Best Apps For Hipsters

As a mom of teen girls, why should I care about the apps hipsters are using on their mobile phones? I guess I care because knowing what’s current gives me context while talking with my own kids.

So I started thinking about which apps are popular in contemporary culture and turned my notes into this list. From music and photography to money and transportation, let’s check out what’s deemed necessary by today’s modern youth.

Photography

Instagram, VSCO and Google Photos are three apps making an impact on how photos are taken, altered, shared and managed. I use Instagram and have enjoyed posting creative scenes since I opened the account. Using Instagram helps me notice unique moments I can archive in the handy grid view of a microblog.

VSCO seems to take mobile photography to a whole new level. It feels like a virtual photo gallery for the world’s creatives, and offers a wide number of editing tools that my daughter appreciated when I introduced the app to her.

Google Photos backs up all of the photos on your phone upon downloading and opening the app. Features like albums, collages, animations and movies are easily accessible and in some cases automated. As a person who likes to determine the exact file structure of my data, I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with all of the automation just yet. But automation seems to be the way things are done nowadays, so I plan to give it a shot.

Music

I’ve heard references to SoundCloud and Hype Machine as apps for listening to music. SoundCloud is a free app to discover and share favorite tunes, and Hype Machine scans the blogsphere to fuel music listings. Both apps are social, enabling likes, favorites and connections. With only a limited amount of time spent on each app, I’ve already diversified my music interests and look forward to hearing more.

Social Media

Snapchat’s popularity continues to grow, and has surpassed Instagram as the most popular messaging app per a survey released in early 2016. Why is Snapchat so appealing? This video explains how its in-the-moment platform creates authenticity among users, and the absence of follower metrics actually decreases anxiety. After so many years of Facebook-like obsession, maybe Snapchat feels refreshing?

Mobile Payments

With apps like Venmo, physical cash wallets may become extinct! Payment apps let people split the bill with a simple swipe or tap. Sign up, add your bank account, pay and collect with friends.

The questions surrounding these seamless transactions involve security and privacy, and it sounds like the FTC may be investigating Venmo as we speak. But I doubt a single investigation will fend off the rapid adoption of digital payments. Too much convenience has been realized by leaving cash at home. Here is a summary of more apps for mobile payments, plus their pros and cons.

Transportation

Need a lift? Touch a button and your ride awaits. The driver knows exactly where to find you based on the geolocated phone in your hand. Apps make this process so easy that using a human voice to call a cab feels like ancient history. Uber and Lyft are the tools of choice, and even employ drivers with free time to be the ride-givers. These companies have not only transformed how to get from point A to point B, they also uncovered crowdsourced economic options for suppliers. What a world!

I need to watch out before doing more research on hipsters or else I’ll feel like a college student again. The coolest apps seem to be the ones that help social situations flow smoothly. Let’s go out! (Uber). Let’s connect! (Snapchat). Let’s listen to cool stuff! (SoundCloud). Let’s post a great moment! (Instagram). Let’s engage with each other. Maybe interacting with a smartphone isn’t so anti-social after all.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Nuno Ribeiro]

The Number One Rule For My Daughter’s iPhone

We gave our oldest daughter an iPhone for her 11th birthday. Now she is 13. For two years we have followed a consistent rule for the phone, and I believe this rule has helped our family adapt to technology in a balanced way.

The Rule Is Simple

The number one rule for my daughter’s iPhone is that every single night the phone is powered off and stored in the dining room drawer. Powering off a phone and storing it in a common area overnight does not sound revolutionary. The rule does not contain parental controls or overbearing stipulations. The rule is simple, and maybe that is part of its effectiveness.

The Rule Involves The Whole Family

The rule does not single out my daughter as the only one responsible for implementing the rule. Life gets busy and it’s easy to forget details like putting a phone in a drawer. Part of the evening for everyone (Mom, Dad, Daughter, Sister) is to make sure devices are powered off and in their place.

