Here is a round-up of some of the world’s best museums and the apps that take your kids on an exploration without leaving behind their gadgets.

Majestic Building of the Guggenheim

When the Guggenheim Museum opened its doors in New York City in 1959, admission cost just $0.50. Now you can see it for free with its museum app. According to Guggenheim.org, you can check out the Guggenheim app for a look at the building’s architecture, and access collection guides.

If your kids are studying foreign languages, choose the collection guides in French, German, Italian, or Spanish. You can learn about more than 1,300 works at the museum with the help of audio and video.

Dinosaurs of the American Museum of Natural History

Explore the American Museum of Natural History with its impressive Explorer app. The part-custom navigation system, part-tour guide, shows kids everything from the museum hallways, to a virtual look at the dinosaur age. Explorer, found at AMNH.org, has plenty of Museum-designed tours, but if your kids are particularly interested in fossils or space, they can design their own tour right on the app.

Artists Speaking on Getty Museum App

Download the Getty Museum app to explore art exhibition galleries with more than 40 audio commentaries. If your kids learn better with audio than images, Getty offers interviews with artists speaking about their own work. Kids can also check out works of art, photographs and archival materials.

The Getty Museum’s Los Angeles location also makes an appearance, where kids can learn about the city’s contribution to the art scene, according to Getty.edu.

Early Guitar Heroes: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Moms with music lovers in the house should check out the Met’s multimedia Guitar Hero app. As outlined on MetMuseum.org’s blog, its clever name gives a nod to the museum’s special exhibition named Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York.

Take your kids to a guitar shop before poring through the app. Guitar Heroes teaches users a lesson on guitar makers, the creative process and the inner workings of many recordings, as the Apple store notes.

Free Museum Admission Via Google Field Trip

Don’t forget to download the Google Field Trip app, now that you have the scoop on museum apps. Get out of the house, and launch Google Field Trip for an interactive lesson that follows you through your day. As Mashable reports, the app can tell you about the history of a nearby statue or old warehouse facade.

Google Field Trip also provides a map view, recommendations on places to see, and categories such as Outdoor Art to narrow down the choices. But perhaps best of all, Google Field Trip offers free admission to more than 20 museums. Just walk near the attraction, and a free pass appears to museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

There are thousands of free museum apps on the market, so start exploring based on your kids’ interests. Then, load up Google Field Trip on your Samsung Galaxy at T-Mobile, or similar mobile rig, and and start your journey.


The Daily Special: 4 Essential Apps for the Creative Cook

On average, Americans cook just 30 minutes a day, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. That’s the lowest average found in a study covering 34 different countries. The implication is that better opportunities do not necessarily increase the quality of living among a group of people. Fast food, prepackaged meals and other conveniences may free up time in our daily lives, but they also affect our physical health. Cooking is a healthy lifestyle choice, and a wide range of mobile apps aim to make cooking more accessible and fun. If you’re looking to bolster your chef skills or simply get more direction in your culinary efforts, consider adding these four apps to your toolbox.

Learn to cook healthy recipes like this brie, blueberry and almond salad with these four great smartphone apps. Image by AmazingAlmonds via Flickr.

1. Epicurious

For discovering new recipes and working with specific ingredients, Epicurious is a great resource. This app collects recipes from a wide range of culinary resources to provide users with a massive body of options. Searches can be done according to the type of meal you’re trying to make or the foods you want to include. Ratings and reviews also provide additional information on these professional recipes, so your first attempt can be a stunner. And if you really love the app, you can sync it with other apps on your BlackBerry 10, including your recipe box and grocery lists, all through one convenient portal.

2. Food Network

The Food Network app lets you carry around professional chefs and their instructional guides wherever you go. In addition to the text-based recipes, you can watch videos that walk you through the cooking process and even learn additional tips, tricks and techniques that will sharpen your culinary skills. This is a great supplement to your favorite Food Network shows, since you can recall past recipes and segments and consult them during your meal preparation. Other features include meal planners, interactive planners and shopping lists.

3. Happy Cooking

If you’re looking for a culinary guide offering an international flair, Happy Cooking may be it. In addition to recipes from around the world, this app connects the foods being prepared with the native cultures that invented these foods. Users can create their own dish diaries, which are comprehensive recipes complete with cooking methods and step-by-step photos. In addition to searching by region, recipes can be discovered by searching for ingredients, dish types and whether or not you’re looking for a health-minded meal. Happy Cooking is a great way to explore the world from the comfort of your own kitchen.

