A new report from 9to5Mac and its usually well-connected sources today adds a little more color to what we’ll be seeing from the big iOS 7 redesign rumored to be making an appearance at WWDC this year in June – and what we’ll apparently be seeing is a lot less color. The visual overhaul not only emphasizes so-called “flat design” (avoiding complicated textures in favor of bold, solid tones), but also features the use of many black and white elements across the UI.
The new report reiterates what we’ve already heard – that Ive is heading up a pretty extensive overhaul of Apple’s mobile OS, concentrating primarily on the visual aspects of iOS. Now, though, we get a bit more info about how and why Ive is targeting so-called skeuomorphic elements (those that mimic real-world textures) and additional details about specific elements of the OS that have undergone change, plus redesigned apps and even some new features.
Ive feels that the sorts of heavy textures used in the current iteration of iOS aren’t designed to last, and will quickly take on a dated look, according to 9to5Mac’s sources. Physical metaphors for digital design are a dead end, he apparently believes, and makes for a lack of harmony between and among individual iOS apps like Notes, Maps and Game Center. It’s true that other, more recent takes on mobile interfaces have focused more on unity, like Windows Phone, but it’s also true that from a success perspective, iOS has trounced Microsoft’s newer mobile OS; flat design may have the praise of the tech community, but it hasn’t necessarily proved itself in the consumer arena yet.
Other big changes coming to what people are used to on iPhone include the lock screen mechanisms, which will finally see the iconic lock screen re-envisioned with a “shine-free, black interface” says 9to5Mac. Round buttons will replace the grid for security code input, and notifications might get more useful thanks to expanded interactivity options made possible through multi-touch gestures.
Notifications in general will get some changes, ditching the linen texture background per the report in favor of something more black and white. More widgets are on their way to Notification Center, too, and we could see access included to regularly-accessed settings, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the Airplane Mode switch.
The Home Screen gets a minor but notable visual refresh, losing the shine on buttons and system apps given flatter designs that don’t “pop” quite as much as the current versions. iOS 7 also apparently borrows a trick from Android, adding in panorama-style scrollable wallpapers that continue across home screens, instead of presenting the same static image for each. In general, common interface elements like the on-screen keyboard will undergo a flattening effect, ditching things like drop shadow and toning down the color in favor of greys, whites and blacks. This extends to core apps like Mail, Calendar, Maps and Notes, each of which have more uniformed, primarily white interfaces. Each also gets a unique olor for buttons and highlights, however, providing a strong visual cue about which you’re using while retaining a similarity of design across all the software.
New features reportedly include a standalone FaceTime app for iPhone, as well as Flickr and Vimeo integration, and better in-car tools connected to Maps and Siri for hands-free use. We’ll also see a lot of changes on the developer side, likely with the introduction of many new APIs to unlock more potential for apps, something which has become a common feature of iOS updates.
9to5 reports that we’ll see this arrive for the general public along with new iPhone and possibly iPad hardware this fall. The iPhone version of the iOS 7 redesign might beat the iPad version out of the gate however, as the report claims that Apple’s design and engineering talent are focused on pushing out the smartphone version first. Hopefully we’ll learn more at the WWDC keynote, which is coming up June 10, and where we’ll be reporting live.
It’s been a little over a year since Google started teasing something it called “Project Glass.” The futuristic, wearable computer that would change the way that you interact with the world was nothing more than a series of rumors for months before it was “formally introduced” in April 2012. Not known for hardware and not having a current bonafide physical device that was popular among consumers, many opined that this was Google’s way of begging for attention. It might have been, and it definitely worked.
In 13 months, Glass has gone from Star Trek fantasy to reality. It’s been quite the whirlwind of activity.
The “wearable computing” age is upon us, and it’s been widely reported that Apple was working on a watch, therefore many assumed that Google was working on a similar device to keep up. This was not the case and Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin took special interest in the Glass project and has been leading the charge going back to when the prototype weighed about eight pounds in August 2011.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, because a lot has happened over the past year in Glassland.
