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My Favorite Products of 2014: From Applications to Gadgets

For the past several years, I have used December to write about my favorite products, digital habits, etc. And here again is my annual list of things I habitually use, love and rely on. There are obviously many, many other great products, apps, tools and gadgets - some fun and others meaningfully important to tech trends... this is simply a list of those things I use each and every day.

Applications, Tools and more...

Nuzzel and Pocket Both of these are new habits in 2014: Nuzzel is a new product and I simply find it to be the most effective and most efficient way to find and consume great content. And while, Pocket has been around, I have found myself using it daily in part because Nuzzel and Pocket work so well together, because Pocket works so well across device and Platform (iOS, Android, MacOS, etc) and because it works offline (great for reading during travel).

Spotify Spotify has been on this list since it launched… and in terms of daily minutes consumed, it is probably my most used product. We use it as a family and it's as much a part of my routine as my kids' (Raffi was our #1 artist of 2014… says a lot, right?). Once you spend the time to set playlists and explore new artists - the switching costs are also very high. I cannot imagine moving my music activity outside of Spotify: not only is it a great experience… it would be a great deal of work.

SportsCenter & WatchESPN Naturally I am a sports nut and am quite biased, but... I use these applications daily. SportsCenter for scores, stats, news and highlights (which has a major update coming in a few weeks) - and I use WatchESPN to watch Duke Football (whether on phone, Apple TV or other connected devices).

sportscenter widget

Overcast, Audible & iTunes Audio Books From Bill Simmons & Grantland to Serial to books on tape - I listen to a lot of audio content. I use: - Overcast for podcasts (like Serial and Bill Simmons) - the SportsCenter App's new On-Air functionality for live ESPN audio (like Mike & Mike and live games) - Audible and iTunes for audio books

Camera+ Gets better and better… Lots of other great options like Litely, but I eventually find myself happily returning to Camera+.

Twitter Notifications and Facebook Groups & Facebook Messenger Writing that Twitter and Facebook are part of my digital life would be rather obvious. So a couple features I now routinely use: - I actively manage and use Twitter Notifications to stay atop of news and content. Examples include getting notifications for @NikeStore (read more here), @BillSimmons, @BenedictEvans, @CNNbrk, and @AdamSchefter. - On Facebook, I use Groups regularly (both on web and now via application). We use it actively at ESPN for in-group communication and sharing. And I use Messenger more and more each month… particularly with friends who I do not regularly SMS with.

facebook groups app

iOS8 Widgets and... iOS8 Extensions - Pocket, Buffer, etc Extensions and Widgets have been a part of android for a while (or the capability) - but with ios8, this functionality opens up so many different use cases for users and app publishers. Pocket, Evernote, Pinterest, SportsCenter, Nuzzel, Wunderlist, Buffer and others suddenly become more routine / daily behaviors for me.

pocket-extensions

Travel Bundle: United, Uber, Passbook, Tripit, HotelTonight I've been on the road quite a bit recently and each of these apps is used with each trip. The United App is totally redone, reliable and integrates nicely with Apple's Passbook. Tript is terrific and I forward plans and confirmation reservations to the plans@tripit email service. Works perfectly. I have also used HotelTonight several times this past year and been pleasantly surprised by how elegant and easy it is… and they answered my biggest ask: the ability to book multiple days ahead.

Health Bundle: MyFitnessPal, Argus, Pedometer+ and Instant Heart Rate by Azumio No rhyme or reason as to how I use each of these together… but 2014 was the year for me where I moved entirely from hardware tracking to software. I use MyFitnessPal for tracking nutrition habits and logging activities. Pedometer+ is the simplest way to view movement (I use their simple iOS8 widget. And I use Argus and Instant Heart Rate to simply monitor and log simple performance during cardio workouts.

Video Bundle: iTunes, Netflix, Watch Disney Junior & Watch Disney Channel, Apple TV Maybe this is more a habit of the kids… but they have amassed quite the library on iTunes and a queue of favorite characters and shows via Disney's Watch apps and Netflix's playlist.

watchdisneyjr

Dropbox On this list year after year… deserves to be on this list more this year than any before - between file management, photo backup, and team collaboration.

Skitch Old reliable. Use it several times each day.

Evernote Skitch's parent company and product - Evernote is also old reliable. They are a great example of platform ubiquity and interface consistency across all of those products. From iOS native application to the MacOS Desktop App - Evernote works seamlessly across all of my devices and the content is readily accessible and editable.

Also of note: Evernote's product marketplace is very unique. The products within are of terrific and surprising quality. The Pfieffer product line is really fantastic.

Mobile Day I wrote about Mobile Day last year and am still shocked by how few people know about it. If you take a lot of phone calls - you'll just love the app. Note: As of this past week, MobileDay has introduced a freemium model for users who place more than 10 calls a month.

Wunderlist I love the interface, shared lists and the new integration into ios8 widgets / extensions. Easy integration with other users (family or teammates) and easy integration via email (simply forward tasks or emails to me@wunderlist.com). I have fiddled with several list / to-do services and this has become my favorite. An ask for 2015: the ability to send tasks from multiple email addresses.

Screenflow & Android Screencast Both excellent tools to capture, share and test product design and functionality. Screenflow allows editing and Android's Native Screencast makes it so, so simple.

Gadgets and Gear and Misc...

iPhone 6+ The size discussion is polarizing for many, but the benefits far outweigh any perceived size inconvenience: - more real estate and new usability formats from developers - bigger and better battery live - amazing, amazing camera (can't be overstated how good it is)

OnePlus I love this Android device. I love the build, the size, the feel. I really like the Cynogen / Android install and the customization opportunities. Really well done. And perhaps most importantly: I love price. Unlocked and 64GB for $349. The price is a game-changer.

Tile Took a little longer to ship than I had hoped - but the product is really well made and the software pairs easily and nicely. I have a Tile on each of my keychains and find myself clumsily having to use the app once a week. Also a great, fun gift.

iPhone & iPad Connection Cables I give several presentations and demos in a given week.... And I almost always prefer to give it as a live demo and off of the actual device. These cables are life savers and I keep a pair (hdmi + dvi) in the office and in my bag.

Bose Wireless Headphones Note: I am NOT an audiophile. I look for comfort, ease, sound, and size.

I bought these bluetooth early in the year and, while other headphones might have better sound quality, I really enjoy them. I really wanted a pair of wireless, bluetooth headphones for travel - and ones that would be comfortable after many hours of usage. The Bose headphones work terrifically. My only critique (but I think newer models are improved) is around battery life.

If you want more research, here are some good comparisons by The Verge and Gizmodo.

NiteIze Gear Ties These things are brilliant and I go through them like candy… simple way to keep your cables organized. With daily use, they last 6-12 months and are an easy add-on to any Amazon order.

Bobo Bars and Raw Revolution Bars I eat the same thing each morning for breakfast: either a Bobo Bar or a Raw Revolution Bar. Both are great (although everyone's tastes are obviously different).

Nespresso VertuoLine Coffee I eat the same thing every morning and I drink a lot (yes, a lot) of coffee. THe new Nespresso Vertuo machine is just terrific. Unlike past generations which only brewed espresso - this now also brews coffee. It's delicious.

Lists from others...

Some related "best of" lists from other sources... what did I miss?

- Mashable: 11 Most Useful Tools of 2014 - The Verge: Best Gadgets of the Year - Cult of Mac: Best Apps of 2014 - Slate: Favorite Apps of 2014 - CNET: Best Products of 2014 - The Verge: This is my Next (a general collection of gadget "best of's") - TheNextWeb: 65 of the Best iOS Apps Launched in 2014

Note: I am an investor in Nuzzel and MyFitnessPal.

Android / Google Play Top Grossing Apps

Google Play's Top Paid and Top Grossing App lists look quite different. Not only are there different inhabitants (Electronic Arts, for instance, has four of the top ten Paid Apps but none of the top ten grossing apps) - the business models and interactive models are obviously different.