If one person forgets, another remembers, and asks out loud if the phone is put away. Asking out loud reminds and reinforces the importance of the rule. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to put technology to bed.

The Rule Is Consistent And Habitual

Because the rule occurs every night, the practice gains consistency over time and turns into a regular routine. This habit is woven into a rhythm of family life. For our family it now feels natural to power off and put away a phone.

Not all families experience this type of consistency. Some kids spend different nights of the week in different locations. In this case, it would be up to the caregivers to standardize the routine and expectations, regardless of whereabouts.

The Rule Was Stated Before The iPhone Became Available

I kicked off our daughter’s iPhone gift with a letter about appropriate usage that we both agreed upon. This agreement eliminated battles over personal devices from the beginning because expectations were understood upfront.

But letters and contracts may not be the most intuitive tool for families. For example, if you ask me right now, I can’t recall the specifics of our agreement except for the one rule about putting the phone in the drawer at night. Maybe for us, the most valuable part of the agreement was to form that rule. The act of stating ideas in advance can help promote good habits before bad ones get in the way.

The Rule Supports A Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines are traditionally associated with raising young children. But as digital media plays an increasingly central role in daily life, bedtime routines can be helpful at any age. It can take a lot of willpower to create tech-free zones with devices in arm’s reach. The nightly ritual of powering off and creating physical separation provides a buffer to foster distraction-free sleep.

The Rule Employs Trust

Let’s say the phone is in the drawer at bedtime, but a mouse sneaks out to get the phone in the middle of the night. Does that make the rule a total dud? Sneaky mice are a possibility in any household. In our home, I’m a light sleeper, and I hear it when kids wake up. I would recommend choosing a drawer that is closer to the parents’ bedroom to increase the likelihood of hearing any mice!

While it’s technically possible that every night for the past two years my daughter has woken up to sneak a peek at the phone, it’s more likely that she has appreciated her sleep. I’m making a choice to trust her, and right now that feels like the right choice.

The Rule Helps The Morning Routine

In the era of instant gratification, have you noticed that powering up a phone takes awhile? I love this tendency about electronics because it makes powering off even more effective. The instantaneous rush of phone-checking can be deterred by the inconvenience of grabbing the phone and waiting for it to power up. All ready for school? OK, now grab your phone, or better yet, forget it completely until later in the afternoon.

The Rule Is Contagious

To have any credibility with my family I’m supposed to be modeling this rule myself. I have seen the rule in action with my daughter, and the healthy overall tone it’s setting for media use. On nights when I put my phone to bed early, I also sleep better and feel more balanced.

Our household rule may have been created for my daughter, but it benefits me as well. It’s pretty interesting to hear myself admit: “I want to be more like her.”

As a parent, I’m always learning. I am interested to hear about your household rules for media management. What works, what doesn’t? 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Adam Fagen]

Unicode 9.0 and New Emoji Candidates

I discovered Unicode.org after doing some research on emoji history, and became fascinated with the resources listed on their website. Unicode.org is the online home of the Unicode Consortium, the group who maintains universal standards for computer encoding. Their work ensures computers around the world process and interpret text in a standard way. 💻

Why is the Unicode Consortium becoming so popular?

The Unicode Consortium is reaching celebrity status because image-based emoji characters (which are part of Unicode) are highly popular forms of text communication. They are used in text messages, emails, and throughout social media. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary named an emoji as “Word of the Year” in 2015. 😂

Whether or not you’re an emoji fan, their use and prevalence are indisputable. Personally, I think emoji are fun and creative. They spark bright conversations over text messaging with images to humanize the tone. 💡

Which emoji candidates are coming next?

I was curious about the list of emoji candidates on the Unicode website. So many cultural implications exist on this very page. For example, gender equality issues are represented with the addition of a prince, dancing man, and Mother Christmas (to match the existing princess, dancing woman 💃, and Santa Claus). Endangered species are portrayed with the inclusion of animals like the gorilla and rhino. Even healthy eating gets a boost with a superfood (avocado!) being added to the list.

emoji candidatesWhat a fascinating and potentially stressful job it would be to decide the next emoji. Did you know that anyone can make a proposal for a new emoji? The submission process is explained in detail on the Unicode website ==> http://www.unicode.org/emoji/selection.html

Which emoji is used the most?

