Category: Apps

Lynda.com as the future of TV


Remember that the word TV is used in many ways. This is about how we use TVs: we watch TV & quite often we watch informative, learning channels.

Lynda.com is a subscription-based site providing software training through video tutorials structured in courses that are mostly several hours in length. I’ve used the site off-and-on for over ten years, and it’s a great way to learn how to use software from either a beginner level to advanced, in-depth techniques. With over 83,000 videos packed in more than 1,300 courses lynda.com is truly a fantastic way to learn. Course is not quite the right word. Considering that a topic may be covered in anywhere from 25 minutes to 15 hours the terms class or workshop is more appropriate.

A couple years ago Lynda.com branched beyond software training with additional content that includes creative skills (e.g., design, photography, video production) and even soft business skills (e.g., leading a productive meeting,  becoming a thoughtful leader).  Even more intriguing are the documentaries with typographic artisans, children book illustrators, and other creative topics.

Lynda.com has evolved into an entertainment channel, like those specialized channels on cable TV. But with Lynda.com you have the choice of which series to watch & when to tune in. Lynda.com even keeps track of what you watch in case you want to go back and view an episode again. Lynda.com isn’t available through any cable TV package. You subscribe directly on the Website, and it’s not inexpensive with a starting rate of $25 per month.

Lynda.com has entered the future of TV without ever promoting itself as such. Lynda.com is a definitive model that can form the basis for other vertical niches. The potential is enormous.

This is the future of entertainment for those who entertain themselves by wanting to learn about the world. Its mixture of educational and documentary programming surpasses anything found on today’s cable TV packages. One step further: Lynda.com is the future of many non-fiction books, particularly the how-to type of book.

Evidence that Lynda.com is onto something big: after many succesful years they just accepted their first round of external funding. With over $100 million to expand, keep an eye on how Lynda.com is transforming online learning into an educational entertainment product.

To get a glimpse as to how Lynda.com plans on utilizing this funding take a look at Robert Scoble’s interview with the founders of Lynda.com, Lynda Weinman & Bruce Heavin.  A few highlights:

Lynda Weinman describes that the new funding will be used in three ways:

  1. expanding content through creating new categories and going deeper into existing categories
  2. improving the delivery platform
  3. expanding internationally

Online learning is a hot market. Lynda says, there are “lots of flavors of online learning….We think we’re in the infancy of this industry & there is a lot of room for a lot of different angles on how to attack the problem, and part of the problem is that we don’t all learn the same way, that we don’t all have the same learning needs. (5:33 mark in the video).

Lynda Weiman had been involved in teaching since the late 1980s. She says it’s all about teaching but now there are different form factors for delivering the instruction. Her partner Bruce Heavin says, “The business model may have changed over the years from writing books, to renting classrooms, to selling VHS cassetts and DVDs, to eventualy making this online library, but the constant was teaching and education.” (23:00)

Note how the starting of Lynda.com rose from Lynda publishing the first book on Web design in 1996, which also was a time when people traveled to attend conferences to learn about new techniques in Web design and development. Scoble describes the quasi-entertainment factor: “Something’s going on here. We used to go to conferences…now we watch TV on our big screens and we can get the same quality. I personally like it a lot better, I have a comfortable seat here, I can stop a video, go get a drink.” Then he glances over to a line of books, “You’re competing with these things. Used to be a I brought a lot of O’Reilly Books.”

Bruce responds, “I don’t know if we’re really competing against books. I think we’re a splinter, kind of like how radio and TV splintered..just splintered different ways to get information….We’re seeing the change where people are going into video and want to see things in their living room and we think that’s huge.” (17:40)

Lynda describes their content that is not training specific, and I suspect this area will get a significant push with their new funding, “Sometimes it’s not the tool at all. It’s how you tell the story, how you make a composition, how you create emotion around something, how you negotiate, how you make something compelling. We’ve actually gotten into these soft skills as well as the tools, as well as inspiring documentaries. We’ve made 30 of them…our members just love that kind of material.” (20:45)

That material fulfills an entertainment need for many us. Learning and entertainment are not incompatible.

Creativity ^ Recording audio with your iPhone


A portable digital audio device is something I need occasionally and have wondered how to use my iPhone for that purpose. Thanks to this week’s free DSLR video tip movie from Lynda.com I learned a couple of quick tips about apps, cables, and external mics for the iPhone.

Plus, I really want to go back and look at all those DSLR video tips from Rich Harrington & Robbie Carman.

External Mics

Audio is only as good as the input. That means you need a good mic. I’ve heard about Blue Mic for a while. The Mikey is customized as a portable mic solution for iPhones & iPads.  It will cost you about $80 – $100, depending upon the retailer. Here’s a detailed review of the Mikey with photos of it attached to an iPhone.

Apps

Looks like Pro Audio To Go is the best of breed app for field recording. At $29.99 it’s an expensive app, but an iOS developer myself I can tell you that I’m sure a tremendous amount of work went into that product.  Here’s a review.

Cables

Got to have the right cables. I’m always getting confused on line in, XLR and other cable sites. Still looking for a good site that clearly explains what cable to use & when.

Defining a startup around Google’s Project Glass


Scoble has another one of his excellent interviews online. This one is with two managing directors of Menlo Ventures. Lots of insights for entrepreneurs. View the video on YouTube.

At just past the 11 minute mark Scoble asks, “Is it too early to pitch a company just for these wearable computers, Google’s Project Glass?”

Considering that the Glass product might now ship till 2014 Shawn Carolan responds, “Here’s what you don’t want to count on: is if the only place to make any money and build intellectual property is once the glasses start to ship. That’s a way’s off. However, you start to think there’s a lot of apps that very clearly can find some market in mobile and then the market will explode when you get to the glasses. You’ll be interacting with it 24/7 rather than when just open up your phone.”

Will iOS apps for children need to support iPad 1st generation?


The first generation iPad does not support iOS 6. As operating systems evolve it’s not surprising that older hardware is obsoleted. AppAdvice on the matter: Get over it. But is that so easy for a publisher of apps made for children? Developers would prefer to deal only with the latest version of an iOS release. However, if you publish apps for children there’s probably a very high percentage of children who have the first generation iPad. As mom and dad upgrade to a newer iPad then that older model gets handed down.

My 1st generation iPad runs 5.1.1. It’s pretty slow at times, especially when there’s a lot of books in iBooks. Movies run great. No problem there. Some apps are slow to start and some are sluggish. But, still, overall it’s a decent device. And for a young kid it’s a great device.

If children are a significant customer segment for your apps, then you’re likely to be supporting iOS 5.x for a long time. With the hardware limitations of the 1st generation iPad Apple probably didn’t have a choice in leaving it out with iOS 6. But for those selling apps in the children’s market it’s not such an easy decision to abandon that model.

City touring for those who don’t use tour guides


The ability of Google’s Field Trip app to let a person know what’s around them as they walk through a city has been a long desired feature for travel apps. Not everyone wants to employ a tour guide. But this type of ambient local discovery app is not going to present a major disruption to the walking tour business with a real guide. People hire tour guides for a different reason. (More on that in another post.)

This type of app will have a greater impact on travel publishing by further reducing the perceived need to purchase a guidebook. For a traveler comfortable wandering a city a Field Trip app is a great asset to have around. Personally, I find unplanned excursions to be a great way of exploring an area. In the copywriting on the companion site for the app Google re-enforces that theme repeatedly:

there is no path, only the one you make”

“Field Trip day is dedicated to the art of the wander, and discovery through exploration”

“There are no right choices, no wrong turns – but there are treasures to be uncovered just out of sight.”

“This is not a tour. There is no guide. It is discovery, pure & simple.

Odd it might seem then for a product that targets unplanned use is that Google sponsored organized Field Trip days when the app was launched. Perhaps that simply was as a means of gaining feedback via a public beta test (without calling it that).