Here are screenshots of each list - Top Grossing is fascinating and shows that two gaming companies (Supercell and King) dominate that list:

Top 8 Grossing Apps:

Supercell: #1. Clash of Clans #5. Hay Day #16. Boom Beach

King: #2. Candy Crush (#8 in Top Free Apps) #4. Farm Heroes #6. Bubble Witch (#12 in Top Free Apps) #7. Pet Rescue

Top Paid Android Apps

Android Top Grossing Apps

Android / Google Play: Top Free Apps

Messaging rules the app stores these days... as does Facebook. Here is a screenshot of the Google Play Store's Top Free Apps: #1. Facebook Messenger #2. Facebook #4. Instagram (Facebook) #5. Snapchat ... #9. Skype #10. Kik #13. Twitter #16. WhatsApp

Notable others: music has #3 and #11 with Pandora and Spotify, respectively. King has games at #8 and #12 with Candy Crush and Bubble Witch 2. And Netflix is #7.

Android Top Free Apps

Today on ESPN: US Open, World Cup 2014, NBA Finals

Today is one of those special days at ESPN: live on our networks and our digital suite of applications you'll find the US Open at Pinehurst, the opening game of the 2014 World Cup (Brazil vs. Croatia) and then Game 4 of the NBA Finals (Spurs at Heat). And that's in addition to a roster of other sporting events, news and happenings. It's a magical sports day and you can follow it all live and live-streamed on ESPN and ESPN apps. Everything will be available on Watch ESPN - which you can access on web, iPhone & iPad, Android phones & tablets, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, and more.

And you can follow along with the SportsCenter App (on iOS and Android) and the new ESPN FC App for World Cup and soccer (on iOS and Android).

You can also listen live via ESPN Radio, which is now available on iTunes Music, and of course via web, iOS, and Android.

It's a fun, unique day to be a sports fan - enjoy!

Schedule: US Open - 9am EST on ESPN, ESPN Radio & Watch ESPN App World Cup - 4pm EST on ESPN, ESPN Radio & Watch ESPN App NBA Finals - 9pm EST on ABC, ESPN Radio & Watch ESPN App SportsCenter - 11pm EST on ESPN & Watch ESPN App

june12sportscenter

My 2013 Digital Habits

It's an annual geeky, blogging tradition: share those products and services that have made their way into your daily routines. It's a simple reflection on those experiences that have become meaningful, those that have become less relevant, and those that others find interesting and useful. Mike Arrington used to publish an annual, very simple list of "Products I Cannot Live without": 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006. And like many others, I did the same. It's fun to revisit them and see which habits have stuck and, much more likely, what's changed.

So continuing the tradition - here is a simple, incomplete version of those products I use habitually in 2013... and notice that most of mobile focused and freemium models.

Personal, Work, Utility

Spotify (Premium) I've been a paying subscriber from day one and have always thought that their pay-for-mobile-model is brilliant... it allows users to get hooked through the desktop & web (their web product is a little-known gem), build playlists & favorites on the best and biggest screen available, and then roadblocks mobility. Smart.

Side note: Sean Parker's Hipster International is a great lesson in the power curation. Forbes has a great piece on it.

spotify

Evernote (Premium) Organize the web, your email, images, and so forth. The Chrome extension is fantastically done. And their mobile application suite gives quick access to important documents from any device, anywhere.

Dropbox (Premium) Like Evernote, it's a product that I use multiple times a day - personally and professionally. And like Evernote, it becomes more powerful (and habitual) as I move between different devices and locations. Between products like Evernote, Dropbox, SpaceMonkey, iCloud, Gmail, etc - I could purchase a new computer tomorrow and be fully setup / connected minutes later.

MobileDay Such a simple, time-saving app: one-touch dialing into conference calls.

MobileDay_–_One-Touch_Dial_Into_Any_Conference_Call_On_Your_iPhone_Or_Android

Nike+ Running I have used all of the wearable devices (Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, Fitbit) - but, while each is impressive in its own way, I haven't made one part of my daily routine. I continue to come back to the old-reliable Nike+ Running app. The app is well done, relatively accurate, social and fun.

MyFitnessPal Simply and effectively monitor your eating habits and caloric intake. The interface (on iOS and Android) is simple and many foods can be uploaded through bar code scanning. And while MyFitnessPal is part of my daily routine - the power of the application is that it changes your routine. (Note: I am an investor)

ESPN SportsCenter Of course it's a biased habit, but I use the SportsCenter application several times a day for scores, news, and video.

StoryBots This is less about my daily habit - and more about my three-year old son's... but Dillon uses the StoryBots suite of mobile applications almost daily. Their digital books and learning videos are fun and smart. StoryBots is created by JibJab and has a premium, monthly subscription. A great, related read: the New York Times' Babes in Digital Toyland piece over Christmas weekend. (Note: Polaris is an investor)

storybots

Amazon Prime (paid) Our house runs on Prime... and has for years. From diapers to foods to gadgets. And based on holiday 2013, 20m other households now run on Prime too.

Also: Amazon's Instant Video (free with Amazon Prime) is a remarkably under-the-radar, under-appreciated service. The library rivals that of other services and the kids content is really expansive.

TestFlight (paid) A necessary, efficient tool to provision access to application builds. We use TestFlight internally and externally - from testing to PR. Similarly, I use TestFlight to test and play with friends' or portfolio's applications.

Proto.io (paid) There are several tools available for quick prototyping... About a year ago I played around with Proto.io and have been actively using it since. Really intuitive and simple way to craft quick prototypes, distribute them and collect feedback. Excellent product.

Proto_io_-_Silly-fast_mobile_prototyping_

Jot Pro I do a lot of light-weight product sketching on my iPad and have gravitated to the Jot Pro stylus by Adonit. It's sturdy, accurate, and cheap. I tend to use the Noteshelf iPad application... but anything will do. Side note: Adonit and Evernote have teamed up on a new stylus... I have not played with it yet, but it looks intriguing.

Skitch (an Evernote Product) I use Skitch multiple times per day - almost always via the the Mac OS app - although the Chrome Extension does the job as well. It's a simple, effective way to do quick screenshots, light-weight editing, and sharing. The Evernote integration easily saves images to specific folders (although it can be a memory hog if you're not a premium user).

Social

FaceTime From family to work calls and candidate interviews, FaceTime is tremendous and far preferable to a phone call. But when video is not an option: try FaceTime audio. It's digital over wifi (so saves minutes) and the quality is remarkably crisp.

Photography Suites (paid) So many applications and photo tools - it's impossible to list them all... but I'll try with those that I use regularly: - Path, I still consider Path's lenses and filters to be the best - Camera+, great for shooting photos on iOS - Instagram, the quality of the content stream is remarkable. From friends to special-access accounts like Duke Basketball - Photoshop - Apeture, lightweight editing and management - Skitch, less around photos and more around screen caputres

duke bball

Facebook & Facebook Messenger More and more of my communication has shifted to Facebook messages... and much through the Messenger application.

Hardware

Apple TV & ChromeCast Each TV in our house is connected to either an Apple TV or a ChromeCast. With Apple TV, you have iTunes Radio and the immediate accessibility of movies, Netflix, Watch ESPN, etc. ChromeCast is remarkably simple and priced perfectly. And if you have a ChromeCast, here are 10 tips to get more out of it.

iPad Air I use my iPad Air more than any other device - including my laptop. It is so light and so fast. The most incredible part: it is as powerful as the original Macbook Air (2008). And if you cannot get over typing on the iPad, get a <$100 ultra-thin bluetooth keyboard.

Google Nexus 5 Not enough attention is given to this device. It is cheap ($349 unlocked), fast, light, and runs on native KitKat. I love the form factor and the Google Now / OK Google integration is fantastic.

nexus5

NiteIze Gear Ties These things are brilliant and I go through them like candy... simple way to keep your cables organized. With daily use, they last 6-12 months and are an easy add-on to any Amazon order.

geartie

Hello SportsCenter App & 8 Takeaways

On Thursday, we launched the new SportsCenter Application, an update to ESPN's existing and popular ScoreCenter application. With 50m downloads and millions of daily users, ScoreCenter is certainly successful and our hallmark application. We didn't set out to replace it; rather, we set out to expand the experience and better present the vast array of content that makes ESPN so special: video, articles, imagery, television clips, social activity, statistics, and more. You can get it here: - for iOS: http://es.pn/scapp - for Android: http://es.pn/scappandroid - Or, dial **SC from your cell phone

sportscenter app

A handful of product highlights

- Scores / News / Now: ScoreCenter delivered scores and stats... SportsCenter does that alongside News (video, highlights, articles, analysis) and ESPN Now (tweets and live scores) - SportsCenter's Best Of: The SportsCenter Tab is the best stuff of the day (games, breaking news, analysis), merged with your favorite team scores. - Personalization & Inbox: The focus of the app is on delivering a personalized experience through alerts, favorite teams, and the new Fan Inbox (which is a personalized feed of your favorite teams' news, highlights and scoring alerts). - Clubhouses: My favorite enhancement is the introduction of Team Clubhouses. Fans can quickly access each team's scoreboard, newsfeed and social feed... and set alerts directly within the Clubhouse.

Here is a screenshot of the Duke Football Clubhouse which is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, it is relatively long-tail content that would not elevate to the national level - but it is important to me. Second, the content is fantastic. These are in-game highlights, streaming live into the feed seconds after they occur on the field. It's a tremendous experience that is highly personalized.

duke clubhouse

That's the new app. I hope you download it, enjoy it and pass along feedback. I also thought it would be worthwhile to share some takeaways:

It's a Mobile World

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about ESPN's recent digital patterns. September was a record month for ESPN in three ways: 1. we saw record overall traffic 2. during that period, more fans accessed ESPN via mobile than desktop 3. over 36% of users accessed ESPN exclusively via mobile

It's a mobile world. The focus on re-imagining ScoreCenter was predicated on better serving our fans in an increasingly mobile world. And if you haven't done so already, read Benedict Evan's Mobile is Eating the World deck.

It's a Native Mobile World

It's a mobile world... but it's also a native world for applications. Long gone are the days or porting a single app from platform to platform. Users don't want this... and neither do the platforms themselves. Experiences have to be built and designed specifically for the platform and the device portfolio. The challenge of course is to maintain brand familiarity and consistency while also designing differently and specifically for each platform. It's a difficult but critical balance.

Native also applies to platforms beyond the mobile operating systems (ie iOS, Android, etc). For instance, we took care to make sure that the application leverages native integrations with Twitter and Facebook - both within the application and within their own platforms. This, for instance, is a screenshot of the new Twitter Card integration:

twitter cards

Disrupt Yourself

AllThingsD wrote a nice piece on the SportsCenter launch entitled: "ESPN ScoreCenter App Is a Hit, but It’s Getting an Overhaul Anyway: New Name, More Video, More Stuff". It's an important mentality: don't wait for something to break before considering / forcing change. The world changes too fast - technology, platforms, standards, habits - to sit still.

Scaled, Pre-launch Distribution and Usage

Between services like TestFlight and Google Beta, it is relatively painless to distribute pre-launch builds and collect usage data / feedback from large numbers of relevant users. It's the purest form of user-testing and user-feedback. For SportsCenter, somewhere around 1,500 fans played with the application ahead of launch. Others like Facebook are doing that at grand scale using the Google Beta program:

facebook google play

Press as Pre-Launch Users

My friend Matt Schlicht of Hipset recently wrote a nice Medium piece about driving press for your startup. My strong opinion here: treat everyone as a user and a fan. SportsCenter received some excellent coverage and those writers had access to the test builds of the application for several days (or more). That translates into more organic coverage (good or bad), deep insight, and some unique perspectives. It is also how pieces like Ryan Lawler's on TechCrunch get written - where he had a fantastic, in-depth usage video.