4. OurGroceries

Want to get the family involved in the kitchen? Get them started by contributing to the grocery list. The big problem with most grocery apps is they only allow one user to edit the list. OurGroceries takes a more collectivist approach, allowing multiple family members to access and edit your growing shopping list. This can be a great stepping-stone to encouraging other family members to take charge making a meal on a set night every week. But even if one party still manages most of the cooking in the home, OurGroceries will make that process much more collaborative and social.


Why a New Golden Age for UI Design Is Around the Corner

Is the future of UI design an integrated experience, a smooth hybrid of real-world and digital interactions?

Over the past 30 years, as every facet of our lives, from our shopping to our schooling, has migrated onto computer screens, designers have focused on perfecting user interfaces—placing a button in just the right place for a camera trigger or collapsing the entire payment process into a series of swipes and taps. But in the coming era of ubiquitous sensors and miniaturized mobile computing, our digital interactions won’t take place simply on screens. As the new Disney World suggests, they will happen all around us, constantly, as we go about our day. Designers will be creating not products or interfaces but experiences, a million invisible transactions.

Read more at Wired.


Texting Your Feelings, Symbol by Symbol

emoji

To many of us, even those of us who have lived in a country heavily influenced by Japanese culture, Emoji – a colorful symbol alphabet that contains nearly a thousand images of cute animals, food items and expressive smiley faces can sometimes convey what words cannot – are a confusing mess of overly cute meaning that can often lead to miscommunication.

“In Japan, there was a similar, interesting moment when you started to see older folks and men start using these kind of cute aspects — these emoji — that originally came from middle-school girl, mobile-phone culture,” said Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how young people use digital media in Asia and the United States. “Now, as emoji are seeing more adoption in the U.S., you’re seeing a form of communication being used that was clearly developed and marketed to a different demographic.”

Emoji date back to 1995, when people used pagers instead of smartphones and NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s biggest cellular phone operator, added a small heart icon to its pagers. The heart spread rapidly among Japanese teenagers because it allowed them to express an emotion that was almost impossible to portray in small snippets of text.

“We discovered that in the Asian culture, the expression on an emoji face isn’t necessarily what conveys emotion. It’s the context of where that face is located,” Mr. Marra said.

In Asian cultures, an emoji face in dark clouds would show that someone is sad and having a bad day. A face on a beach with the sun glaring means they are happy. In the United States, the emotion on the face tells the story, not the surroundings. Also, “stars for eyes could mean something completely different in Asia than using dots for eyes,” he said.

From Bits.


Haptix: Multitouch Reinvented

Haptix promises to transform any flat surface into a 3D multitouch surface to control your computer, TV, or any other screen. One out of many potential uses is when you’re cooking, and you don’t want to touch your tablet since your hands are dirty. With Haptix you could use your table to scroll through recipes instead. Interesting potential device.



Before internet connectivity poured from the sky, I was able to get on a train, plug in my Mac and have nothing to do for four hours but write. And so I wrote. I once bought a round trip ticket to nowhere just to eliminate every possible alternative… pure, unadulterated mental bandwidth.
Seth Godin


Will banning drivers from using cellphones reduce distraction?

Talking on cellphone while driving

Photo by philcampbell


A new law in Illinois has widespread support but it may not reduce crashes. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The role of cellphones in distracted driving remains as unclear as wireless phone signals in the hills and hollers. Some research suggests holding a cellphone to the ear creates the same level of distraction as using hands-free technology. Or that both versions have the same distraction level as being drunk. Or that crash rates remain the same with or without drivers using cellphones. Or that crashes decline in densely populated areas after handhelds are banned.

“We don’t really know the full answer” to the uncertainty over cellphones’ impact on driver distraction, said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, IIHS. “There is some conflicting evidence.”

The crucial point, Rader suggested, is that cellphones are only one distraction for drivers, who have their attention diverted by spilling or sipping coffee, gobbling a sandwich, fiddling with the radio, or daydreaming, among other activities. It’s been that way for decades, Rader and others note.

I prefer broad based driver education over enforcement; there are plenty of distractions while driving that lead to accidents. Lack of sleep and a particularly gripping podcast are my biggest weaknesses.

Hands-free cellphones for drivers may not be attention-getter


Wool Tote Bag

wool tote bag

This durable every day tote bag is made with material found at a designer fabric sale from Belgium designer Dries Van Noten. The maker professes the wool felt, is amazing, with dark and lighter grey colour, and wonderful quality. Also includes a waxed canvas bottom , fully lined with a blue fabric, beautiful soft leather straps and double inside pocket.



Smartphone Sales Have Overtaken Feature Phone Sales for First Time

Worldwide smartphone sales to end users reached 225 million units, up 46.5 percent from the second quarter of 2012. Sales of feature phones to end users totaled 210 million units and declined 21 percent year-over-year.

“Smartphones accounted for 51.8 percent of mobile phone sales in the second quarter of 2013, resulting in smartphone sales surpassing feature phone sales for the first time,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner. Asia/Pacific, Latin America and Eastern Europe exhibited the highest smartphone growth rates of 74.1 percent, 55.7 percent and 31.6 percent respectively, as smartphone sales grew in all regions.

Samsung maintained the No. 1 position in the global smartphone market, as its share of smartphone sales reached 31.7 percent, up from 29.7 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Apple’s smartphone sales reached 32 million units in the second quarter of 2013, up 10.2 percent from a year ago.

Whether many of the phones shipped could be truly classified as smartphones is debatable.

Via cellular-news.


Can mobile technology cut poverty in rural China?

Mongolian mobile phone user

Photo by The Reboot


There is a need to explore ways to use innovative technology to leapfrog traditional barriers to bringing formal financial services to China’s large under-banked population. Despite the huge strides made in China to socially and economically include citizens and lift them out of poverty, roughly 36 percent of China’s population remains underserved by formal financial institutions, according to a 2011 World Bank study.

A primary reason that people – in China and worldwide – remain financially underserved is because it’s difficult for financial institutions to provide services such as bank branches in a business-sustainable way to remote and rural villages and towns.

Such populations miss out on the benefits of basic financial services, such as the ability to save and protect their money, use payment services and acquire credit and insurance. They also miss out on the security, reliability and convenience of electronic payments, such as credit, debit and prepaid cards that are linked to bank accounts.

They are left to conduct their day-to-day activities in cash.

But the advent of mobile technology has enabled new branchless banking solutions that can provide affordable services to the unbanked (economists call this “financial inclusion”) in areas traditional financial services have yet to penetrate.

As mobile use continues to rise, branchless banking solutions that use mobile money have emerged as a way to extend secure, convenient and affordable financial services to people outside the traditional banking system.

From the China Daily.


Vine Vs. Instagram Video: Understanding the Competition

According to some users and experts, comparing Instagram’s new integrated video app to Twitter’s Vine app is like comparing apples and oranges. While this may be true, it’s also clear that Vine and Instagram Video do share some similarities and will therefore compete with each other to some extent. Some are predicting that Instagram Video, which is available for Android and iOS but not currently available on the Blackberry 10, will cut directly into and greatly shrink Vine’s market share. However, others believe there is room for both apps to be successful and grow since they have some key differences that may appeal to particular niches.

Longer Videos, No Looping

The key difference with the new Instagram app and Vine is that instead of shooting 6 seconds of footage that continuously loops after uploading like Vine does, Instagram videos take 15 seconds of footage and will not play on a continuous loop. While this doesn’t give you the GIF-like appeal that Vine does, it is less invasive since you will have time to stop a video before it plays unexpectedly. Tim Worstall of Forbes.com and others think this is one of the key features that could give Instagram Video an edge over Vine. Additionally, 15 seconds of video allows for more creativity in the video, and is also the perfect amount of time for advertisements.

Photo of Vine logo by lookingforgoodpics via Flickr

What Else Is Different?

While both video apps allow you to string multiple clips together, Instagram Video also allows you to delete the previous portion of the video in case you don’t like it or simply messed up. Vine currently doesn’t have this feature. Also, unlike Vine, Instagram has video-filtering and image-stabilization capabilities. Both of these features make for better video quality. And while both apps allow you to share videos to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram adds the ability to share to Tumblr, Flickr, foursquare and email as well. Of course, if the ability to loop and embed videos appeals to you, this is something that Vine provides that Instagram doesn’t. Vine is also a bit more convenient since it’s a stand-alone app whereas Instagram video is part of the Instagram app, which means that Vine requires fewer clicks to make a video.

What’s the Same?

Obviously, both apps make short videos and therefore occupy a similar market. In addition to this, both Instagram and Vine have a front-facing camera as well as save to camera roll, geotagging, automatic sound and autoplay features. Within some of these similarities there are also minor differences. For instance, Vine plays autoplay videos a little faster than Instagram does. But all in all, these features are pretty comparable.

And the Winner Is…

It’s too early to tell, but perhaps both apps will remain relevant. It’s not as if the user has to decide which app to use and completely abandon the other, and both are distinct enough to possibly serve different groups within the video-making app world. While Vine built it’s following from the ground up, Instagram already has a user base of 130 million plus. This built-in market is really something that could give them an edge as the competition plays out.