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Will your car be the next big tech battleground?

Volvo Apple CarPlayWhy can’t you simply plug your smartphone into your car and have it become the brain, taking over your audio entertainment and navigation? Why do even high-end cars treat a smartphone as an accessory rather than the main feature?

A few years ago, I was on vacation looking for an In-N-Out Burger in LA and instead my GPS delivered me into somebody’s front yard in a suburban neighborhood. At that point I began to believe there must be better GPS alternatives. The better way for me has been the crowd-sourced app Waze.

Waze has been my driving savior. It gives me the same type of directions I would get from a human, has helped me pick less congested routes, and even find better local routes that I never knew existed. The only downside has been the tangle of wires on my dashboard, and the limited size of a smartphone’s screen.

So the obvious question that came to me was: Why couldn’t I just plug my smartphone into the electronics of my car and have the better GPS on my phone mirrored on the nice screen embedded in my dashboard? Why isn’t it better integrated?

The same goes for music. My iPhone is the source of all my music and playlists. If I could use the car touchscreen to control the phone and all the music streaming services, I wouldn’t need anything else.

So, it turns out you can now do everything I wanted to do.

I got my chance to explore the available options when I was given a vintage Volvo in near perfect condition. The car is fine for a daily drive to the train station and to use locally. However, If I was going to drive it much, I needed to give the sound system a brain transplant, and certainly my sons would not use the car at all unless it had a more modern setup.

I wanted to be able to throw Waze on the car’s screen and play my iPhone’s music easily. I essentially want to use the car as a monitor for what is displayed on my smart phone, whether it is Waze, Google Maps, or the music I want to play.

I stay on top of digital trends and technologies for a living, but I was very much in the dark about the aftermarket options to integrate a smartphone into your car. When I started investigating the options it opened my eyes to a whole new world.

It turns out 2015 is the big year for the rollout of Apple Carplay. In Apple’s words: Carplay takes the things you want to do with your iPhone while driving and puts them right on your car’s built in display. You can get directions, make calls, send and receive messages, and listen to audiobooks and music, all in a way that allows you to stay focused on the road. It’s pretty much a perfect solution for me. However, since Google owns Waze, it’s likely Waze won’t be an app included in Carplay. Android Auto brings similar technology integration for Android phones. Reports are that it’s good, but there are so many phone and OS combinations it’s less clear it will work for you.

Pioneer has been innovative in the field and has created another standard called AppRadio that lets enabled apps work with the car head unit. Waze is on that list, along with some other notables, such as Glympse.

So I did it. After a lot of research on the options, I got myself a Pioneer AVH-4100NEX and Best Buy did a seamless job of installing it. Plus, as a bonus, I added a rear camera which I really can’t live without anymore.

Volvo Apple MapsNow my car stereo is worth more than the car. But, it works very well. I find myself driving with Carplay on most of the time. It works without a hitch and I’m becoming a big fan of Apple Maps because you can send a map or directions from the desktop app to the iPhone/car and it’s only a button press away. My new car stereo setup is now the best of all my cars.

So, why hasn’t this technology come sooner? Because of the long lead time car manufacturers work with, they will never keep up with the pace of smartphone innovation. If you lease a car you’re flipping it every 3 years or so, and if you buy a car you’re likely holding onto it for 6 years of more. So, that’s a comparatively long time between new cars for a consumer.

That is an eternity in the world of tech.

There’s a big opportunity for the aftermarket sector for swapping out these stereo units now that the technology is available, particularly for older cars. Pioneer and Alpine are aggressively pursuing this. It’s not just teenagers and tuners upgrading their tech.

Why doesn’t the auto industry make these head units easily upgradable so they don’t lose business? GPSs have been common for 10 years and few manufacturers have made their units upgradable or easily replaceable. Now, they are slowly incorporating Carplay and Android Auto into their models, partially conceding the battle to the smartphones, but staying in the game. And don’t even get me started on the UX of their units. (Here’s a nice article on the state of in-car UX.)