Advice: trust that your product is high-quality and give users and writer's full, early access.

A couple other pieces: - TechCrunch: ESPN’s SportsCenter App Combines News And Highlights With New Personalization Features - AllThingsD: ESPN ScoreCenter App Is a Hit, but It’s Getting an Overhaul Anyway: New Name, More Video, More Stuff - PandoDaily: ESPN Launches Personalized SportsCenter Feed Web App, Proves It Just Gets Digital - AdAge: This Is 'SportsCenter'...on Your iPhone

Twitter As Real-Time Customer Service

This is obvious for most: Twitter is immensely powerful as a real-time insights and customer support platform. During launch, we were seeing 50+ tweets per minute. Between sentiment tracking, bug monitoring and usage habits - we had an immediate understanding of how fans were engaging and interacting. This isn't shocking to anyone... but one point worth noting: I have spent a lot of time responding to tweets of all ranges: positive, negative, open questions, etc. Users were almost always happy to hear from someone connected to the product. Feedback was universally helpful and, even when a user was unhappy, the outcome was positive.

It's Iterative

There are things we got wrong. There are things we had to cut due to time. And there are things we didn't get to but are on the roadmap.

It's an iterative process. It has to be... in part because user feedback will dictate changes and time won't allow for everything to built. The challenge is determining what viable release requirements are... and communicating iteration to users.

I'm Old

Along with the core team, we read every single tweet. The big lesson: my vocabulary is very out of date, emoji are king, and I'm clearly old.

twitteremoji

Google's Moto X: Hardware + Software Customization

I am a big fan of personalized products like NikeID (including both my running sneakers and golf shoes) and their corresponding web / application experiences. The latest Google Android device - the Moto X - combines hardware and software customization in a way that only Google can do. It's very well done. The Moto X can be purchased online at Google's Play store (Moto Maker). There, users customize three aspects of the phone: styling (color, shell, etc), features and accessories. The hardware customizations are relatively obvious - but also fun in a way that is similar to shopping on NikeID.

The unique part: users can attach their Google ID by authenticating their Google login. This then enables users to customize the software (ie backgrounds and welcome messages). It also enables Google to deliver an authenticated phone already connected with a user's synced apps, contacts, etc. In effect: once the user inputs his / her password, it's a fully custom phone from appearance to application / content.

motox

motox2

Mailbox and Innovation Around the Mailbox

I have intentionally attempted to shift my mobile habits to take advantage of new, well-done applications. I tried to replace iOS's safari with Google's Chrome application. And now I am trying to replace the core iOS mail app with Mailbox. In trying to do so, three obvious points come along: 1. There is much innovation to be done around core experiences. Ones that come to mind: MessageMe for messaging, Mailbox for mail, Chrome for browser, Tempo for calendar, etc.

2. It is really hard to break personal habits. Regardless of whether or not I prefer Chrome to Safari - I am rooted historically and routinely in Safari. I like the Chrome browser a lot, but find the littlest things annoying - not because they are poorly designed or created, but because they are different than where I habitually expect them to be.

This of course is in conflict with point #1 above: innovation challenges habit. And habits are hard to break.

3. It is far harder (nearly impossible?) to break device habits. What I mean by this: if you really prefer Mailbox to iOS mail - you have to go out of your way to use it as a default... and it is even more challenging in the Chrome example. Being built into the core OS is such a huge hurdle to overcome - and while it may not stifle innovation, it stifles adoption.

Of course it is different from OS to OS (Android's flexibility is why apps like SwiftKey are so great and so popular) - and even more complicated with various device / hardware layers.

mailbox app

Facebook Messenger Sans Account.

Fascinating. Really important to watch as Facebook moves to the next billion users - which is applicable to the platform and account setting here. Also marks the importance of attention to user funnels and onboarding - clearly something facebooks knows well.

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