Архив метки: DIY

Make your own phone with MakerPhone (some soldering required)

There’s no shortage of interesting electronics kits out there to occupy an idle Sunday, but with this one you get a phone out of the bargain. The MakerPhone is a kit looking for funds on Kickstarter that lets you assemble a working mobile phone from a number of boards and pieces, and the end result looks about as wild as you’d expect.
For about a hundred bucks, you get a mainboard, casing, LCD, wireless module, processor, and all the other pieces you need to make a basic smartphone. You’re not going to be browsing Instagram on this thing, but you can make calls, send texts, and play Snake. Remember when that was enough?
This is purpose-built hardware, of course — you won’t be putting it together cap by cap — but it’s not exactly plug and play, either. You’ll need a soldering iron, snippers, and some Python chops. (Not delicious python meat — Python the programming language.)

The MakerPhone microcontroller is Arduino-compatible, so you can tweak and extend it, too. But the creators (who previously shipped a similarly DIY handheld gaming machine) say you don’t need any experience to do this. It takes you through the absolute basics and there are pledge tiers that get you all the tools you’ll need, too.
I love the chunky UI, too. I like big pixels and I cannot lie.

Sure, this probably won’t be your everyday device (it’s huge) but it’s a fun project and maybe you could make it your weird home messaging machine. I don’t know. Be creative.
The MakerPhone is already well past its $15,000 goal, most of which was people snapping up the early bird $89 deal. But there are plenty available at $94, and it comes with a toolkit at $119.

Make your own phone with MakerPhone (some soldering required)

TinyTap App Lets Kids Create Customized iPad Books & Games

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TinyTap is a new iPad application designed for kids which introduces a different angle on the “record-your-own-voice” storybooks craze, by offering a playable book or game you and your kids can customize with your own photos, camera shots, music, narration, and more. The resulting creations can then be shared with family and friends. And, for a little inspiration, the built-in TinyTap store offers a collection of pre-made games which kids can customize with their own voice and actions.

The app is targeted at 4+ and up, so I couldn’t really enlist my in-house kid app beta tester (aka my 2-year old kid) to give it a rundown. But in testing it myself, I have to admit that I’m not 100% convinced they’ve nailed it on the user interface. For example, some of things you can add to your story, like photos and questions, are centered as thumbnails within the application’s design dashboard. Meanwhile, the add music option is oddly hovering above next to another add photo button, the sharing option and an edit button. It’s a layout that doesn’t quite make sense.

That’s too bad because if TinyTap’s workflow was more streamlined and simplified, it would be easier for them to add additional elements to the story/game design process.

That being said, TinyTap is still a lot better than much of the kids’ apps crapware out there in the iTunes App Store. And it’s hard not to fall in love with the concept at the very least. Instead of burning up brain cells with the mind-numbing games out there, TinyTap enables kids to become game creators, not just players. 

The idea immediately reminded me of Kodu, Microsoft’s visual programming language for kids, which allows them to create PC and Xbox games – and more importantly, helps them to start thinking like a programmer. But Kodu is not only for different types of platforms, it’s for a slightly older child, too.

The bigger concept with TinyTap is that it could potentially become an entry-level tool for game development, which starts kids young, allowing them to wrap their little minds around the “if/then/else” concepts that go into process of game creation. The building blocks are already there: e.g., if you touch the nose in the picture when asked, you’re right and can go to the next question, but if you get it wrong, the game says “try again.”

There are a ton of DIY app building tools for adults, so it’s great to see someone thinking about building a platform for kids, too.

TinyTap is an Israeli-based company, co-founded in January 2012 by UX designers Yogev Shelly (formerly of Rounds.com) and another (who can’t disclose his name right now, as he’s still employed elsewhere). The team is based in Tel-Aviv and is currently looking to raise.

The app is a free download in iTunes here.


