August App Review: Aviary

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2014

App: Aviary Photo Editor
Developer: Aviary Inc.
Price: Free
Platform: iOS, Android

Photos are becoming a larger and larger part of the web.  Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – we love to take and share photos.  Photo editing used to just be for photographers, but with the rise of services like Instagram (famous for its filters), people have discovered how much fun it is to be creative with their photos.  Aviary delivers traditional editing tools (brightness, contrast, and so on) as well as some fun new ones (yes, including filters).

Open the Aviary app and you’re greeted with a grid of all the photos on your device.  Tap a photo and you’re taken immediately to the editor, where you’ll see the photo front and center, with all the tools at the bottom.  The Adjust tool give you the “traditional” tools I mentioned earlier, and the Effects tool gives you filters.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  There are tools for rotating and cropping the photo, as well as a blur tool.  There’s also a draw tool and a text tool for making annotations and captions, and there’s tools for fixing red eye and for whitening areas of the photo.  There are several other tools as well (see images 1 and 2).

The one tool I really want to talk about is the Splash tool (see image 5).  This tool is a ton of fun.  Basically, it makes the photo black and white, then allows you to “draw” the color back in to certain parts of the photo.  There’s even a “Smart Color” tool that gives you the accuracy you lose from a touch screen.  For example, if there’s a blue object next to a red object, the Smart Color tool lets you color the edge of the blue object without coloring the red object.  This tool is really enjoyable to play around with, and you can get some stunning results from it.

When you’re done making edits, you can save the photo to your device, and share the photo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.  There’s even a button to order prints of the photo at Walgreens.

There’s one more feature about Aviary that I want to talk about, and that is their API (Application Programming Interface).  Basically, Aviary has made their entire app available to be embedded into other apps or websites.  For example, when using the PicStich App (a collage making app), you can double tap a photo you’re using and get a full-featured Aviary editor right inside PicStich (see images 8 and 9).  This is really nice that Aviary has allowed other developers to use their software to make apps better.

So get creative!  I’d love to see what kinds of cool photos you guys can make using this app.  Feel free to post a comment with an Instagram or other photo link.  Happy editing!  ••


Why Tesla’s Open Patents Will Help the World… and Tesla

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2014

Several weeks ago, the recently spotlighted Tesla Motors (famous for making high-end electric cars) made a very unusual announcement.  They said that they will not sue anyone who, “in good faith,” uses their technology in electric vehicles.  This is a hugely different approach from nearly every other big business we see today.  In our trigger-happy lawsuit world, companies patent everything they possible can, fearing that someone out there will rip them off.  However, sharing ideas is the fastest way for people to innovate, instead of forcing them to reinvent someone else’s wheel every time they want to make a product.

Tesla has acknowledged that there are not very many electric cars being sold today.  Tesla wants the world to move away from gasoline, and move towards environmentally friendly, fuel-efficient electric vehicles.  They want other companies to be able to create quality electric cars, so they’re giving them the tools to do so.  I applaud Tesla for using their own intellectual property to support a cause in which they believe.  Tesla didn’t have to share their innovations; they could have kept them to themselves, to try to make people buy their products (and not someone else’s).  By sharing their technology, Tesla is giving a huge engineering boost to anyone who wants it.

As noble as this is, you might think that Tesla is shooting themselves in the foot.  Not at all.  Sure, some people may have been turned off by Tesla’s high prices.  These people may instead by an electric car made by Ford, or GM.  These are potentially lost sales for Tesla.  However, some people may have been turned off from a Tesla car simply because it’s electric.  Tesla does offer free electricity for life at their Supercharger stations nationwide.  But if an individual doesn’t live near many stations, they won’t buy a Tesla.  Fortunately, Tesla has also said that it is willing to partner with other car manufacturers and let them use Tesla’s stations (splitting the operating costs, of course).  This puts Tesla into an enormously positive Catch-22: the more people that buy electric cars, the more charging stations there will be.  The more charging stations, the more people will buy electric cars.

Tesla (as a group of environmentally-conscious people) will benefit from their patent release when they see other manufacturers making electric cars.  Tesla (as a business) will benefit as electric cars become more and more mainstream.  Now I’m not saying Tesla is selfish.  I’m saying they’re ingenious.  The great minds at Tesla have found a perpetual win-win, promoting environmentally friendly transport, and also making some money while they’re at it.  Hey, no one ever said the good guy couldn’t benefit from his actions.  ••

How Apple can “Beat” the Competition

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2014

Apple has a lot to gain from their rumored purchase of Beats by Dr. Dre.  Even if you don’t think you know what Beats are, you’ve probably seen people wearing them.  The super-trendy headphones aren’t cheap either – they start at $169.95.  I don’t understand why the average Joe would need headphones that expensive (though I could understand someone in the music business wanting them), but Dr. Dre must know something I don’t.  I see those headphones everywhere.

So obviously, if the headphones are selling, it’s a good buy for Apple – just because it’s a money maker.  However, I think Apple has their eye on something else: Beats Music.

Beats Music is a recently launched subscription streaming music service.  With the rise of Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming music services (both paid and free), it is clear that people are becoming less and less inclined to buy individual songs and albums, and instead stream music buffet style.  We saw the same thing happen to movies with the rise of Netflix, and I personally think that streaming music is just getting started.  I for one know that internet radio is great when I’m really tired of all my music (even though I have a ton of it).  From what I’ve heard about Beats Music, it’s a great service.  Like most other internet radio services, Beats Music has computer algorithms to determine what kinds of music a person likes based on their listening history.  What’s more unique is that Beats brought in industry experts to hand-craft playlists of songs that go great together.  Supposedly, this features makes all the difference when listening.

Last fall, Apple tried to get into the streaming music business when they launched iTunes Radio.  I’ve never used iTunes Radio, but right off the bat I can see the benefits of using an Apple service.  For starters, you don’t have to make any new accounts, since pretty much everyone with an iOS device already has an Apple ID.  Second, I’m sure Apple made it very convenient to buy the song you’re currently listening to, in case you decide you want to own it.

For whatever reason, however, iTunes Radio hasn’t really caught on.  It may be because so many people already use Pandora, and they just didn’t bother trying out iTunes Radio.  I’ve also heard that Apple started iTunes Radio and then sort of let it fall by the wayside, instead of continually making improvements like every new service needs.

This is why Apple needs Beats.  Just as Netflix has revolutionized the way we watch movies, somebody is going to revolutionize the way we listen to music.  Apple wants to be that somebody, and Beats by Dr. Dre might be just what they need to succeed.  ••