No angels

Those living in London, may well have noticed the App war currently taking place between Black Cab and Mini Cab drivers over the rights and fairness over Apps that undercut the Black Cabs by offering a quicker, cheaper, more responsive service. The Black Cab drivers are up in arms as these Apps, such as Uber or MiniCabster, allegedly offer unregulated drivers the opportunity to undercut the Black Cabs, and apparently compromises passenger safety and security. 

Now, when the battle all kicked off with a strike and a blockage of Central London in June, I had little sympathy for the Cabbies. I’ve lived in London for 9 years and I will avoid taking a Black Cab if I can, principally because I find them to be ridiculously overpriced (Black Cab from Camden to home: £40. Swiss Cottage Taxi from Camden to home: £17). 

But, today my opinion changed. I had a family emergency this morning which required me to ferry someone from home to the medical centre on St Ann’s Road. I logged into the App, and booked a car to collect at 9.30 however at 9.30 I received a call from the driver, who despite having a GPS app on his phone, was lost about 5 minutes away, and was heading in the wrong direction! And then, to make matters worse, once he collected us, I had to direct him to the medical centre, using basic knowledge of living in London for 9 years. 

So, here’s the thing. Black Cab drivers have to pass a test called The Knowledge, which basically requires them to know how to get anywhere within the M25. Can’t pass The Knowledge, you can’t drive a Black Cab. Whilst it would have cost me a lot more to get from home to the medical centre, I know that a) the cabbie would have turned up at the right place, and b) he’d have got us to our destination, stress free, and I could have spent the time reassuring my family member that we were going to get to our destination as quickly as possible. 

Ultimately, here’s my advice to the Black Cab drivers. You may not be the cheapest but you have the quality of service and The Knowledge that cannot be beat. Shout it from the rooftops!

Taxi

 

 

 

Customer service…

Hands up if you live a busy life? Of course you do. We all do! Our time is precious. Whether it’s personal or professional; sometimes we feel that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Now, hands up if you’ve ever bought anything online and arrived home to find a card informing you that your order is sitting in the local post office collection depot. Or worse… an industrial estate in Acton. Depending on the size of your item you then either go and collect it, or arrange for it to be redelivered at a time convenient to you. But more often than not, you’ll find you have to pay a premium to have it delivered at some time outside of working hours. Quite simply, convenience costs.

So, unless you are prepared to pay  to have your item delivered on a Saturday morning, you have to take time off work – i.e. eating into your precious holiday time. But that could be minimised if the company that are delivering your package, use a tech savvy carrier that enables to you either specify the time of delivery to within an hour or track the delivery of your package. 

So, yesterday, I was due to have four radiators delivered by Fedex. I made sure I was home for the whole day as I wasn’t prepared to either have the radiators left outside the flat, or taken away for redelivery. After completing my order, I was offered a delivery date of Monday, and informed that I’d be able to log into the customer tracking system to track the progress of my order from dispatch to delivery. ‘Perfect!’ I thought. I can log into my account on the day, find out the progress of the delivery and be able to structure my day accordingly. However, when I logged into my account, around 8.am, I was informed that the radiators had left the depot, however I could expect delivery at some point before 5.30pm. Handy! I googled the address of the depot and discovered that it was around 5 miles from home. So, I picked up the phone and asked the helpful receptionist if they could give me any more information regarding my delivery. Unfortunately they could not. I’d just have to sit and wait until the delivery arrived.

In the end, I wasn’t waiting for the whole day as the delivery turned up shortly after noon. But that’s not the point. As a customer I felt utterly powerless and trapped.

In a digital age, this is appalling customer service.

In a way, I could understand were we talking about a small delivery firm. But we’re talking about Fedex – a firm with an astronomical marketing budget. Who track planes, trains and vans, to ensure that they know where their deliveries are. So, why can’t they give that information to customers? Now, I appreciate that there may be security issues of say, being able to see the exact location of the Fedex delivery van, however, as a customer I’d be satisfied if the tracker could tell me how far away the van was, and how many deliveries had to be made before the van reached me. Maybe not ideal to know that there are 25 deliveries before you and you won’t see your order for a few hours, but at least you’d know, rather than spending the day kicking your heels. If you buy your shopping online, you don’t sit around for the day, waiting for it to arrive. No,  you can specify hour time slots, and if there’s any delay, the driver will call you. Is it beyond Fedex to offer a service like this? 

Ultimately, the online tracker, or the app offered by Fedex may look great but they fail to solve the one problem that every customer wants to know… when will my package arrive?

Watch out!