TinyTap App Lets Kids Create Customized iPad Books & Games

Apple Patents A Tool Allowing Non-Developers To Build Apps

iPhone Apps

If you think the iOS app ecosystem is big now, as it pushes some 600,000 apps available for iPhone and iPad, just imagine how big it could become if Apple made good on this newly filed patent application titled “Content Configuration for Device Platforms.” The application describes a way for non-developers to create iOS apps using a simple, graphical interface.

Whoa.

Of course, it’s just a patent application, and Apple files tons of these things. So you can’t point to it and call out what it describes as a confirmed, forthcoming feature for the iOS platform.

But an Apple-provided DIY app building tool does makes some sense in terms of a way to envision the future of mobile computing. Remember, there was once a day when only “webmasters” could set up and maintain webpages. Now everyone just starts a Tumblr to share their thoughts with the world. Why shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity to try their hand at app creation, too?

Obviously, non-programmers today can build apps through the use of third-party app building services, but most mainstream users don’t know about those. Apple introducing a basic app builder of its own would serve to raise awareness about the existence of these kinds of tools.

Specifically, the patent app (unearthed by Appleinsider this week) describes something of a “WYSIWYG” (What you see is what you get) system for app building, stating the need to make app building more broadly accessible.

Reads the application:

In many instances, computer-programming languages are a hindrance to electronic content creation and, ultimately, delivery to content consumers. Often content creators and designers simply lack the skill and the knowledge to publish their mental creations to share with the world. To begin to bridge this gap, content creators can use some electronic-content-development tools which allow content creators to interact with a graphical user interface to design the content while an electronic-content-development tool puts the computer-programming code in place to represent the electronic content on a user’s computer.

Apple’s proposed authoring tool would provide a series of templates, allowing users to insert various actions and animations, like a “pan to view” function or purchase function for a checkout screen, for example.

Notably, the application describes the apps it would create as able to work on various screen sizes. Although the patent app doesn’t quite confirm the existence of an Apple television, it does say that there have historically been challenges in developing apps for different screens:

Even if a content creator successfully creates his electronic content, it is unlikely that the content is optimally configured for each device on which the user will view the content. Originally, digital content was created without having to account for device capabilities. The digital content was going to be viewed on a computer or television having a display of at least a certain size, with at least a certain resolution, if not multiple resolutions. Accordingly, it was possible to generate only one version of the electronic content and that version could be expected to be presented properly by the user’s device.

It goes without saying that there would be some issues to overcome in implementing a system like this – after all, the App Store has rules about the apps it approves and Apple’s staff curates submissions to keep out the spam. But who’s to say that in some far-flung distant (or not so distant) future, there won’t be a way for users to exchange self-built apps amongst each other, sans App Store intervention?

That would be an ideal way for people to build and share apps serving a temporary need, for example, like one created for a hastily thrown together meetup or event. It could also allow people to create their own personal apps which they would only share with a small circle of friends – think baby announcements, wedding apps, vacations photos, etc. Publishing these non-professional apps to the greater App Store could be an optional final step in the creation process, perhaps.

As for the DIY app makers already out there, while such a system would compete with their offerings to an extent, Apple’s validation of the space would mainly serve to help their businesses grow by essentially providing free marketing about the possibilities.

Now all we need is a whole new user interface for our iOS devices themselves. Given that Apple has sold 316 million cumulative units of of year-end 2011, these sad, little app folders won’t be able to keep up with all the apps created by this possible DIY app explosion.


Apple Patents A Tool Allowing Non-Developers To Build Apps

iCracked Takes On The Geek Squad With Worldwide Local iPhone Repair

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Sometimes the genesis of a startup happens just like this: Guy buys iPhone. Guy breaks iPhone. Guy then pays Apple way too much to fix said phone, grumbling ensues. Guy breaks phone again. Roommate breaks phone. Then, a lightbulb goes off. This is what happened to A.J. Forsythe when he was a student at California Polytechnic State University. He and his friends broke their iPhones more than a few times, so he decided to teach himself how to fix it. Then, like any good entrepreneur, he turned that solution into a business. Forsythe started charging people at school $75 per fix, set up a few social media accounts to hawk his services, remodeled his room into a repair shop, and iCracked was born.

Forsythe sourced distributors of inexpensive screens, eventually finding those he could trust, and then began pitching the business to college campuses. By March 2011, about a year after initially hatching the idea, the business had grown beyond them — to 20 locations across the country — and was profitable. Forsythe began to hire tech-savvy “iTechnicians” to help he and his partners absorb the demand.

Fast forward to the present, and iCracked has become a member of Y Combinator’s winter class of startups. The team’s understanding of the market and its business model have begun to solidify, so today, iCracked is officially launching to the world. Granted, that model is not wholly original, as iCracked is definitely reminiscent of the Geek Squad of Best Buy fame, except they focus explicitly on repairing iOS devices. Which makes sense, when you consider the margins…

The majority of iPhone breaks are superficial, and replacement screens can be purchased for cheap, yet iPhone users are traditionally locked into the process of searching for a proximate Apple retail store, making an appointment, only to discover when they get there that Apple will be charging them upwards of $200 for a replacement phone. And oftentimes this means losing some or all of the data on your old phone. Thus, for iPhone owners with with superficial damages, one could still charge customers $100 for repair, which they would happily pay at the competitive price, while the expense of parts and service is comparatively small.

The opportunity and the margins are there, but the iCracked team is being smart about their approach to the business, as they want to become an all-in-one solution for people with broken devices, regardless of their location. Today, the startup offers three repair options: Users can find a certified local iTechnician near them and schedule an appointment. (iCracked now has 125 technicians working for them, many of them freelance. If they operate within a 30 minute-drive of your location, they’ll come to you.) The second option is to repair by mail, which takes 3 to 5 days to turnaround, though the team can send you an “interim Go-Phone” if you can’t be without your phone for 5 days.

The last option is DIY, in which iCracked sends people a complete repair kit with detailed instructions to allow you to fix your own phone. They hit all three bases there pretty well. Without a 20K+ person team like Geek Squad, it’s tough to be everything to everyone. But for a team of 15, with 150 technicians, iCracked seems to be on the right track. They wouldn’t tell me what their revenues look like right now, but they did say that they continue to be profitable and are re-investing nearly $9 out of every $10, which, again, makes sense given their stage of development.

In terms of what they fix, obviously the team has considered Android phones, due to the platform’s explosive adoption, but the carrier fragmentation has them staying away from the OS at this point. Instead, they stick to Apple, repairing all three generations of the iPod Touch, iPhones, and though their website currently doesn’t show that they repair iPads, they do, and that functionality should be on the site within the next week.

They take these repair options, and rather than go for a brick and mortar approach, which means overhead and a lot of sunk costs, iCracked keeps it remote (although they do have one store in Long Beach). They let people buy the things they need for repairs on the site, and keep their iTechnicians stocked with what parts they need. iCracked will replace all cracked screens, repair most water damaged iPhones, and will give free diagnosis and repair estimates, most of which they claim to be able to fix.

The other smart thing the guys are doing in terms of complementary services/revenue is that they offer buyback on all old iPhones and will recycle iPhones, iPods, and iPads when customers ask for it. Naturally, the next step for the company is to expand into refurbishing and reselling iPhones, but the biggest key, Forsythe says, is that, if a potential customer can’t find an iCracked technician within a close distance and needs to do repair-by-mail, all shipping, handling, insurance and service costs are included in the flat rate service fee. Plus, they offer a one year warranty on all iCracked services.

The next big obstacle standing in their way is scale, but as an already-profitable young company, that’s been through the Y Combinator ringer, iCracked could be attractive to investors. And if they’re able to raise some capital, growing under the freelance model could be a breeze. Of course, vetting and quality assurance of those iTechnicians is a challenge in and of itself.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but I have a feeling if they bring on the right investors and advisors, iCracked is going to be around for awhile, and it will be perhaps even more interesting to see how Apple reacts.

