Pure West for iPhone and iPod touch on the iTunes App Store

My first iOS app is live on the app store. It is an iPhone compatible schedule for Pure Yoga West, one of the top yoga centers in NYC in the upper west side. The app is free for download from the AppStore.

This project started off when I joined Pure West as a member. Yoga became a big part of my life as I practice on daily basis. Since Pure West offers around 27 different kinds of yoga between 5 studios, starting as early as 6am – you can imagine the teachers they have as staff and the frequency they update the schedule.

Something was broken. The paper schedule provided at the front desk was out of date as soon as it was printed. Could be a minor change to a single class, to time of full moon where ashtanga is not practices (which can not be reflected in a single week sheet), to the twice a month led practice of mysore.

Pure uses spa-booker as their service provider, doing all the heavy lifting with proprietary database system and interfaces to both manage the content and display it to the public. it gets more complicated than that as some classes are special and specific where members (or non members) need to pay and more.

Since spa-booker is working on their own version for the mobile devices, and I knew I am in need of a solution for myself that can probably serve others – I jumped on the challenge to create something.

Working closely with two friends, Tomer and Claudio, together we build this app that does the following well:

– single click to get class schedule and class info
– fast loading of the data
– layout that matches the small iphone screen

Essentially we build a system that scrapes the HTML of the entire week. Then we parse the content diligently and store it in our XML proprietary format. The interface picks up the XML whenever someone launches the application and displays it on screen accordingly.

For performance reasons we are re-visiting Pure’s website every two hours to see what had changed, parse the content and re-write the XML. On the client side only one day is loaded from the server. When a user changes a day, we go back to the XML and look for the content of that day exclusively.

The app is a UIWebView essentially, as the app is developed as a web application. The release to the AppStore will help the discovery, but also for us to learn the process and time line for doing so, as we plan to move forward with other developments of our ideas and our client’s.

The beauty of iOS apps is that they strive to keep things simple. When you launch the application, it is really hard to judge how much work was put into it, and how much lifting is done in the background. Things just work as they should, both in layout, style and user experience, including performance specifically.

One of the advantages of designing this app abstractly, is that now we can custom create it for any spa-booker customer within the day.

We are in touch with Spa Booker who are supporting our efforts. Future plans may include using their API’s to book classes directly from the phone, add more specific information to classes, like which element of zenyasa is being practices today, and provide a delta of changes since a user last visited the schedule.

The Pure East application (the 2nd location for Pure on the upper east side) is pending approval by Apple. Based on the approval of Pure West, it is a matter of days before that one will be approved as well.

Google music – with hopes for innovation

Google’s new advent move into the world of streaming music is exciting. Well, not quite yet… but the idea of some innovation around music delivery (and maybe discovery) can POTENTIALLY be exciting.

What are we looking at here? As most things go – we are looking at Apple delivering over 1M songs per day (do the math) directly into iPod/iPhone etc. Apple also just relieves Ping, their brand new, let’s live inside iTunes social networks that spirals around music (great niche if you ask me).

What can google do that’s creative, innovative and will convince people to use their service and BUY music (at some form) from them? First, is a platform that is built for android based phones where you can interact with your media (discover, stream, share and sync). Second is pricing. Beating Apple’s pricing is tricky and I am not convinced it will be done – there is a better battle ground on platforms. over 200K android based phones are being activated every single day – more than enough for Google to capture a nice market share. Couple this with the advent of Google TV where you will be able to stream your music from droid to the TV, snyc em all over the net, and you have a really tight, head-to-head competition between Google and Apple that will benefit us all.

How can Google make this service better? One answer lies across the pond where a company named Spotify is making big moves and capturing the imagination and pockets of the audience. Spotify is a brilliant combination between iTunes and Pandora. With Spotify you can the choose any song you want to play and it will stream right to the Spotify player. Pretty neat right? With Pandora you can create a playlist based on a song, which will, eventually, be played down the play list. Spotify is instant gratification without the need to pay.

It is says that Spotify has been trying to make a move into the US, but had hit some walls, and/or is working diligently to negotiate the terms and fees and bla bla… long-short, no iphone based spotify nor desktop in the US as of yet.

I hope to hear great news from Goolge in regards to this up and coming service. One way to make it kick ass is add a new layer of interactivity. Think of what MTV did back in the 80s when they added the video to the music. Companies like Lucid Technologies, with their product KOI are doing the same thing, allowing musicians to interact with the songs as musicians and not only listeners.

Why Apple TV and Ping will fail

Major snore from Apple in my opinion. I think that the event itself, and the fact it was streamed to Mac machines and Safari browsers only is THE reason why Apple had failed and will continue to fail (in my eyes) with the latest announcements. I am talking about a close eco system and spoon fed experience.

Apple failed with the TV expenditure. Steve did not show us numbers, but clearly it was a failure. The big changes were sizing, pricing of shows and streaming, as opposed to storing. Is that what the users really want? To a certain degree, yes. Users do not want to worry about storage, they want to pay less for a device and for content. Apple did deliver on this, but it will not be enough, I believe, to be a killer device like the iPhone, and take over the living room with a storm. WHY? Because of the closed eco system and spoon fed experience.

Apple did a great job in educating the users and providing a great user experience across the board. I argue that user experience is what Apple is really selling and why people are using it. Coupled with the motivation to challenge and innovate, and you have a winning strategy.

This does not and will not work for the TV because only Apple fanboys will forget everything they know, and start a fresh with Apple TV, and forget all they know and do with their many years of habit. The TV is one area where users do not want to get the Apple filter applied to. Users don’t mind it with their iPod shuffle. They don’t mind it with their Mac OSX based machines, and to a certain degree they agree to it with their iPhone (mainly because Android did not step up it’s UX game to be considered a worthy competitor. yet).

Apple will gain a small market share and will have to come up with something much better than that to capture the imagination of the bigger market. I believe that can be done by turning the Apple TV into a real entertainment center to compete head to head with the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo Wii as a console, introducing the iOS appStore for the TV. That can be killer. But even that is not enough. An Apple TV can only be better than, let’s say, a Mac Mini hooked up to a TV, if it is open. By open I mean I can do whatever I want to do, as opposed to whatever Jobs wants me to do (buy his content that he chose for me).

Examples for this behavior are ample and sad. Apple removed Camera+ from the AppStore recently because TapX3 released a hack which allows you to fire up the camera from the volume button. Apple initially declined the feature, claiming it will confuse people. So Apple is stepping up to the plate as our parents (more like a big brother), deciding what is confusing for us. Clearly, releasing the shutter speed in an ergonomic way may confuse us. I feel over estimated, and I do not think it is for Apple to decide for me what’s confusing and what’s not.

Apple’s attempt at social media is probably the most interesting news to date from that event. A social network around music, which is mutually exclusive from Facebook. Did I snore yet again? While I do believe this is a GREAT idea and a fantastic opportunity for Apple to increase sales on iTunes – the segregation is peculiar. Even worse – who wants to live inside iTunes? Though revolutionary, iTunes is hate by many. Looks and feels old and clunky. Navigating through your music sucks and discovery with genius is, well, boring…

Apple’s notion that people will have iTunes open to see what their friends are listening to is optimistic at best. Not web based, not facebook integration. Only one hope – it integrates with iTunes on your mobile device. I cannot imagine myself opening up iTunes when I want to listen to some music, and getting up to speed with what’s going on with my music buddies.

Apple can definitely relax a little. Let go of the grip and think of a more open way to provide users what they do best. Or not. My personal opinion is that they will not do that, and continue to thrive with a small market share that pays hefty sums to be a part of the cult.