Once a smartphone is thoroughly integrated into a car all sorts of options open up. Wouldn’t proximity messaging be useful to you when you’re low on gas and your favorite stations are just ahead? How about easily meeting midways with your friends, guided by your GPS? Perhaps a reminder that your Groupon expires in a few days, the restaurant is nearby, and your calendar shows you’re open for dinner would be useful?

Connecting smartphones with cars could easily create a new tech battlefield as devices become more and more connected and smartphones become the controller and hub.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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Five Observations Five Weeks In Using the Apple Watch

Rather than jumping on my first impressions of the Apple Watch, I figured that I would give it a few solid weeks of use to see how I felt about it. So, here are my highlights:

1) Notifications Shine: For those of us who are too lazy or too slow to actually dig our phones out of our pockets, notifications are a huge convenience. For instance, you can quickly scan and respond to texts. Flight alerts display gate changes. Breaking news gets through. The main challenge is managing your notification settings to keep your watch alerts to just the essentials you personally need, otherwise it’s a complete blizzard of interruptions.

2) Calendar Kills It: Calendar notifications display 15 minutes before my meetings with details such as meeting room locations. This is terrific, and so I’m setting reminders on all my meetings now. I find meeting reminders annoying on my phone, but useful on my watch.

Apple Watch Old and New3) Music is Magic: One of the main reasons I wore an iPod Nano on my wrist for 4 years was to easily listen to music on my train commute. The ?Watch raises this to another level. Essentially functioning as a remote control for the music on your phone, the watch provides a very frictionless experience. You can make selections for song, artist, playlist, etc. right on your wrist as well as adjust volume and skip tracks. For search, you use Siri. Using Shazam from your watch is also easy and the mic on the watch produces good results.

4) Small Apps Succeed: This is the most interesting aspect of the watch. Rather than building complex interactions unsuitable for such a small screen, some leading apps have already cracked the code for simple and purposeful interactions. Not surprisingly, Apple apps excel at this. Take Maps, for instance. After a proper beating for its buggy roll-out, Maps has improved and is now a solid app. However, I rarely use it because I’m so connected into the Google ecosystem. Now I’m using it frequently because Maps broadcasts to the watch your next instructions. I frequently wander through the streets of Manhattan looking for some obscure restaurant address. Using Maps I get a gentle tap on my wrist alerting me to the next turn. It’s specific and sparse and just what I need. (These apps could be a Trojan horse for using Apple software since they work so seamlessly with the watch.)

Similarly, MobileDay is an app that automatically dials you into a conference call with all your credentials through just one touch on the watch. I can also use Wunderlist while shopping in the grocery store – it shows my shopping list right on my wrist and I can check off items as I buy them. That’s a first world problem for sure, but it beats dropping my phone into the cart. More and more apps are coming out with these useful and lightweight interactions.

5) Siri Doesn’t Suck: I’ve never been a huge Siri fan. She seems to not be there when I need her most, and I must have friends with unpronounceable names since she often can’t find them. The watch is like Siri 2.0 – she actually works. There is a mic and speaker built into the phone which is surprisingly good, even for a Dick Tracy-style phone call. This makes Siri very useful on the watch. As I mentioned before, it’s the best way to search for and play music. You can also set a timer, dial a phone number, find an address, etc. using her. Whatever upgrade has been done, Siri is now a useful tool. In fact, if the watch is awake you can just say “hey Siri” to start her up.

The Apple Watch easily and immediately became a part of how I go about my day. It’s not going to be for everyone, but as a combination notification center and remote control for my iPhone it has some strong advantages. The watch phone companion app feels like a generation-one piece of software, but I’ve had no real issues. Compared to my experience using Google Glass, as a first-release product, the Apple Watch is polished, easy to use, fun, and bug-free.

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4 Ways and 1 Hack to Get Addresses Into Waze

Waze on SmartphoneI’m a big fan of the navigation app Waze. For a weekly business trip I take, Waze picks a route 20 minutes shorter than my Garmin, which is a lot for a 1:50 trip. Plus, the traffic avoidance beats anything out there. I can hardly wait until the dashboard display in my car is nothing more than a monitor for my phone and I can use all the smartphone’s functionality there.

Still, getting an address from my computer to Waze is not the simplest thing and you certainly don’t want to make any mistakes. Typically, I get the destination address off a website or Google Maps and I simply need to get it to my phone. And, I’m usually late, heading out to dinner or something.

There are a couple of solid ways to go about this:

  • Email: the old stand by. Works every time and you can send it to other people too. Copy the address and send it over. However, sometimes email takes a while, and it’s usually when you’re late or somebody’s waiting.
  • iMessage: send yourself a message. It will show up on all your registered devices, which is probably the one that has Waze on it. Similarly, texting yourself will work well if you have the ability to text from your computer via Google Voice, GroupMe, etc. Quick and reliable.
  • Pushbullet: I love this one. You can push a note, a link, or a file to any of your devices on pretty much any platform. It works right from the browser. Send yourself a note with the address in it.

With any of these methods you are sending the actual street address which you then copy and paste into Waze, a relatively simple process.

However, for the truly lazy, I found a hack to avoid the laborious copying and pasting. Essentially, you create a link which directly opens up Waze with the address. Then you use this link rather than the address with any of the methods above.

Here’s the format for iOS:
Example http://waze.to/?q=1600+Pennsylvania+Ave+NW+Washington+DC Get it? You just put plus signs between the words.

Here’s the format for Android: Use the latitude and longitude – which you can get from the address bar in Google Maps. It also works for iOS.
Example http://waze.to/?ll=38.8976763,-77.0365298&navigate=yes
This is more difficult than a standard address, but could be automated with a bookmarklet.

Here’s the full documentation http://www.waze.com/dev/documentation/

Another trick is to use Apple Maps in iOS to get to Waze. Text strings that are recognized as an address (such as in an email) will give you the option to open in Maps when tapped. But, you don’t want Apple Maps, you want Waze. There’s an easy way to do this:

  1. When in Apple Maps tap on the ‘Car’ icon to tell the app to start routing.
  2. Now on your screen you will see three tabs. One of them should be for ‘Apps’ – tap on it.
  3. From the list of apps select the maps application you want to use instead of Apple Maps. My choices are Waze and Goggle Maps. Simply tap on the Route button located next to it. Waze will open and you’re set.

Sticking with Apple Maps

Click to EnlargeOnce I got my Apple Watch I started using Apple Maps a lot more. Using the watch with Apple Maps you see the next turn on your wrist and you get a gentle tap when you’re close (more on this later in another post). This is very handy for walking or driving. While using the Apple Maps desktop app I discovered a nice trick: Once you look up an address or create a route, you can ’Send to’ any of your iOS devices. It’s extremely seamless and easy in that Apple way – just works. This is one of the easiest ways to get navigation running on your phone. However, if you’re trying to eventually end up using Waze, it’s a couple more clicks than messaging the address to yourself, then copying and pasting into Waze.

Sticking with Google Maps

Click to EnlargeThere’s another nice bridge from web to mobile device in Google Maps. If you’re signed in to Google and you have an address or route ready, you can use “Send to device.” It shows up right under the navigation menu. To get your devices showing up in the menu, go to the iOS app on each device and turn on notifications, then it will show. It’s a handy feature, since Google Maps is used in Google search and by so many services. Google Maps still rules the pack with its linkage to public transportation, so if you’re in New York City, it will take you down the street and through the subway to your destination without switching apps.

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Publishing on Medium – “the best typewriter for the web”

Medium Stats Vinyl

Wow, I got over 5,200 views and 2,300 reads for my first post on Medium a few weeks ago. That’s remarkable.

I’ve been aware of Medium for a few years now. Mainly, I would discover smart content on Medium which I might have found on Wired, The New Yorker, or A List Apart. The long-form content there seemed to resonate with me and I found myself being frequently being sucked in. It’s unclear what Medium is evolving into – a publication, a blogging platform, or something new – a platisure, as Jonathan Glick wrote in re/code.

However, debates about the future of online journalism aside, it’s clear that Medium is a beautiful, simple blogging platform. I’ve heard it described as “the best typewriter for the web.” Ev Williams developed and sold the blogging software Blogger to Google 10 years ago, and this is his vision for the next version of blogging (apart from founding a little company called Twitter in between).

I’ve been blogging on this site for over 6 years now, with a mix of articles on healthcare digital marketing, tech tips, and general digital commentary. This year, I decided to cross-post as an experiment to share select content with the widest possible audience. I posted a thought piece on content and social hubs on LinkedIn’s Pulse in February. It was professionally relevant and links to my LinkedIn profile. I got some solid attention and it’s a useful adjunct to my LinkedIn presence. But, I was keeping an eye out for a topic that would be of broader interest, somewhat entertaining, and suitable for Medium.

Last month I wrote a reminiscence about my time at CBS Records / Columbia House and the cycle I went through from vinyl records to CDs, to digital, and back to vinyl again. It was longer, focused on music (a broad interest topic if there ever was one), and tapped into the current resurgence of interest in vinyl records. I wrote it with Medium in mind.

Within a day the Medium post was noticed by the editors of Cuepoint, Medium’s music magazine. They approached me about publishing the post on Cuepoint, and of course I was happy to. The editors rewrote the headline and found some Columbia House artwork, but other than that didn’t touch the article. Cuepoint featured the article on their page and due to Medium’s algorithms that meant it showed up in lots of people’s Medium email digest.

The post took off. I started getting many Twitter alerts from tweet mentions of the post. As you can see from the chart the traffic peaked very quickly within days of appearing online. I’d estimate about half the views were generated from Medium native promotion, Cuepoint, and emails. The association with one article on Record Store Day led to another 300 views. There were other interesting referrers, like reddit.com/r/vinyl and  some audio forums.

That’s the most reads on any article I’ve ever gotten since I started blogging. There are a host of reasons to own your own platform and have full control over your content like I do here. But, to gain a wider audience and get visibility piggy-backing on a intuitive and impressive platform like Medium is hard to beat.

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How the Mail Order CD Racket of the 1980s Made Me a Vinyl Connoisseur

Record StackI was recruited by CBS Records out of grad school to move to New York City and become a Marketing Planner for them. Not in a fancy, cool division, but in a backwater subsidiary named Columbia House which had a racket where by enrolling you could get a dozen albums essentially free, by agreeing to buy another dozen over the next 3 years. (If you tried to get out of that agreement we would haunt your mailbox for life.) However, if you did the math, it was not a bad way to flesh out your album collection at a better price than you would get at your local record store, if you remember what those looked like.

I loved music, and had shelves of albums. Mainly rock, new wave, but with some World Music and a little Jazz and Classical sprinkled on top. When I bought albums, I carefully recorded them to cassettes to get the best sound quality. While working at CBS Records there were albums for the taking all the time, and my collection dramatically increased. My friends got all the extras.

I found myself in a hot position — I was the sole planner for the Compact Disc Club. CDs had just been invented, and CBS was the only domestic manufacturer. Walter Yetnikoff was running the show at the peak of his success. Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen were all on the labels. It was a music industry that’s unrecognizable today. CDs were a shiny new toy that everybody wanted. Artist royalties typically maxed out at a $12.99 album selling price, but most CDs were retailing for $17.99 — meaning the labels were raking in profits. It was a perfect storm, and I was right in the middle of it.

Columbia-House-Combined-671-Width

At the time, the superiority of music on CDs was largely unquestioned. First releases on CD like Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms or the Eurythmics’ Revenge that had a lot of high frequency sound and clear vocals would leave listeners stunned by the clarity. Listening to a new recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons would freeze a classic buff in their tracks. No pops, no scratches, and it didn’t wear out. CD specifications were designed to cover at least the full range of human hearing, with a dynamic range from the barely audible to volume causing pain — more on this later.

Columbia House was in the right spot at the right time. Everyone wanted to get their favorite albums on CD even if they already owned the album, and Columbia House was a cost-effective way to do it. I was a planner looking at the best offer strategies, and what listening preferences (rock, classical, country) were most effective for acquisition, but it almost didn’t matter. The Compact Disc club was a rocket ship. Within a year it was the size of the main record club. It was the child that deposed his father, like a naughty prince. I amassed a huge collection of CDs, and as music went digital a decade later, I was leading the pack.

Fast forward (or more appropriately, hit the skip button) close to 25 years.

I redesigned my audio system and this time I decided to include listening to my old vinyl records in the setup. I have a pretty large collection, many with the CBS Records ‘For Promotion Only’ stamp on them, a few still in shrink-wrap. Parenthood interrupted my listening habits, but fortunately I had mothballed the records in a warm, dry attic for years and they are still in pristine condition.

CBS Promo Stamp 617 Wide

It was really the album cover art that got me interested again. I’m lucky enough to have several of the more famous covers in my collection: The Rolling Stones Let it Bleed, the Beatles Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, Led Zepplin’s IV, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, and on and on. Some covers are worn because they were early favorites, but many are almost mint due to my habit of recording to cassette and preserving the records (basically, an accident). I spent hours searching online for the best frames to mount albums on the wall of my home office. Eventually, I bought eight from the Rock Art Picture Show. Their product lets you mount the covers and still slip the albums out for an occasional listen. They are a small independent store that supplies the Smithsonian among others, and I’ve got to say they’re fantastic.

Album Cover Wall

My aging Dual turntable had to be junked. For now, I’ve replaced it with a cheap model with a preamp, but maybe I’ll upgrade soon. In a nod to how the younger generation thinks of records, my son calls it ‘the vinyl player.’

Listening to albums is an enjoyable and ritualistic flashback. You delicately ease the albums out of the cover and slipcase. Carefully positioning the record on the spindle, you clean off the record. Like a patient watchmaker, you then lower the needle to the record. You listen to the entire side of the album. You don’t skip from track to track like a caffeinated squirrel. You get the whole experience, just like the artist and sound engineers designed it.

There’s no doubt that vinyl is hip now. Go to a Brooklyn flea market and you’ll see all your favorite retro artists’ record albums lined up. I was at MOMA a month ago and was surprised to find an excellent exhibit called Making Music Modern: Design for Eye and Ear, which featured high end audio gear as design art. The exhibit included a wall of album art, and I was flabbergasted to find several albums that were part of my collection among the ones featured.

MOMA Display

So, would I switch back to vinyl? After listening to my records over the past month I’ve come to the opinion it’s about the mastering, not the digital vs. vinyl format debate. I’m fortunate that my collection is almost all high quality analog pressings from the 70s and 80s. They were made before the start of the Loudness Wars — a sonic “arms race” where every artist and label feel they need to crush their music onto CD at the highest possible volume level, for fear of not being “competitive.” In fact, yesterday was Dynamic Range Day, an annual protest against this loudness trend, backed by famous music producers, engineers, and high-end manufacturers.

Recently, no less a music authority than Neil Young weighed in with the comment that almost all new vinyl releases are sourced from digital masters and you are essentially listening to a CD cut to wax. Some artists, such as the White Stripes, remaster their work specifically for vinyl. Neil is pushing his high resolution Pono music player, and and now Jay Z’s TIDAL is also hawking music at a quality level beyond the capacity of human hearing. Neil Young has been criticized for his junk science, and recently Kirk McElhearn wrote an exceptionally clear and insightful article Music, Not Sound: Why High Resolution Music is all a Marketing Ploy.

As one of the few people with a sound system (and maybe ears) that could potentially let me hear the differences in music beyond CD quality — Bowers & Wilkins XT4 speakers, Rotel DAC, Integra receiver; with design help from the excellent Home Theater Group — I’m skeptical of the high resolution music claims. However, if hi-res provides an excuse for remastering, that could make it worth it.

The vinyl cycle took thirty years for me, but it wasn’t a circle. It was a spiral that expanded into conversations around digital, and high resolution, and places no one ever suspected vinyl would go. For the right albums, I love the vinyl experience and I’ll be on the lookout for artists paying attention to the techniques and skills that make vinyl come alive again.

Originally published on Medium’s Music magazine, Cuepoint 03/28/2015.

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A Simple Framework for Understanding Social Hubs and Content Hubs

Content marketing and content curation was one of the main themes of 2014. Companies jumped (or stumbled) in with both feet – as well as individual thought leaders, who were quick to create their own content platforms and collections. Supporting these efforts was the emergence of some excellent tools that allowed you to easily stitch together a curated set of content around a theme and then share it with the world. Scoop.it is one of the best examples of commercial platforms out there. Scoop.it allows you to put together a collection of fresh content which speaks to a narrative or theme, and then present it as a website, integrate it into your own website, and even send it out as an e-newsletter.

2014 also saw the maturing of tools for developing Social Hubs – in parallel to the Content Hub tools. Social Hubs allow you create beautiful interactive mosaics from user generated content about your brand / topic. You can easily consolidate content feeds from Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. and create a destination. At the high end, sophisticated moderation tools and rules allow you to selectively feature and “bubble to the top” key creators, influencers and important content.

These two types of hubs have developed along independent lines, however, as both have matured there is starting to be overlap and integration. This led me to develop a simple framework to evaluate them and describe them to clients. As any consultant will tell you, a 2-by-2 grid is always the way to go, so let’s take a look.

Social Hub Content Hub FrameworkStarting from the bottom left, Quadrant 1 contains tools that allow you to collect public social media for an event, around a theme, or a hashtag. For example, you could use Storify to document social media from a medical conference and feature it on a website or on a large display.

As you move to Quadrant 2, you get stronger moderation tools, smart rules for filtering content, and widgets and custom CSS capability that lets you integrate the collected UGC into a website. This is the Enterprise level, and when you see behind the scenes, the platforms are slick, powerful, and able to handle several brands at once. Something interesting happens when you get to the top of Quadrant 2 – you start being able to incorporate your own content. With some platforms such as TwineSocial you can feature your own brand social media (for example tweets around your new product release). When you get up to the RebelMouse level,  you gain the ability to create content within the platform itself, and then feature it. Not only can you post your own brand tweets or Instagrams, but you can publish content that doesn’t exist elsewhere. These sites become full microsites and can potentially substitute for typical website development, such as developing a custom landing page. At this level, these platforms can be very powerful campaign solutions that can be much quicker to get off the ground than a microsite.

Quadrant 3 is the Enterprise level of the content hubs. Scoop.it is an excellent example. In their words, you can “set up SEO-optimized content hubs for each of your editorial themes by choosing a title, corresponding keywords and then scooping content into the hub.” You can customize branding and easily integrate it into your website. Admins can generate email newsletters and link them to tools like MailChimp. When I first used Scoop.it, I simply used it as a place to collect key articles I found elsewhere. Then I discovered their discovery tools. By properly setting up your sources and keywords you can create a truly valuable source to stay on top of a subject – then ‘scooping’ it is a one-click action, as well as tweeting it out to your followers. As an example, here’s an topic I curated about use of Google Glass in Healthcare. Without making this a Scoop.it commercial, I’ll say that it’s a very well thought-out platform. There are other strong offerings at a similar level, such as Curata.

Finally, Quadrant 4. Quadrant 4 is the home of self-publishing. Paper.li is a prime example, their headline being “Create your online newspaper in minutes.” It has excellent tools and offers multiple syndication options, such as your own e-newsletters. This is interesting territory. The top of the grid has players like Flipboard, with its 100 million readers – Enterprise level, while Pinterest has a home here as it is an easy way to curate more visually-oriented content.

A few consumer healthcare brands have spun up social hubs, but not pharma. An unbranded social hub could function as a natural home for health activists. The robustness of the rules and moderation would be of great benefit to a healthcare brand. You can direct the hub to pull living social content from your key activists. Featured posts can be locked into place. That can be combined with a social feed around a condition or an event, which could be heavily moderated according to rules set by a promotional review committee. The result would be a dynamic, attractive designation page where content could be easily shared out. Bloggers could link to it and in turn be featured on the hub. Select pharma company content could be mixed strategically into the hub, pointing to deeper content or news. To top it off, a widget providing a window into hub content could then be placed into the brand website, providing some freshness frequently lacking from pharma websites. Now that we have some FDA guidance that limits pharma liability for UGC, the path seems to be open. Who will be the first to try it? Perhaps a brand with an active social community and a more technologically inclined population, like Crohn’s Disease or MS.

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