The video from Google itself got sent people’s imaginations into overdrive. It was called “One day…” and gave us a glimpse into the life of a daily user of what Google had up its sleeve. We now know that the “One day…” reference had more to do with what the product could become, not what it would be in its first iteration:
The user experience in this video is aspirational at best, as the current iteration of Glass is more of a complement and utility to your day, rather than the augmented reality “enhancer” as this video demonstrates. Still, the elements that make Glass handy are all there, taking calls, getting directions and taking pictures from a new point of view.
Immediately after the video, and public admonishment that the project was real, the press wondered out loud if Apple should compete and that other companies should stand up and take notice. We also now know that the rumored final name for the device, Google Eye, isn’t likely. Good thing, because it sounds way creepier than Glass. We’ll get to more “creepiness” later.
It was clear that Glass was getting a lot of attention, both positive and negative, from the start. Even Jon Stewart did a parody about them.
OK, now they’re really real(ish)
Before Google’s I/O developer conference in 2012, Sergey Brin started showing Glass off to folks like Gavin Newsom. This is the first time that we found out that Glass had a trackpad that would let you scroll through its UI, even though we didn’t know what that UI looked like yet.
Even Google CEO Larry Page got into the act, wearing his pair at the Google Zeitgeist event in London. Was Page making important company decisions without us knowing, using his futuristic eyewear? Probably not, but it was cool to think about.
Holy crap, they’re really really real(ish)
At Google I/O 2012, developers sat in the Moscone Center not knowing what to expect from the company that has been using its advertising business to fund all types of cool projects. After all, who would have thought that a search and advertising company could actually pull off something like Gmail? Or a web browser? And now a driving car? A pair of glasses? Crazy talk. Well, on June 27, 2012, Google fed into that crazy talk with…a crazy stunt.
The man at the helm of Google X and Project Glass, Sergey Brin, pulled off a stunt so memorable, that many of us in attendance still don’t fully understand what we saw.
Brin jumped out of a zeppelin wearing Glass, and participated in a live video Hangout the entire time:
After that, a bunch of people hopped onto bikes and drove into the keynote auditorium. The audience looked at one another, as if to say, “Did this just really happen?”
It was indeed Google’s “Apple moment.”
After Brin took the stage, we were left to wonder if he would then go into full Oprah mode and tell us all to check under our seats for a pair of Glass that would be our very own. Nope. At I/O 2012, the “Glass Explorer Program” was announced, and the first 2,000 attendees that wanted to pledge to pay $1,500 for the opportunity to develop apps for the Glass platform could.
There was no date given for when the device would be shipped, but nobody cared. These things were real(er). Think about it, developers signed up to pay $1,500 for a device that they had never even touched. I was one of them, and even I felt silly. There was something about the cadence that Google had been marching to up to I/O that year that felt right.
Bloggers got to try Glass on for a few seconds, but didn’t get to do anything with them. The hypefest was on. Our founder, Michael Arrington, had a fun, and grounded, thought after the announcement:
“I can imagine in a couple of years we’ll all be wearing these at events. Then a couple of years after that maybe we’ll look back and think we all looked like idiots.”
After I/O, Google started communicating with its Glass “Explorers” about all of the device happenings, introducing its skunkworks team along the way. Those who joined the program at the conference would get to participate in Hangouts, attend conferences and get exclusive news on Glass. In retrospect, Google set itself up for people to start making fun of those clamoring for the device, whom are affectionately/unaffectionately referred to as “Glassholes.” You see, whenever something is only available to a select group of people, those not inside of that group tend to lash out a bit. Sure, there are those who think that Glass will never amount to anything, but those on the fence had no choice but to attack. It’s kind of like high-school.
As the months went on, the press flirted with Glass, as more and more Googlers starting wearing them on campus. Stories about Microsoft’s “Glass” plans and a reminder of Apple’s wearable tech patents were peppered in, too.
In late 2012 and early 2013, Hackathons were announced, Brin rode the subway wearing Glass and its API, dubbed Mirror, was introduced at SXSW.
OK, Glass. You’re real.
In April, a group of heavyweights in Silicon Valley announced a partnership called “The Glass Collective.” Developers who wanted to build things for Glass, without ads or any means to make actual money, could visit either Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz or Kleiner Perkins, and if their project was interesting enough, they could get funding from all three.
It was at that event that Google Glass team member, Steve Lee, let it slip that developers would soon be receiving invitations to pick their pair of Glass up from Mountain View, Los Angeles or New York City. They could have them shipped, but that’s no fun. Glass was officially real.
In just a few days after that Collective event, the first pairs of Glass for developers were coming off of the production line, the Mirror API guidelines were posted, its companion app for Android was released and full specs were released for the first time.
This “moonshot” that Google had been cooking up in its super-secret X Labs were going to see the light of day, outside of Google’s campus’. People just then started to realize that certain folks would be meandering around town with cameras on their face, and focused solely on how the device would affect them…the ones not wearing the device. The ones not in the “club.” A quick search for the term “Google Glass privacy” shows the same story written by hundreds of reporters, most of them never having worn the device.
I was able to pick up my pair of Glass on April 17th, and it’s interesting to see what the device really is in its current state, as opposed to what we saw in the video released last year. We did a “day in the life” video, showing what I was seeing on the display:
While it’s not as “pretty” as Google’s first teaser video, the elements are all there. In its current state, Glass is a utility that allows you to do some of the things that your smartphone does now. The difference with Glass is that you can do these things hands-free, quicker than before and in a less socially disruptive way.
What’s next for Glass?
For a period of time, we’ll see the same types of stories about how creepy Glass is. At this year’s I/O, none of Google’s executives wore the device on stage or while walking around the Moscone Center. It was its way of turning the “lens” onto developers and saying “It’s time to make this yours.” Still, we heard about people wearing Glass in the bathroom, as if to remind us that not everyone is ready to feed into the hype of the device.
It’s hard to argue with the point that the Glass platform is the most interesting one for developers to iterate upon since Apple’s introduction of the App Store. For the first time in years, these developers are getting a chance to re-imagine their existing services, or build new ones, for a new device. Glass isn’t perfect and will only be as good as the apps that are developed for it.
During this year’s I/O, Twitter, Facebook and a slew of others announced their own Glass apps. The Facebook app is great, while the Twitter app will need more work. As I’ve continued to wear the device while I’m not at the computer, I’m finding myself trying to get away from all of the crazy and unnecessary notifications that I get on my phone and desktop. The Twitter app, for example, sends me mobile updates that I’ve subscribed to, @ replies and direct messages. This simply won’t fly, and Glass users are going to need more granular controls for what pops up on their displays. It’s early though, and these are good learning experiences.
No matter what you think about Glass, you have to admit that the past year has been a good one for Google and its fancy, futuristic device. From a secret pet project to developer-only playground, it will be fascinating to see what happens next in Glassland. There’s no telling when the device will be available for everyday consumers, but I can guarantee that it won’t be until developers have had ample time to explore the possibilities. I do know one thing: If you’re really worried about being spied on by someone wearing Glass, don’t be. You’re not that interesting.
I’ve heard some suggestions that our extreme fascination with Google Glass is more a symptom of desperation for some kind of genuine gadget innovation than anything to do with the product’s merits, and a new gadget from Sony (via The Verge) has me wondering whether or not other companies are flailing about for something novel. Sony introduced a new 13.3-inch e-ink prototype reader device today, which seems new but also remarkably old and washed up all at once.
The device is called Digital Paper, and is a flexible 13.3-inch display that uses the battery sipping e-ink tech we’re used to in dedicated e-readers like the Amazon Kindle. The large display is more like the one you’d find on a MacBook Air than the one on a typical e-reader, however, which is one of its most unusual qualities. Big-screened e-readers don’t exactly have a super-successful track record, you might recall, as the Kindle DX was seen by most as an overly expensive, overly large iteration on the core Kindle concept, and two offerings in the category that were even larger from Skiff and Plastic Logic hit the deadpool prior to even launching at all.
Sony wants to change things up a bit with a capacitive touch panel and stylus to give users plenty of input options for a change. That’s bound to come in handy for taking notes in class, as this is aimed at the education market and will be entering trials at three Japanese higher ed institutions over the course of the next year. But even with a pen strapped to it, it’s still a big, dedicated e-reader, and it’s hard to see that offering much value for users in a world full of much more feature-rich, multipurpose devices like smartphones and tablets.
When the e-reader first debuted as a product category, it made sense, in that it was a bridge device for users who had grown up with paper books and were looking for a format that closely mirrored that experience. But now, for students especially, devices and digital media are a long-accepted fact. Digital natives don’t need devices that harken back to older tech, even if they do offer longer battery life and a format that may or may not be easier on the eyes, depending on which study you trust.
Education has shown a keen interest in devices like the iPad and Kindle Fire, and Sony is barking up the wrong tree with an e-reader device as an attempt to appeal to that market. Still, if nothing else it should be interesting, which seems to be the main thing driving consumer device innovation these days.
Soundrop, the popular social and interactive “listening room” music service that first launched as an app on Spotify, continues to branch out and become ever-more ubiquitous. The latest iteration: a new web version, now out in beta, which lets users tap into existing listening rooms based on artists, genres and moods, using Spotify’s move to the web as a way of building out part of the audio component, and synchronising those tracks with videos from YouTube. The web app is the latest product in a series that also includes a Spotify app and the ability to access rooms via Facebook embeds.
While Spotify is now available in 28 markets (after adding its first territories in Asia and Latin America earlier in April), Soundrop’s web app is global: wherever Spotify does not work, Soundrop reverts to searching and using tracks posted on YouTube and Vevo.
Co-founder and CEO Inge-Andre Sandvik points out that this is not about creating a competing service for Spotify itself on the web. Instead, what it does is introduce both Soundrop’s platform, and the music services it aggregates, to a different audience.
“This is not competing. It’s more targeted to all the YouTube users out there that now can get curated playlists, and piggy back on all the great curation from all the Spotify users,” he notes. In the corner of every playlist, Soundrop also gives a link to Spotify itself, encouraging people to download its desktop app.
It’s also a way of significantly widening the community of both Soundrop and Spotify users. Those who tap into the web version synchronise not only with those using Soundrop’s Spotify app (first launched last year) but its Facebook app, which debuted in January, when Soundrop first showed off its audio/video synching capabilites, to create a cross-platform community that brings all the listeners together. While Soundrop used to also offer standalone mobile apps, for now those have been pulled while they get rebuilt on the company’s new Erlang-based platform first launched in October.
Still, the plan, Sandvik says, is to go beyond Spotify to add more music streams to the service as well. This makes Soundrop not unlike what Twitter music is doing in aggregating different services into its own trending/discovery Twitter #Music service. It is also reminiscent of the “roaming network for subscription music services” that Fred Wilson recently described on his blog.
As with the Facebook app, the new web app doesn’t appear to allow users to create their own listening rooms, just tap into those that have been made already, and add their own tracks to them. That service is still exclusive to Soundrop’s Spotify app, although it’s likely this will eventually become a feature elsewhere. More immediately, Sandvik says Soundrop will soon be introducing a way to “collect” music from the web player and add it to your own Spotify music library to listen to whenever you want.
Soundrop, as we pointed out when it raised $3 million last year, with backing from early Spotify investor Northzone, has been exploring a number of different business models. The service itself is free to use, but it collects revenue shares from labels on the traffic that Soundrop brings to their artists; and it also has been building out the ability to create customized rooms and apps. These are sold primary through in-direct channels, such as Spotify’s ad sales team and digital agencies. (The latter was responsible for the first customized app to launch on Soundrop’s platform, a “music room” the DJ David Guetta.)
Meanwhile, Oslo-based Soundrop also continues to grow in other ways and is still working on its next round of investment, which will like involve strategic partners.
The Bank of England and U.K. Treasury announced this week they are offering lending institutions incentives for small business loans. But if the U.S. experience is an example, incentives won’t do the trick.
U.K. Incentives for Small Business Loans
British small businesses say they are starved for credit Britain continues its struggle to recover from the financial crisis and just entered its third recession in the last five years. According to a Reuters report, the next phase of the “Funding for Lending Scheme” (FLS) would give banks incentives for granting loans to small businesses.
The original FLS was introduced back in August of 2012. The intention was to offer banks incentives to increase loans to consumers and businesses. But it didn’t work out that way. The benefits were seen by banks and homebuyers, not small businesses / SMEs.
Under the latest iteration, for every additional one pound that banks lend to small businesses in 2013, banks will be able to draw on 10 pounds of discounted FLS funding (it’s a 1:1 ratio for other types of lending in the FLS). In 2014 that formula drops to five pounds of discounted funding for every one additional pound loaned to small businesses.
The U.K. Finance Minister George Osborne said in a statement, ”This innovative extension will now do even more for small and medium-sized businesses ….”
Not everyone agrees. In an article in the Guardian, economics correspondent Phillip Inman says it won’t much matter as long as the Royal Bank of Scotland is under restrictions to reduce its lending. He writes:
“When the Royal Bank of Scotland is under pressure to conserve its cash and shrink its lending, what, you might ask, is the point of officials inside the Bank of England extending and upgrading the funding for lending scheme (FLS) to encourage the small business loan market?
The Edinburgh-based bank can already lay claim to more than 40% of small and medium-sized business lending. With Lloyds, the other state-owned bank, it dominates the scene and, according to many business leaders, sets the benchmark for the industry. Loan criteria, charges and penalties are all set by RBS, they say.
RBS wants to make money and can only do so by lending, but it is under instruction from the Treasury and a welter of new banking rules to be risk averse. A risk averse strategy turns away pleas from risky SMEs in favour of safer borrowers – which in this case are big business and high loan-to-value homeowners.
He calls for more action. He quotes John Longworth, head of the British Chambers of Commerce, as calling for backing of an embryonic Bank of Business in order to bring more options to the small business loan market. Longworth, in his New Year’s message at the beginning of 2013, noted:
“Britain’s business finance system is dysfunctional and restrains growth and there is an urgent need for a patient business lender to give innovative, new and growing businesses, as well as those businesses in recovery, access to the levels of finance they need to grow and evolve.”
Lessons From the U.S. Experience
For many of us here in the United States, to think of one bank being responsible for 40% of the nation’s small business loans is mind-boggling. True, the banking industry has been consolidating here in the United States for decades. Yet we still see a different bank on every corner. We’re lucky to have so many choices.
Even so, U.S. banks appear to be making fewer small business loans, based on FDIC data between 1995 and 2012. As Professor Scott Shane points out, one reason is that big business loans are more profitable than small business loans.
Loans to small businesses are riskier, making small business loan portfolios less profitable. Small business loans are harder to underwrite due to a dearth of public credit histories and solid financial statements by small businesses. Assets to secure such loans are slim. And small business failure rates don’t help lenders sleep better at night.
Some small business owners simply don’t bother applying for business loans. Or they take one look at the paperwork and assume (rightly or wrongly) they will be turned down. So they run up their credit cards or tap into their home equity loans instead, and don’t get enough funding that way.
But why wouldn’t government incentives help, you ask?
Here in the United States, we’ve had a recent experience with government incentives to increase small business lending — and it wasn’t pretty. Just this month, an Inspector General report disclosed that many banks receiving money from a special government Small Business Loan Fund used that money to repay bailout debt, instead of increasing small business lending. According to the report, there was no penalty if they didn’t lend.
There was no regulatory oversight to determine if recipient-banks’ plans to increase small-business loans were even achievable. Some of the banks just weren’t in a position to increase their small business lending much.
If the U.S. experience is any indication, the Guardian correspondent and the British Chambers chief have a point. To increase small business lending calls for a larger and different vision. Incentives alone won’t do it, because they don’t fix the fundamental underlying issues with small business lending.
Innovative New Approaches Needed
What’s needed are new approaches that directly address the challenges of lending to small businesses. Small businesses everywhere need more innovative funding programs that still balance responsible underwriting.
Extended loan repayment terms for small businesses, more focus on microloans (and redefining microloans as being up to $200,000, because after all, $10,000 or even $50,000 doesn’t go far today), loosening of crowdfunding restrictions, more programs backed by successful businesses and entrepreneurs (such as Samuel Adams “Brewing the American Dream” program and Amazon’s Capital program for Amazon merchants) that combine mentoring oversight with funding, and expansion of programs like Accion microloans – here in the United States these and other innovative approaches need to be encouraged.
Another help would be more educational programs aimed at small businesses to help them understand business credit scoring. Many U.S. small business owners are in the dark about how to build a credit history for their businesses (versus themselves personally).
Change the paradigm, and you can open up small business access to operating and expansion funding. Keep it the same and the state of small business lending will be more of the same, too.
The post British Incentives for Small Business Loans: Take a Page From the US appeared first on Small Business Trends.