There’s a New Watch in Town – But Nothing’s Changed

September 9, 2014

It finally happened. For those of us who keep an eye on new tech, the Apple Watch has been a long time coming (rumors have been around for almost two years). Geeks – and what seems like the entire world now – are ogling over new styles, specs, and news for Apple’s watch.

But for us, nothing’s changed.

Yes, we’re excited that we’ll soon be able to develop apps for companies that can use the new tech, just like we develop apps for phones and tablets now. And yes, we’re excited to see what other people do to push the new technology forward.

But we don’t look at pieces of technology first when we’re developing solutions for a company. We talk about the goals and desired outcomes of a project with every client, and we build what we agree will work best to reach them.

Mobile solutions are a great pre-watch example. We’ve had a number of companies come to us asking to have an app in the iOS App Store and Google Play. Yes, we can develop those apps – but they’re not always the best solution for a company. Maybe a mobile website works better based on their audience, goals, and budget. We want to build something that will be successful, not just trendy. (Wondering about the differences between a native app and a mobile-friendly website? We have you covered.)

You bet we’ll be developing apps for the Apple Watch soon. But ask yourself: what’s right for your needs? That’s what we’ve been helping companies decide for over a decade.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

The 2014 American Folk Festival App

August 19, 2014

2014 AFF app home screenWe love the end of August here at Sephone. For a weekend each year, the Bangor waterfront transforms into a musical space full of cultures and sounds from across America and the world – and we’re fortunate to bring information about it to Festival-goers through the official website at americanfolkfestival.com and through the Festival’s mobile app.

The app is a great indicator of how the world’s turned to mobile more and more each year. Last year, we saw a 75% increase in the number of people downloading the app compared to 2012 – and the numbers are still growing. We love having an app, too, because it allows people to have the information they need quickly and easily.

In addition to favorite features from years past (including the ability to build your own schedule, push notifications to alert you of upcoming performances, information on who’s currently performing and who’s scheduled to perform, and up-to-the-minute schedule changes), we’ve added a new vendors section with information about all the amazing food and craft vendors throughout the Festival. And if you want to support the Festival but don’t want to miss any of the music and don’t see a member of the Bucket Brigade nearby, you can now donate online, right from the app.

Make sure you have the latest version of the app before you head to the waterfront! Go into the App Store app on  your iOS device and click on the Updates tab, or go into the My Apps area of the Play Store on Android. Updating only takes a couple of minutes!

Don’t forget to share photos from the Festival from the app, and tweet to your heart’s content about what you see using the #AFFBangor hashtag! See you on the waterfront.

By the way, we made a two-minute video talking about the site, the app, and how the Festival has changed over the years. We hope you like it!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

App Permissions: What Can and Can’t Apps Do?

August 6, 2014

One of the aspects of mobile apps that make them great is that they have the ability to use some of your phone’s native features like its camera and its contact list. Our American Folk Festival app, for instance, allows users to take photos that can be submitted to the Festival for use in a Facebook album. If you have a gaming app, you may want the app to access your contacts to see if anyone else you know is willing to take part in a head-to-head matchup.

Lock on a doorRecently there’s been some controversy surrounding Facebook’s push of its Messenger app for chatting with friends. Some users have noticed that it asks to do a lot – record audio, take photos, and more – and some posts go so far as to say that it might record ambient audio or take random photos without your permission.

This is a good time to take a look at app permissions. Each app has its own set of actions it wants to take with your phone, like the examples above. App developers use these permissions to allow their app to access parts of your phone’s operating system (for example, iOS or Android). And despite what you may read, you have control over what your phone’s apps can access.

iOS

iOS 7 lays out a few categories for feature access, including photos, microphone, and geolocation. When an app first requests access to one of these areas, you’ll see a prompt asking whether you’d like to allow access. If you do, you can turn access off later (or see a list of apps that use that permission) by going into the Settings app, tapping Privacy, and then looking at the permission you’d like to control. If you don’t want the Messenger app to access your microphone, for instance, go into the Microphone area and toggle the line for the Messenger app.

Android

When you first install an Android app, you’ll see a list of permissions it requests. It’s important to note that if you have auto-updating turned on, updates to the app may add related permissions without asking you first, but you’ll still be prompted about any major permission changes before the update occurs. At this time there doesn’t seem to be a convenient way to control apps on a per-permission basis like there is in iOS, though this feature is hidden in some of the latest versions of Android and may be made public at some point.

It’s also worth noting that once you allow access to a permission for an app, whether it’s on install in Android or after a prompt in iOS, the app can use it in some cases without your knowledge – so there is some level of trust needed. As with all software, be careful of its source!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

iOS 8 from a Business Perspective

June 3, 2014

iOS 8We watch a lot of product launches here at Sephone. It’s part of the life of a tech worker; it’s great to know what will be coming in the future. Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is one of the most interesting for us, because often the announcements made there let us know what new things we’ll be able to do on the iOS side of mobile development when the next operating system is released.

It’s always tough to guess what exactly will catch on and gain mainstream usage. After the launch of the iPhone 5 a couple of years ago, we wrote about new features like Passbook and Smart App Banners and how could change how people used mobile sites and apps. Sometimes these features rise to popularity; sometimes they don’t. Whether or not they do, we love to know what’s out there – a little-used feature could be a perfect solution for a specific app or company.

Here’s a look at a couple of the announcements that caught our eyes during the preview of iOS 8 yesterday.

Extensibility

Extensibility is a fancy developer word for saying “letting developers build onto iOS 8 itself”. One of the ways to extend iOS is to build in ways to let apps talk to each other and extend what you can do in apps like Safari and Mail. During the presentation Apple showed that iOS 8 will allow Safari users to translate a web page’s content with a service like Bing or allow sharing on sites like Pinterest.

It will be really interesting to see how apps and companies use this kind of extensibility within iOS. Which sites would you like to share to from apps like Safari, or what services would you like to see available when you’re viewing a site?

HealthKit and the Health app

Health is becoming a huge area of focus for development, between fitness tracking apps, sleep analytics devices, and even blood pressure or glucose monitoring and tracking. Apple’s new HealthKit platform will let developers use a standardized platform for this kind of information in a way that keeps that data secure. The new Health app will be a dashboard showing graphs and statistics about a person’s health history. There’s a lot of possibility for innovation in this space.

iOS 8 will be released in the fall, and it will likely be adopted quickly by many of today’s current iOS users. It’s another step forward in the long road of new possibilities in iOS and Android development.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

A Short History of Canoe Race Spectating

April 16, 2014

Spectators at the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe RaceThe 48th annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race happens this weekend in Bangor. It’s a lot of fun for the hundreds of canoeists and kayakers who actually brave the fast, cold water, but it’s probably just as fun for the people who line the banks of the stream to watch the participants as they pass – and maybe hoping for an occasional (or not-so-occasional) tip of a boat as the racers move over the rapids.

I’ve been going to the races as a spectator for quite a while, and it’s been a lot of fun to see how the art of canoe race spectating has evolved over the years. And as it has in so many areas of our lives, technology has been a big part of the changes.

Photography

As cameras have gotten more and more advanced (and less and less expensive), it seems like they show up in more places than ever. There’s always been a crowd of people standing on the stream’s banks, but it seems like more and more of them bring cameras along with them. Taking photos of the race is tough but fun, and luckily even high-quality cameras are relatively affordable now.

Social media

It’s been great watching as more people share photos and videos of the race from interesting perspectives in recent years, and it’s amazing to think that even just a few years ago, it was difficult to share information from the stream. These days, people can tweet or share media or thoughts as they happen on Facebook and Twitter, and it lets people who weren’t able to head down to the Kenduskeag take part in the race vicariously.

It will be interesting to see how spectating continues to evolve. It’s amazing to think that things like a video livestream from the banks is possible (and pretty easy to do with the right apps) now; when I first went to the race, that wouldn’t have been an option! Maybe in the future technologies like GPS or advanced photo sharing will allow people watching the race to be more immersed in what’s happening along the 16-mile route. As usual with technology, it’s tough to predict until it actually happens!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

The Web: More Than .com

March 17, 2014

sephone-bar

When you hear about domain names – facebook.com, ebay.com, sephone.com – most of the focus is usually on the part before the dot. But what do those few letters at the end of the domain mean?

The right-most portion of a domain name is called a TLD, or top-level domain. It is, in short, a category for domains. You’re probably used to hearing about a lot of domains that end in “.com”, a shortened version of “commercial”. But names on the web go far, far beyond that!

In the beginning… .com, .net, .org

The first batch of top-level domains were created in early 1985: .com, .net (for networks), .org (originally for non-profit organizations), .edu (for educational institutions), .gov (for government), and .mil (for military). Some top-level domains (including .edu, .gov, and .mil) are limited, and they can only be reserved with certain qualifications. The other three big TLDs are now unrestricted.

Country codes

But what about the other top-level domains? In many cases, domains in use may be assigned to a certain country. Here are some of the common country code TLDs you may see on the sites you visit:

  • .uk: United Kingdom
  • .fr: France
  • .de: Germany (Deutschland)
  • .cn: China
  • .in: India
  • .ie: Ireland

Individual countries have different policies about how people can use their domains. Some require registrants to be a citizen. Other countries leave registration pretty open, which allows domain owners to be a bit creative with their names (for example, the original del.icio.us used the United States’s .us domain, and bit.ly uses Libya’s .ly).

The new frontier

As the use of domain names has grown, people continue to look for new ways to create easy-to-remember homes online. Much like the addition of new toll-free prefixes in addition to the original 800 numbers, new domains are added periodically as well (for example, .ws and .info).

In 2014 companies will be adding thousands of new options for top-level specialty domains – everything from .photos to .coffee to .community.

If you’d like to talk about the best choices for your business’s domain name, or if you’d like to register additional names for your company, we’d be happy to discuss your options!

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Comcast, Netflix, and Net Neutrality

February 24, 2014

SnailAn agreement with huge implications for how the Internet works happened over the weekend – and most people will probably never hear about it.

Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast in order to ensure its users don’t see annoying those “buffering” messages while they’re trying to watch their favorite movies and TV shows. In other words, Netflix is paying for a premium level of service on the Comcast network.

Since the beginning of online access, the general rule has been that information is information; it doesn’t matter what it is. You might be watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, looking at a photo of your grandkid, or reading a news article – all data’s treated the same way.

The Netflix deal starts the web down a different road: a road on which certain content is treated differently.

The Netflix traffic jam

Netflix usage is insane; it takes up just under a third of the downstream traffic in America. One way to look at the Netflix/Comcast deal is to say that Netflix is paying to compensate for that huge share, and it might be fair that since the company uses a large portion of resources, it should pay a premium for that amount of access.

A possible future

On the other hand, this deal raises questions about net neutrality: the practice of treating all online content the same. In short, with net neutrality in place, a customer pays for a certain level of service and can do whatever they (legally) want to do with it.

An absence of net neutrality may mean that Internet service is treated similarly to cable: different rates for different kinds of content. Internet providers could theoretically charge an additional fee for access to some sites. (There’s a great concept chart by Redditor quink that shows this well.) Taken to an even more extreme level, a service provider with, for example, their own news portal could either reduce or block service to competitors. It could also put smaller, more innovative new companies at a disadvantage if they didn’t have the resources to pay for deals with Internet providers.

The FCC is currently looking at new ways to ensure net neutrality, especially while the industry continues to consolidate.

Is the Netflix/Comcast deal a case of one company paying their share for access, or is it the beginning of the end for net neutrality? It’s tough to say. In any case the debate about net neutrality is sure to be one of the core discussions in the coming years.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

Facebook’s Paper and Early Adopters

February 4, 2014

Facebook's Paper appOn the eve of Facebook’s tenth anniversary, the world’s largest social network launched a new app: Paper. Most media reports have tagged it as a news reading app (like Flipboard), and the reactions run the gamut from huge praise to harsh criticism. I tend to think that’s what Facebook expected, for one simple reason: Paper is how Facebook would look on mobile devices if they were starting over. It’s the rebirth of Facebook for early adopters.

One of the toughest challenges web application developers face is how to keep current users happy while improving your product to change with the times. As a user you usually only see one side of it – and Facebook has seen its share of backlash when they try to change even the tiniest thing about the site. (Good luck getting through all the “change Facebook back!” posts in your News Feed when one of these changes happens.) Why change the site at all, then? If you don’t, a site goes stale. How many of these homepages can you remember from the last ten years, and would you really want to spend all your Facebook time looking at those first few?

Users of any technology can be grouped into a few categories using the technology adoption lifecycle, something that dates back all the way to 1957. (If you’re interested in sociological research – and I mean, who isn’t? – the original report is online as a PDF.) The people who are more willing to experiment and play are usually the first to try a new technology, and they’re called “innovators” and “early adopters”. As a technology spreads it gains the loyalty of even people who are more reluctant to change.

What would happen if Facebook didn’t have to worry about the reaction of its current users and appealed to those early adopters who love the cutting-edge? What if there were no “change Facebook back!” campaigns?

That’s Paper.

Paper uses some really innovative ways of interacting with an app, and it brings the design of the News Feed into current times where media like photos and videos rule and design is based more on the content you’re showing than what device you’re using to show your content.

Paper’s not a news reading app. It’s Facebook’s new vision for the News Feed, and they’re letting you choose if you want to come along for the ride.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.