A lot of bloggers struggle to maintain one blog. I however somehow manage to maintain two. With good reason I hasten to add! One blog focuses on my professional life whereas the other focuses on my fitness life. But every so often, there’s opportunity for me to cross post as my personal and professional lives collide.

If you’ve got any interest in tech, you can’t have failed to notice over the past six months, that it’s all about the wearable tech, or to put it another way, the smart watch. We’ve heard rumours of the iWatch for months, and Samsung and Sony are getting their mitts into the marketplace with a watch each ($300 and $200 respectively). On top of that, Kreyos are launching the Meteor watch with a pre-order price of $149, or you could wait until November for the Adidas MiCoach watch, launching with a retail price of approx $450.

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When the buzz around smart watches began, my immediate concern was around battery life – I currently have a very nice watch which doesn’t need regular charging, and it does what I need it to do – tell me the time.

So why on earth would I need a smart watch? To notify me that my phone is ringing? Or that I’ve received a text or an email?  Or perhaps take a call through my watch? The Samsung device has a low res camera. Great! Now, a lost phone tracker would be useful, but I already have the iPhone finder app. The prices quoted above are rather high for what is effectively a bauble/ accessory to your smart phone. So, again, why on earth would I need a smart watch?

Well…

I’m a self confessed running hipster.

Since I rebooted my running three years ago I’ve tracked my performance via a variety of apps for my iPhone, from Nike to Runkeeper to Adidas MiCoach, to general satisfaction however whenever I’ve entered a serious distance race, I’ve found battery life on my iPhone to be seriously compromised by tracking via the app, and a race soundtrack. For instance, during the Ridgeway, my phone gave up the ghost around the 55k mark, and during Man vs Mountain, I only had 4% battery life left at the point where I had to ditch everything that I didn’t want to get wet.

So, I decided to invest in a sports watch. I had at what was available in the market place and I felt that anything over the $100 price point was too much of a risk for a product that I didn’t know if I’d like or not. So, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 10 for $99. The Forerunner is pretty basic as a smart watch. It tracks my performance, heart rate, distance, calorie count etc etc, and enables me to back up my data to my Garmin account. If I’m honest, it’s just ok. It does what I wanted it to do – take the strain off my iPhone but I need to plug it into my laptop to upload the data, and then there’s battery life. Charging my watch seems such an alien concept for me, but I need to plug the Garmin into my laptop to charge it up.

Garmin Forerunner 10
Garmin Forerunner 10

Ultimately, what I’m really looking for is some sort of synergy with a smart watch. I want the great data and tracking that I get from the app on my phone, without draining the battery.

The MiCoach watch is certainly attractive to me as it will sync well with my MiCoach app but I personally feel that Adidas would be better off focusing on software development rather than breaking into an already established tech marketplace. And $450 is a steep price for a new entrant.

Ultimately, I’m going to stick with my Garmin until I see the full potential of the iWatch. Realistically, I’m in the Apple universe, so I’m not likely to go down the Samsung or Sony route, and the Kreyos looks like a marginally more expensive version of the Garmin, and besides, as an Apple device, it’ll surely offer device synergy. And as long as Adidas make the MiCoach app available in iWatch form, I’ll be able to track my progress without burning my iPhone battery.

So… what’s a running hipster? That’s surely the topic for another blog.

Going somewhere?

Finally feeling like I’m getting my head above water, so expect a few new App reviews over the next couple of days. I’ve been playing around with the updated Blippr, Summly and other assorted grammatically challenged Apps but first I’m going to share my thoughts on the updated Skyscanner App.

Skyscanner, if you don’t know already, is an Edinburgh based search engine for flights across all airline websites and helps you find the best price/ route that suits you. The App was updated in mid December and is optimised for the iPhone 5 however it works perfectly well, with a little less functionality, on the iPhone 4/ 4S and is now available in 27 languages. So, let’s get testing.

So… I want to go skiing. In March. To Switzerland. And I want to fly from London City, which if you don’t know, is the world’s greatest airport. So efficient! Just a shame that it’s fairly limited in terms of destinations. As you can see, all I need to do is insert where I want to fly from, where I want to go to, and within a few seconds Skyscanner is able to bring up the latest prices and times from all airlines that service the route in question.

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And wait, there’s more. The above functionality is pretty basic and minimal however the below functionality allows you to add a few filters to your selection. So if you’re going long haul, you can minimise length of waiting between connections, select times of the day that suit you and if you’ve had a bad experience with an airline previously, filter them out of the search results.

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Once you’ve selected your desired flight, just confirm your details and complete your transaction. And I feel I should reiterate the speed of the service. Look at the times of the screenshots. Seriously, 3 minutes from loading up the Skyscanner App to purchase. Pretty sweet eh? And perfect if you’re on the go. Some people might like the misery of trawling websites for flights. Not me. Some people might even like spending hours waiting for Travelsupermarket.com search results to load up. Again, not for me. 

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So, in conclusion, I really recommend this App. It’s really fast, clear and simple. The layout is easy on the eye however the only negative point is that once you’ve selected your flight, you have to conduct the transaction via the Airline’s own website. In this above example, I chose to fly with Swiss Air however as Swiss Air’s website is not optimised for mobile devices, you’ll need to pinch and poke on your screen to complete your transaction. But you can’t blame Skyscanner for that. Can you? 

Instabooked or Facetagrammed?

You may recall that back in April, Facebook paid an eye watering billion dollars for photography app Instagram. At the time it seemed like an unbelievable amount of money for, what is in effect, a free app. At the time there were around 30 million active Instagram users. Since then however, this has shot up to over 100 million active users worldwide, who are in fact, far more engaged with Instagram than Twitter users are with Twitter.

Pretty cool huh?

Prior to the takeover, Instagram had a link up with Facebook and Twitter than enabled you to take a photo, manipulate it and post it to your Instagram account, with the option to post your photo to your choice of social networks. This functionality, aside from an aesthetic change here or there has been pretty much the norm for Instagram since the takeover. Until now… Smartphone users, have you been given the option to update your Facebook phone app over the past week? If you haven’t updated it, and particularly, if you’re a fan of Instagram, you might want to consider it. Why? Because they’ve only just gone and integrated Instagram functionality into Facebook photos! So, you can now crop and manipulate your photos accordingly…

And what’s more, you can also change the tint on your photos with Instagram manipulation:

So obviously this is all good for Facebook but what does this mean for the stand alone Instagram app? Hard to tell with Facebook sometimes? I think it’ll exist for the time being as a means of bringing new people into the Facebook world, but I would expect that in the long term it’ll be killed off. Whilst it’s got a long way to go before it starts delivering a return on investment for Facebook, this new functionality is only going to increase user experience satisfaction on Facebook. Zuckerberg, you’ve done it again!

My new favourite app might just be the future of non-fiction publishing

If I was to ask the majority of you ‘who’s da man?’  you would probably just stare blankly at me, probably wondering to yourself if I’d gone mental. Some of you however would immediately respond ‘Zlatan’! 

Who? 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of course! You haven’t heard of him? Well, he’s barely known in the UK but he’s the most successful domestic footballer in the noughties, winning 8 straight domestic league titles in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. He’s also captain of the Swedish national side. Now, Zlatan is a ‘marmite’ footballer in the sense that those who love him adore him and those who don’t, loathe him. He’s also become quite famous for kicking his own teammates in the head, causing mass disruption at Barcelona and for shutting down Stockholm airport for asking security if they’d found his gun…

But why I am writing about this man? Well, he’s just published his autobiography. Naturally it’s available in printed form and it’s also available as an ebook from the Kindle store however, it’s also available as an app for the iPad. 

A book as an app you say? Well how does that work?

Imagine your reading experience on a digital device. You open up your book, you flick the screen to turn the pages and you finish the book. But what if your reading experience was illuminated by rich content? A few years ago, Random House released a range of fiction titles with added content, stories, images, music however the reading experience is positively medieval compared to the Zlatan app.

Obviously you’ve got the book itself however it’s the added value that take this book to the next level. For a start, the app is introduced by a vodcast from the man himself. It’s jam packed with newspaper headlines and cuttings charting his development from a youth in Sweden to the player he is today. There are clips of his favourite goals and extra detail of his favourite players, highlighting in great detail how he used to study the likes of Ronaldo in order to develop his own abilities. Furthermore, you can learn more about the man himself, with a feature that allows you to study his tattoos. 

All in all, this is reading super sized. Now, when Random House produced their fiction titles they essentially had to create new content to support the narrative however what the Zlatan app does is repurposes existing content in a new form to support the story. Now, considering that anyone who releases an autobiography now has probably been in the public eye for a few years and thanks to the growth of social media, you tube and other assorted digital content, pulling together a rich tapestry to support the text should be simple for publishers. Whether this is profitable is another matter, the app retails for £6.99, but a reading experience like this is really going to engage with the audience in a way like no other. 

I am Zlatan is available on the app store here. http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/i-am-zlatan/id499373930?mt=8

And to play you out, here’s Elias featuring Frans with their hit song ‘Who’s da man?’: