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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.


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.


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 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.

Google Play Store vs. Apple's iTunes: The Little Things

I have been splitting time between my iOS and Android (iPhone and Samsung Galaxy III; iPad and Google Nexus 7). Having built up years of habits with the iPhone, it is a really fascinating experience to: 1) force myself to learn a new platform: chalk that up to laziness + 'switching costs'

2) uncover the intricacies of the different platforms & brands: very noticable in some cases, very minor in others

3) figure out what I particularly like about each (device and platform). There are absolutely things that each does better than the other

Really small example of an intricate difference between the two platforms and strategies. Within iTunes (iOS and desktop), the focus on movie and television content is purchase. Makes sense as it's a higher price point and promotes cross device usage (phone, tablet, Apple TV, desktop). Finding rentals is much harder - and in some cases available weeks after the release.

Within the Google Play Store, it is the opposite. Everything defaults to rentals ($1.99 - $3.99 usually). Very different approach which seems to focus on lowering cost and sharing strategy with YouTube and other Google properties.

So many of these little things which are seemingly obvious and/or unimportant... but fascinating both individually and when you combine them all. More to come...

The Phone as an Extension

Square: an attachable payments mechanism. PayPal's Square competitor.

The Mophie: a removable juice pack that fits atop the iPhone like an ordinary sleeve. It's a must have for travelers (and got a great TechCrunch write up).

iCache's Geode: an attachable, secure wallet for your iPhone. Remarkably cool.

What's the similarity here? There is a great innovation occurring both at the app level and, more recently, at the device / peripheral level. It's yet another reminder that the future of the web consumption is mobile and companies are racing to improve the phone itself (ie battery) or extend its definition (ie square into a register / payment terminal and Geode into a wallet).

Image credit:

Designing for Mobile: 7 Guidelines for Mobile Apps & Mobile Web

Note: this article originally appeared on TechCrunch: Designing for Mobile: 7 Guidelines for Startups to Follow As an investor, I’ve seen hundreds of mobile application pitches. And as a consumer, I’ve downloaded hundreds more – some out of curiosity and others in the hope that I’ll find something so useful and exciting that I’ll make room for it on my iPhone’s home screen. From both perspectives, I am rarely excited by download numbers. What gets my attention is engagement: how frequently an application is used and how engaged those users are. This ultimately is the barometer for an application’s utility and/or strength of community. And if either of those two factors are strong, growth will certainly come. Just ask Instagram, Evernote, LogMeIn and others.

Creating great mobile experiences requires dedication to building product specifically for mobile. It sounds obvious, but it’s so often overlooked. Mobile users have different needs, desires and environments; and as the application creator, you have different opportunities to create utility and engagement. With that in mind – and with the help of my former eBay colleague and Dogpatch Labs resident, Rob Abbott (founder of EGG HAUS and Critiq), we’ve put together 7 design guidelines to consider when building for mobile.

Just like the presentations on leveraging Facebook (both and off-Facebook) and Twitter, success comes from building meaningful experiences that are honest to the native environments.

Read all of the startup presentations: - Leveraging Facebook for Startups: Part II, On-Facebook - How to Leverage Facebook for Startups: Part I, Off-Facebook - 14 SEO Tips for Startups - How to Grow Your Brand on Twitter. 5 Overarching Guidelines. Tons of Examples. - How to Create an Early-Stage Pitch Deck

7 Guidelines to Great Mobile Design

Siri, Why Aren't You Connecting?

Speed and computing power are the major iPhone 4S upgrade.But Siri is the real innovation and marketing 'sexiness'. And it should be: It's new. It's has big ambitions. It has bigger potential. And its more innovative than we give credit for.

... But what makes it so ambitious, potentially large and innovative: also makes it flawed (at least today). More often than not, my Siri experience looks a lot like the below screenshot. It is slow, unresponsive and often unable to connect to a network (even when on 3G and/or Wifi).

Daring Fireball explains why this happens and speculates why Apple may have intended it:

"Don’t forget that there’s a server/cloud-based backend that is required for Siri to function. I can’t help but suspect there’s some truth to this tweet from Mark Crump, speculating that Apple might be limiting Siri to the 4S simply to restrict the server load while the service is “beta”. There could be 100 million iOS 5 users by the end of this weekend; there will only be 1 or 2 million iPhone 4S users."

There are benefits to being cloud-based. Namely, Siri is still a beta-product and Apple can continuously roll-out updates and make service improvements without releasing iOS updates. And it makes the product more lightweight... but the downside, of course, is that the network can become over saturated and overweight. Network connections stall and users experience delays... or breaks:

Most Important Part of iPhone 4S Announcement: iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 Pricing.

When Amazon announced the new Kindle product line and the $199 Kindle Fire - I declared that Amazon did more than introduce a disruptive product... they changed the non-iPad market with remarkably disrupitive pricing:

A week later, Apple announced the iPhone 4S. In my opinion, the most important part of the announcement is their new pricing: iPhones starting at $0.00, $99 and $199 (iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S). That's more important than any feature because it opens Apple's market far wider than either the improved camera or Siri do. Furthermore, it makes them competitive with Android - who has been winning in large part due to pricing and network availability.

iOS5 Wireless Update.

  • Easily the most important & impactful part of iOS5. Between the wireless sync and the cloud based content (apps, music, movies, etc) - the 'home' device no longer plays a role. And that's great news.

  • Average iPhone, iPad & iPod Has $100 of Paid Content On It

    Noteworthy article on yesterday (AppleInsider | iOS 'stickiness' grows as average Apple user has $100 in content per device): the average iOS device (iPhone + iPad + iPod) has roughly $100 of paid content on it. That number represents all content downloadable through iTunes: applications, music, movies and books. More impressively, the average has risen to ~$100 from ~$80 in the last year - and that is as 75m new iOS devices came onto the network.

    Not only is the average high and ramping significantly - it suggests a very high switching cost. To leave Apple, you are losing $100 of paid content and - in many cases - are unable to even replace that content on other networks / OS's because of limited inventory.

    This is strengthened by Apple's new iCloud - which allows users to easily transfer content (apps, music, videos, etc) from device to device. This previously was a very painful activity... and, at times, it actually deterred me from buying some content. That is solved with iOS5 and I find myself buying more content because it is instantly accessible on all of my devices.

    Roger Ebert Reminds Us That Content Presentation is Important

    One of the top iPhone Applications at the moment is Roger Ebert's Great Movies (currently featured by Apple / iTunes). With all due respect to Roger Ebert - who has a long career of movie reviews and insights - the application is a simply a presentation layer for content that already exists and is already accessible. And yet it has become a popular application that users are willing to pay money for.... so why is this worth writing about? It is a reminder that content presentation is very important. It is also a reminder that good content is desirable and, unfortunately, often too difficult to access. And making existing content more appealing is apparently worth paying for:

    - better presentation layer - augmenting with new content sources - more accessible - native to a different environment (ie mobile, tablet, browser) - etc