Note that the positioning of this product is for the local explorer and not the traveler. People are more comfortable exploring the familiar but I can see the appeal of ambient local discovery apps to travelers with an adventurous spirit.

For a review of the Field Trip app see the article by Rachel Metz in Technology Review, and Metz points out that the app would be most useful on vacations when a person is more likely to have the time for random interruptions. As most of us go about our daily lives we really don’t have the time to be pestered by historical tidbits or the latest deal down the block. Fortunately, the ability to set notification levels and the type of data is built into the app.

I’m hoping we’ll see the capabilities of this app built into the future Project Glass. If so, then Google has a huge winner on their hands.

Field Trip app hints at Google’s future


Aimed at travelers & locals curious to learn more about their city, Google’s Field Trip app (Android only for now) serves up content based on your specific location within that city. The app launches today in six cities.

The app, oddly for a Google product, presents a very nice visual design. There’s  even a sleek made-for-tv commercial. What is Google up to with this app?

An insightful post on the New York Times Bit blog predicts that the app “reveals a lot about the big directions Google wants to go.”

Note the binocular/field glasses motif that also forms the icon for the Field Trip app.

Are those field glasses just ornamentation, clever use of graphics,  or a hint towards Google’s future attempt to disrupt mobile computing with Google Glass & wearable computing?

Where are the Apps for the Armchair Traveler?


Mobile developers & entrepreneurs occasionally forget that smartphones and tablets are often used in the home. The iPad makes an excellent lean-back device. We mostly recognize that tablets excel as devices for reading, watching, shopping, & other “passive” activities. Obviously I’m leaving out a wide range of tablet uses but for the sake of this particular analysis let’s focus on that passive behavior of consuming content.

People create startups based around ideas where they understand the possibilities. Are their untapped possibilities to provide valued products to users sitting at home in a cozy chair?

The Armchair Traveler

I continued to be astonished at the absence of apps aimed at the armchair traveler: the person sitting at home who is planning a trip or, very likely, just curious to learn about the world.

The Fotopedia apps are among the best examples of current apps that serve the armchair traveler by offering spectacular images by professional photographers.

A couple of print publishers that have surprised me by not doing more with apps are DK and Insight Guides.

DK’s Eyewitness Travel books are beautifully designed for appealing specifically the person who is not at that destination.  Those are great books for planning a trip & figuring out the sights you want to see. But they’re even better for getting a sense of a place without ever going there.

More than 10 years ago I was browsing in a bookstore with a friend when I brought the  DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Japan

My friend, rather curiously, asked, “When are you going to Japan?”

I answered, “I don’t know. I just want to learn about it.” A decade later I’ve still not been to Japan, but I have purchased many DK guidebooks. Yet, as someone who has traveled a lot, I would never take one of those books on a trip. That’s not because I can get all sorts of information online these days. It’s because the books are simply not that useful at a destination. Better to have a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.

Since DK truly understands the visual I was excited when they released an app for iPad. Sigh, as a long-time DK customer how disappointed I was at their iPad offering. It was okay but didn’t inspire me in the same way as the printed edition. That’s not because print has any intrinsic quality over digital in this case. I ended up deleting the app after not much use and am really hesitant to ever buy another app from DK. Hmmm, but I would still buy their books and will give an app by DK another chance at some point.

I mentioned Insight Guides, which is a very different type of publisher from DK. Whereas DK publishes visually rich, but content thin, volumes. Insight Guides produces in-depth, mostly historical accounts of destinations. Great opportunity for repurposing these products onto a new platform, but the publisher has taken the rather bland approach of converting to e-books. Well, that’s a step and the title offering should certainly exist as -ebooks. I’m not doubting that.

The holdback

What’s keeping publishers from creating more exciting apps for armchair travelers? Certainly the cost & complexity of app development is the major factor. Then there’s the issue of multiple platforms. Not only does technical expertise need acquiring, but also the platform requires a new way of conceptualizing the product. And that’s the really hard part.