For more, check out iCracked at home here.


iCracked Takes On The Geek Squad With Worldwide Local iPhone Repair

Does Your Business Need Mobile Apps? Bizness Apps (& More) Give You The Premium Tools

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Let’s say you want to give your small business a mobile presence. You’d like to develop some mobile apps, but you don’t have the time, money, or technical skills to do it yourself, and you’re not too excited about the idea of paying a developer an armload to do it for you. Of course, on the other hand, you may be willing to pay a little more of a premium to have someone else do the work for you, work with you directly, and walk you through the process, customizing your app as you go.

That’s the essence behind Bizness Apps, a California startup founded by a couple of college friends, which wants to make it easy for small businesses to develop their own mobile apps. (Read our prior coverage here.) Beginning with its launch in 2010, Bizness Apps has developed a white label program, or a mobile app company in a box, to let individuals and companies use its platform to build mobile apps for existing clients or SMBs in their local area.

Because the software is white-labeled, resellers are able to set their own price and include a set up fee to accommodate for consulting with local businesses in person — for that extra element of hand-holding, when necessary. Bizness Apps has resellers all over the globe (in just nine months, the startup was reaching 1,000 applications, in 10 languages, and over 20 countries) that go into businesses in person, ask questions, design the app, teach them the platform, and manage everything for a premium fee.

But even for resellers, Bizness Apps’ prices are pretty low, starting at 65 percent off. And that’s one of the startup’s big value propositions — while most app builders require upfront set-up fees as high as $2,000, Bizness Apps lets SMBs develop mobile apps for either iOS or Android, starting at $39, while those looking to do both pay $59. Users can also create mobile experiences for the Web on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile etc., going native or HTML5 for an extra $10 a month.

It’s pretty affordable, and if SMBs aren’t happy with their product, Founder Andrew Gazdecki says they’ll build it for them. While many app builders are designed for developers or graphic designers, Bizness Apps targets the non-technical and the small business owners alike. Thus, using its service doesn’t require any programming knowledge, and it offers features that are designed to help SMBs attract new customers and retail loyal ones — with the likes of loyalty coupon systems, mobile food ordering, a mobile shopping cart, one-touch calling, push notifications, and so on.

This functionality has seen the young startup gain some great traction early on — impressive considering the founders are all under 25 and have only raised $100K. The startup is now powering over 3,000 apps worldwide, and recently reached a $1 million dollar annual run-rate. In December, the team added VP of Business Development at AMEX, Jennifer Byrne to its advisory board.

Today, Bizness Apps is adding even more customization options to its app builder, as it launches “Bizness Apps Premium”, with the goal of enabling SMBs to take full control over their app’s look and feel. The new Premium plan offers customization of an app’s layout, colors, buttons, header, icons, fonts, and it won’t cost users anything extra.

Of course, Bizness Apps is not the only startup out there offering DIY mobile apps. Readers also may want to check out Cashew, which lets you build your own apps for iOS and Android and preview them on your mobile device — or AppsGeyser, a free, DIY service that allows users to convert any web content into apps for Android, and monetize that content.

There’s also the Italian startup, Apps Builder, which also looks to enable businesses to quickly create mobile apps and monetize their content by selling it or inserting ads. But the real differentiator for Apps Builder is its WordPress plugin that allows bloggers and site administrators to convert their content into native apps for iOS, Android, and the Web.

It’s free, self-service, and founder Daniele Pelleri tells us that the startup recently released its new CMS, which enables users to download a zip file, as they would for WordPress, and host the CMS directly on their own servers — to provide that higher level of security not always native to reselling programs. Apps Builder’s entire service, too, is pretty affordable, starting at $19 per month.

There are some great options out there for individuals and small businesses looking for affordable, non-technical ways to build their own native and web mobile apps. Check ‘em out.


Does Your Business Need Mobile Apps? Bizness Apps (& More) Give You The Premium Tools