Curious about which characters are used the most? Unicode.org links to a site called emojitracker.com, which displays the world’s most tweeted emoji characters in real-time. Looks like the crying happy face is still holding first place.

Stay tuned. From what the Unicode Consortium says, final decisions on candidates for Unicode 9.0 will be made in June 2016. At that point we shall see if Mrs. Claus makes the cut. 🎅

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr: Marc Di Luzio]

Artful Photography From Young Teens On Instagram

At this stage of family life I’m able to observe young teens as they start to join Instagram. My initial concerns about bullying or addiction have been appeased by their thoughtfully considered creative expression through photography. I realize that managing technology in the home is going to be a constant effort, but I’m also grateful that our first foray into social media has been a positive one.

To illustrate my point, I received permission to share these images from a special young teen in my Instagram network. As we become surrounded by messages about technology overriding our lives, I hope this post can provide some confidence that when used responsibly, digital tools can help us explore the world in innovative ways, bridging perspectives across generations.  

photography photography photography photography photography

These photographs show me someone who notices a range of life’s details from tiny to grand. As a kid, I don’t think I ever noticed the view my father always talked about. But with tools in hand, young teens now have an opportunity to participate and play in that view. And therefore the view can become much more fun – for everyone.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit [Flickr | Axel Naud]

How We Manage Online Homework to Avoid Scope Creep

By seventh grade, 75% of my daughter’s daily homework moved online. Aside from a few math problems and group projects, most essays, quizzes and assignments are constructed and completed through Edmodo or Google Classroom. I noticed the difference about halfway through the year when less paper seemed to clutter the desk. Instead, the Chromebook and charging cord took center stage.

online homework

If you have a teen, it may come as no surprise that they don’t appreciate being micromanaged. My concern with computer-based homework are the inherent distractions present with multiple websites and constant classmate interactions. Those interactions take up time: time that can be better spent completing the actual homework assignment or hanging out with family after it’s done.

How could I encourage a focused approach to homework without being annoying? While it’s tough to solve the annoying part, we are making progress on managing computer-based homework so it does not overtake family life. Here is how:

Eat First

My kids eat before they start homework. An after school meal settles everyone in the household so they are relaxed and recharged for brainwork.

Analog Before Digital

We review the homework that needs to be done for the day, and they choose the discrete analog homework first. This way, online distractions are delayed by starting with paper-based homework.

Time Estimate

I ask for a time estimate on the total amount of homework before they begin. Do they have an hour or three hours of homework? Then we calculate what time they should be finished. Now, they are accountable for finishing on time.

Check In

Whatever the time estimate, I make a note to check in a couple of times to see if the end time needs to be adjusted. These check-ins can be bothersome if it disrupts their focus or stresses them out, so I try to keep check-ins to no more than once per hour.

Bedtime

I used to think a regular bedtime was especially important for toddlers and young children. Now I feel it’s even more important for teens in a modern world to take bedtime seriously. We have a consistent bedtime every night, and the goal is to keep homework from interfering with sleep.

By next year my girls will be older and no doubt we’ll need to adjust as technology changes. But for now, this plan is working so we’re sticking to it. If you have any experience to share, especially as kids get into high school, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Let’s Take A Closer Look At Pretend Play

I’m hearing lots of buzz from the annual Toy Fair in New York City, a time for showing the latest in gear and gadgets for kids. As my children grow, I keep wondering when they will start asking for connected gadgets and gizmos. Have I kept them in the dark for too long? Am I an old-school dinosaur disguised as a Bay Area Mom? Maybe so, maybe so. But when my girls have days like this, just playing with their dolls…well, I’m just not going to fix what isn’t broken.

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The images above represent a “school day” for the dolls. It started with making and painting doll food out of clay, continued with a schoolhouse and homework, and ended with a smoothie bar complete with granola bars and snacks. If these dolls were connected (for example, smart toys associated with an app or online portal) my concern is that ideas from toy designers would trump organically grown ideas from kids.

If pressed about digital equivalents for this type of pretend play, apps that let children set up scenes and do the talking come first to mind. My favorite has always been My PlayHome, but I would also add Toca City Life or even Dr. PetPlay to that recommendation. All of these apps offer open-ended scenarios for children to explore, and try to let kids dictate the outcomes. I also think it’s encouraging to see companies like Toca Boca advocate for creativity through efforts like “Take a Stand for Play”, which is a campaign to highlight the importance of unstructured downtime.

It is truly amazing to see what happens on a regular day at home with a real-life playmate, a few dolls, and some materials for pretend play. May all families delight in this youthful ingenuity, and make the time and space for it where possible.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

How High School Students Are Solving The World’s Problems

This month I was invited to be a judge for the Congressional App Challenge. The App Challenge is a coding competition for high school students put in place to help support STEM education. Our district (the 18th Congressional District) received ten entries to be evaluated on parameters such as creativity, innovation, technical expertise and app design.

app-challenge-logo-horiz

What I thought would be a simple review of app demos turned into an inspiring connection with today’s talented youth. As a parent myself, I sometimes worry about what high school will be like for my own children. The App Challenge eased some of those concerns by introducing me to students who are thriving and succeeding at real world problem solving.

Let’s read, for example, the topics they addressed:

Food waste

Equal access for college preparatory testing

Safe and undistracted driving

Political education through interactive competition

Food nutrition

Tools for helping after a car accident

Community service

Volunteer work

Teacher/student communication

Student empowerment

Feel free to read the list again to become even more inspired. All ten entries focused squarely on important issues and social betterment. These apps are designed to help make us safer, healthier, better educated, and more socially conscious. After watching the presentations and reading details about how the apps were constructed, I began to envision the entrants not just as students but as teams of skilled entrepreneurs.

The high school app makers demonstrated a range of technical expertise by coding in a variety of languages including Apple’s Swift 2.0. They also exhibited marketing savvy with cool app names and well designed app icons (which make a big difference in how professional the app looks in app stores). Innovations in app design came through with sleek user interfaces, database integration, and the use of application programming interfaces to perform specific functions.

A public reception to announce the winner will be held on Monday February 22nd at Palo Alto City Hall. The entries can be viewed here https://www.challenge.gov/challenge/congressional-app-challenge-ca-18-rep-eshoo/, and the winning app will be displayed in our nation’s Capital Building for a year.

Although the nature of competition is to measure one idea against another, I consider this entire group of submissions as winners because of their positive influence on others. May they all be successful in future app endeavors!

With encouragement,

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Five Cell-Free Zones To Keep Family Life Centered

I’ve been happy with the balance we’ve found so far with kids, technology and family life. In analyzing our family’s habits, I noticed five daily routines that keep conversations flowing and cell phones in their place. Do you notice similar habits? Let’s drill down:

School pick ups

I like having my phone off or in my purse during school pick ups. When I’m focused solely on the kids after their long day at school, it’s easy for me to pick up on important details like mood and energy level. After school can be a critical time of day for my kids. How we wind down from the afternoon determines how well we boot up for the evening’s responsibilities.

Sporting events

I like watching my kids play, dance and sing — whatever they happen to be immersed in throughout the seasons. If they see me watching, I simply want them to see a parent who is fully engaged. If I use the phone to snap a photo or answer a text, I try to make sure any digital interaction is quick and not immersive, keeping my attention on the game and players. The details I soak up from watching are helpful for family conversation starters about who played what, and how the event progressed.

Car rides

Car rides to school or errands around town are opportunities to ask about life’s little details. How is the school project going? What are you planning to wear to the next school dance? What shall we do this weekend? If my kids are studying their phones instead of chilling out, they would have no time or interest in a conversation. Conversations can be key to keeping relationships on track. The more, the better — and car rides can be an awesome medium to keep them rolling.

Meals

This is old news because everywhere we turn we’re being told to have family dinner with no devices in sight. But the sentiment is overplayed for a reason. Shared meals are precious. With everyone in the family at the same table, common ground and lively conversations can overcome age divisions. Rings, dings, chimes are vibrations are interruptions that are best put aside until later.

Bedtime

Have you ever studied which nights you get the best sleep? Are they the nights you’ve burned the midnight oil in front of a screen? Or are they the nights you’ve gotten into PJs early with a book or a magazine to doze off peacefully? I’ll make a bet which situation works best for the ultimate zzzzzs.

That’s five? Oh boy. I have one more. Here is a bonus…

Bonus: Time with friends!

When friends get together, magic sometimes happens. Over the years we’ve hosted playdates involving all kinds of activities like dress-up, water balloons, and treasure hunts. These activities might have been overshadowed if phones got in the way. Sometimes I notice (even if a phone is just being used to play music) that it’s way too easy for a kid to take it and get consumed by something else. Playing together without distractions keeps everyone connected to each other and on the same page.

What side-benefits have you noticed from keeping cell phones out of the mainstream path? I’d love to hear your strategies, and add them to the list.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

 Photo credit Flickr [Lon Martin]

The Sweetest Little Apps For Valentine’s Day

It’s still a cozy time of year, a season that’s perfect for sweet storybooks and paper heart crafts. For years I’ve known app makers who capture the spirit of family time, and I’ve listed some of their apps for Valentine’s Day below. Whether you have a paper copy of the books, or just want to reread them on your device, I hope this list gives you plenty of activity ideas for the cold winter months. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Apps for Valentine's Day
Biscuit’s Valentine’s Day (storybook)
Apps for Valentine's Day
Draw With Hearts (open-ended drawing with heart themes) *KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
A Little Book About Feelings (social and emotional learning)*KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Coloring Book (coloring) *KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter! (storybook)
Apps for Valentine's Day
PostMarked (Craft Your Own Love Note)
gifoodles! (make your own animated GIFs – updated for Valentine’s Day, see example below) *KWI Member

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More apps are being released as Valentine’s Day approaches. Please check back if you’d like to add another to your list. Apps with *KWI Member belong to the Know What’s Inside community. 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

How Tech Startups Use Instagram to Showcase Products

Have you noticed more brands appearing on your Instagram feed? I have, and I’m impressed by their ability to showcase uniquely branded content on a platform dominated by personal expression. When I first thought of Instagram as a marketing tool for app companies, I was tripped up by the inherent limitations of tech products. For example, just how many times can you post a screenshot of an app and make it interesting?

But what I’ve seen from tech startups has been delightful, providing an interesting example of how to creatively express tech’s personal side. Here are three techniques that stand out in my Instagram feed as cool ways to present a technical brand:

Show People Having Fun

Both Sago Sago and Duckie Deck (two app companies) post fun and playful images in their Instagram feeds. Sometimes they show real-life products that compliment their apps, or highlight how young ones use apps in a workshop or beta testing environment.

Share The Startup Journey

Cowly Owl, an independent app company from the United Kingdom, shares a fascinating story through special events. Artistic shots of app demo sessions during international conferences, to scenes of awards banquets where the app is recognized, bring followers along for memorable moments inside the life of an app startup.

Use Quotes or Real Life Anecdotes to Differentiate the Brand

Have you heard of The Skimm? It’s a daily email newsletter with down to earth soundbytes of current events. How do you make a text newsletter worth following on Instagram? Somehow they’ve figured this out. Their feed is interspersed with quotations, images of readers skimming in unique locations, insider shots of office life, and humorous twists on word games (like mad libs).

When thinking about marketing plans, let’s not automatically rule out Instagram just because a product doesn’t feel creative enough. The creativity, comes from us.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps