Posts tagged with "app"

TikTok is taking the book industry by storm, and retailers are taking notice

July 20, 2021

Four years ago, author Adam Silvera released the young adult science fiction novel, They Both Die at the End, which found success and landed for a few weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

After that fleeting experience with fame, Silvera settled in for a longer run of occasional sales and obscurity. But years later in August 2020, Silvera said his publisher noticed a significant sales bump, the start of a trend that would send the book to the top of The New York Times’ young adult paperback monthly bestseller list in April 2021, where it still reigns.

Silvera had no idea where the sales spike was coming from, according to a report by NBC News.

“I kept commenting to my readers, ‘Hey, don’t know what’s happening, but there’s been a surge in sales lately, so grateful that everybody’s finding the story years later,’” Silvera said. “And then that’s when a reader was like, ‘I’m seeing it on BookTok.’ And I had no idea what they were talking about.”

“BookTok” is a community of users on TikTok who post videos reviewing and recommending books. The group has boomed in popularity over the past year.

TikTok videos containing the hashtag #TheyBothDieAtTheEnd have collectively amassed more than 37 million views to date, many of which feature users reacting — and often crying — to the book’s emotional ending.

BookTok’s impact on the book industry has been notable, helping new authors launch their careers and propelling books like Silvera’s to the top of bestseller lists years after their original publication. Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles,” E. Lockhart’s “We Were Liars” and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”—all of which were published before BookTok began to dominate the industry—are among some of the other books that have found popularity on the app years after their initial release.

Retailers like Barnes & Noble have taken advantage of BookTok’s popularity to market titles popular on the app to customers by creating specialized shelves featuring books that have gone viral.

“We’re identifying these trends as big opportunities,” Shannon DeVito, director of Books at Barnes & Noble, told NBC News. “So [Barnes & Noble store managers] say, ‘Let’s create a table, let’s create a shelf, let’s create a statement because I know I have so many customers coming in saying, ‘I saw this trending on TikTok.’’”

DeVito said Barnes & Noble began noticing upticks in sales of books last summer, particularly the “juggernauts” of “The Song of Achilles” and “They Both Die at the End.” Since then, she said, almost all Barnes & Noble locations have put BookTok tables or shelves on display.

“We’ve seen big box retailers jump at the chance to engage with the #booktok community, like Barnes and Noble creating a dedicated ‘TikTok BookTok Reads’ section both online and in-store from creator recommendations,” a TikTok representative wrote in an email to NBC News. “We’ve also seen creators and brands lean into the #BookTok community—from the publisher side, Penguin Random House is very in-tune with #BookTok trends and frequently collaborates with creators.”

The app has been pivotal for introducing younger audiences to reading, DeVito said, as well as for introducing older titles to new readers and for helping new authors find an audience.

The BookTok phenomenon also closely coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which DeVito credits for people craving an emotional connection with others that they satisfied through reading.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Significant Otter app helps couples communicate ‘straight from the heart’

May 28, 2021

Want to send that special someone a heartfelt message? Scientists have created an app that can literally tell your partner how you’re feeling without uttering a single word, Study Finds reports.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University say the Significant Otter app can actually provide couples with a more meaningful way of communicating than using emojis, GIFs, and memes. Designed mainly for smartwatch users, the app monitors the wearer’s heart rate and then tries to gauge his or her emotional state by the results. The user can then send those real-time feelings to a significant other in the form of a friendly, animated otter.

“Our social cues are limited online,” says Fannie Liu, a graduate of CMU and research scientist at Santa Monica, California-based Snap. in a university release. “We’re exploring a new way to support digital connection through a deeper and more internal cue.”

Once the app measures a person’s sensed heart rate, it provides the wearer with a choice of otters to send. For example, if the app detects a fast heart rate, Significant Otter may suggest sending an excited or angry otter. However, they can also send an exercising or eating otter if that’s what’s really pushing their heart rate up.

In return, the person’s partner can reply with an otter that provides him or her with support, depending on the various heartbeat readings.

According to Study Finds, researchers from CMU, Snap, and the University of Washington started testing the app in April 2020 with 20 couples. Little did they know the coronavirus pandemic would provide the perfect environment to see how people keep connected to their loved ones when they have to keep their social distance.

The results reveal using bio-signals, like heart rate, made it easier for the couples to share more authentic communication while in quarantine. The participants reported that Significant Otter allowed them to have a sense of their loved ones’ well-being—even if they couldn’t be physically together.

“It’s coming from your heart,” Liu concludes. “It can be a very intimate gesture to see or feel someone’s heartbeat. It’s a signal that you’re living.”

Researchers presented their invention at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference in Chicago in May.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Walmart to acquire virtual fitting room platform Zeekit, as retail giant leans into fashion

May 14, 2021

For many years Walmart has eschewed offering high-fashion merchandise, but all that is changing—and on May 13, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based mega-retailer revealed plans to acquire Zeekit, a virtual fitting room platform that it hopes will enhance the social shopping experiences for online customers, Forbes reports.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been working hard to expand our apparel assortment to include quality, on-trend, and accessible fashion to help customers outfit their closets, no matter their personal style or budget,” said Denise Incandela, executive vice president of Apparel and Private Brands at Walmart-U.S., in a blog post. “But, in an increasingly online driven category, customers not only want variety in styles, they also want an inspiring and personalized digital experience.”

Zeekit, a female-founded Israeli-based startup company, is seen as facilitating that experience while smoothing away the pain points of ill-fitting purchases that ultimately lead to costly returns.

Indeed, Forbes reports, Walmart realized it was missing an enormous opportunity to sell consumers well-designed apparel at higher price points—something competitor Amazon  has been doing, both by attracting brands to its e-commerce site, and launching its own private labels.

“Virtual try-on is a game changer and solves one of the most difficult things to replicate online—understanding fit and how an item will actually look on you,” Incandela said. “Zeekit will help us deliver an inclusive, immersive and personalized experience for our diverse customer base.”

Walmart said it has elevated its fashion sensibility with exclusive labels Free Assembly, Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vegara, and Scoop. The retail giant also has  expanded its assortment of national brands with Free People, Champion, and Levi Strauss. Other other private labels include Time and Tru, Terra & Sky, Wonder Nation, and George. There’s also plus-size label Eloquii Elements.

When the experience is live on Walmart, customers will upload their photo or choose from a series of models that best represents their height, shape and skin tone, to instantly see themselves in clothing items. They can share their virtual outfits with friends, bringing a social experience to digital shopping.

Zeekit’s scalable technology can be integrated into Walmart’s digital products, and can be used to create other fashion experiences—including building a virtual closet and mixing and matching clothing to see how a top might look with a pair of pants. This is achieved by bringing real time image technology, computer vision and AI to the world of fashion. It can also help increase customer loyalty and return visits as it makes buying fashion online easier and more predictable.

“Zeekit’s impressive technology has been trialed by many top brands and retailers in the fashion industry,” Incandela said. “It uses real-time image processing to map a person’s image into thousands of segments. Clothing is processed in a similar manner and the equivalent points of the two are mapped into one final simulation. These exciting technologies add a social element to the digital experience, allowing our customers to bring their unique personalities and preferences to shopping.”

Zeekit’s founders, CEO Yael Vizel, chief technology officer Alon Kristal, and vice president of research and development Nir Appleboim will join Walmart when the deal closes, bringing their extensive experience to the retail behemoth.

Research contact: @Forbes

Mindbody app introduces first virtual consumer membership program

January 22, 2021

Mindbody—a leading technology platform for the wellness industry based in San Luis Obispo, California—has announced the launch of Mindbody Flex, its first membership offer that includes virtual access to more than 350 premier fitness studios.

Leveraging Mindbody’s online consumer marketplace—which features tens of thousands of fitness studios—members now are able to use the app to experience the best of these virtual offerings through one monthly subscription.

Using Mindbody Flex’s integrated software, members will have access to workouts and classes from studios including Exhale, Wundabar Pilates, Modo Yoga, Barre3 and Jabz Boxing, in addition to hundreds of local studios nationwide.

“At Mindbody, we are proud to serve as the technology platform for countless wellness businesses, small and large, across the globe,” company CEO Josh McCarter said in a press release, adding, “What is so exciting about Flex is the ability we now have to connect consumers to the best of these virtual offerings via one, fluid membership. We know people value a local and authentic connection in their fitness routine, and we look forward to delivering these personalized experiences in a more accessible and convenient way.”

The Mindbody Flex membership is priced starting at $39 per month which includes five equipment-optional, livestream classes (up to three times per studio), access to new studios and classes added weekly and the ability to auto-renew monthly with a ‘cancel anytime’ option. Memberships also are available at $59 for 10 livestream classes; and $99 for 20.

Research contact: @askmindbody

Teens are overdosing on allergy medication as they take on the latest TikTok challenge

September 2, 2020

Millions of people are tackling the latest dance and fitness challenges on the wildly trending app, TikTok. But there’s a new challenge involving the over-the-counter allergy relief drug, Benadryl, that doctors say is dangerous—and could potentially be fatal.

The new challenge enticers TikTok followers to take large amounts —a dozen or more pills—of Benadryl—until they begin hallucinating, according to reports by Newsweek and Men’s Health.

“The dose that can cause a hallucination is very close to the dose that can cause something potentially life-threatening,” Scott Schaeffer, director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information warned during a recent interview, adding, “Large doses of Benadryl can cause seizures and, particularly, problems with the heart,” he said.

Last week, a 15-year-old Oklahoma girl died after reportedly taking the challenge. In May, three teens were treated at the Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, after taking the challenge, reported ABC 10. One teen took 14 pills in a night.

Amber Jewison, nurse practitioner at Cook Children’s Medical Center, told ABC 10 these recent cases are different than previous Benadryl overdoses.

“We have seen kids who overdose in suicide attempts,” Jewison said. “But this was different. These kids weren’t trying to harm themselves. They watched a video and it told them exactly how many milligrams to take and to see how it made them feel.”

Jewison believes the novel coronavirus pandemic has caused teens to seek out excitement after being stuck at home.

“A lot of kids are bored right now due to the pandemic. So I think it expands their curiosities,” Jewison said. “Just be hyper-aware of what your kids are doing.”

Research contact: @MensHealthMag

The Halo effect: Amazon’s first health wearable, is no Fitbit or Apple Watch clone

August 31, 2020

Amazon is launching Halo, a minimalist $99 health sleek,wearable, companion to an app that measures your body fat and gauges your tone of voice. Executives who worked on the project told Fast Company last week that the offering is more about the app and its various features than the wearable itself.

Right now, consumers can preorder the Halo band for $65, which includes six months of access to the app. After the first six months, customers will have to pay $4 a month to continue using the app. Once it ships in a few weeks, Halo will be $99, also with the $4/month fee. The app and the band work with both iPhones and Android devices.

Though that pricing puts the Halo in competition with Fitbit’s fitness trackers, Amazon—which has also purchased online pharmacy PillPack, developed both virtual and in-clinic employee health centers, and sought out HIPPA compliance for its Alexa voice assistant—is taking a different approach to health than its competitors in wearables.

For one thing, the company thinks Halo’s real value is in the app. Data tracking is divided into four sections, Activity, Body, Sleep, and Tone. The app also offers Labs, a series of health challenges designed by a range of professionals and expert organizations. While Activity and Sleep offer standard health-tracking capabilities, Body, Tone, and Labs represent Halo’s distinguishing features, Fast Company reports..

The Halo tracker is extremely simple: just a piece of water-resistant fabric and a small sensor-laden bit of hardware that lays against the wrist. There’s no display, notifications, clock, or other features that have become standard fare on even basic fitness trackers from other companies. (Like other wrist wearables, it does offer band options in several colors and materials.)

Halo tracks movement, heart rate, skin temperature, and the tone of a person’s voice. Notably, it doesn’t track heart rate variability. Both the Apple Watch and Fitbit’s devices have added heart rate variability in recent versions of their wearables, seemingly as a test of their ability as a diagnostic tool.

Amazon’s tracker captures steps, duration, and intensity of activity, as well as sedentary time to generate an activity score. While any activity will raise your score, you’ll be awarded more points for running as opposed to walking. The band can detect the difference between walking and running, and you can manually mark if you swim, cycle, or perform some other form of exercise. Sedentary time can negatively impact your score if you sit for more than eight hours.

The app also measures activity on a weekly rather than daily basis. “It’s more aligned with the [CDC] guideline recommendations, which clearly state that people should get 150 minutes of moderate exercise on a weekly basis at a minimum,” says Dr. Maulik Majmudar, a cardiologist and Amazon’s chief medical officer. Before joining Amazon in 2018, he practiced at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Halo tracks sleep too. Like the Apple Watch, Fitbits, and the Oura Ring, Halo identifies sleep duration and how long you linger in light sleep, REM sleep, and deep sleep. It also measures and monitors skin temperature at the wrist, to see if how this changes over the course of the night correlates to your sleep quality. Skin temperature is not the same as internal temperature, so it would not be a sound way to determine if someone has a fever, for example.

However, Body is one of the most distinctive elements of the Halo app. Using a phone’s camera, it captures a three-dimensional model of a person’s body to help them track their body changes over time and to track its fat percentage.

“You’re probably wondering, why body fat?” Majmudar told Fast Company in an interview. “Body fat percentage is actually much better indicator of overall health than weight or body mass index [BMI] alone.” A recent meta-analysis, published in the journal, Nature, shows that BMI isn’t a great indicator for obesity, which doctors use to look out for obesity-related disease. However, getting a good reading on a person’s body fat has historically been cumbersome and expensive. Amazon now suggests it can make this determination using a phone camera.

To get their body fat percentage, people must wear “tight, minimal” clothing, such as bike shorts and a sports bra. Placing their phone 4-6 feet away, they then take capture photos or “body scans,” one front facing, one back, and one from each side. Artificial intelligence renders those photos into a 3D view of their body shape.

Once calculated, the body fat percentage number is presented alongside a corresponding national average based on a person’s gender, age, height, and weight. The body model can be morphed to show how a person might look if they gained or lost weight. The visualization is designed for those trying to work towards certain body goals.(However, it could also be dangerous fodder for anyone suffering from body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or compulsive exercising.)

Majmudar says that by default, the body-scan photos are processed in the cloud and then deleted after 12 hours. The body model is only stored locally on the phone.

Tone is by far the strangest of the app’s features. Using its embedded microphone, the band listens to your voice throughout the day and detects its tone—positive, sad, irritated, or otherwise. The idea is to address your social and emotional health.

To use Tone, you have to create a voice profile by reading a piece of text. That way, it can recognize and measure only your voice, not other ones it may pick up. When Tone is turned on, it runs passively and intermittently in the background, picking up on snippets of conversations throughout the day. It then tells you how you sounded to other people. Among the list of emotions is content, concerned, happy, and tired.

“This gives you a simple way to reflect on your communications and interactions throughout the day,” says Majmudar. This feature also gives you summaries of your mood throughout the day, highlighting when you were noticeably energetic, positive, or warm. It also notes outlier moments when you sound different than they ordinarily do.

For those that may be concerned about Amazon tracking their every word, the company says this audio never goes to the cloud. It’s processed on your phone, and isn’t stored. Amazon appears to be drawing a hard line on privacy here. In the past, its stance on

Amazon is balancing its consideration for privacy with a healthy amount of data sharing. In order to make the data Halo collects useful, it’s turning to partners. WW (Weight Watchers) users can link to the Halo app activity, so they can collect FitPoints. Cerner, the electronic health record provider, can also hook into Halo and transfer a persons health data over to his or her larger medical record.

The Labs feature—which provides activities that users can perform to change their health outlook—also draws on Amazon’s partners. For instance, the Mayo Clinic offers a pet-free bedroom Lab that is supposed to lower sleep interruptions from a restless pet. Weight loss program LifeSum, has an activity for reducing calorie intake. Other partners include Apptiv, Orange Theory, Harvard Medical, and the American Health Association. These activities provide one more way for users to put that wrist band to use (and perhaps ensure that it doesn’t get relegated to a drawer somewhere).

How well does Halo track and analyze the data it collects? For now, it’s anyone’s guess. Majmudar says that Amazon has done lots of internal testing, but has not yet published any studies verifying the Halo’s capabilities.

Indeed, Amazon has good reason to want to get this right. But we won’t know how well it’s done until Halo arrives and independent researchers put it to the test.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Make-up that is ‘self’-centered is L’Oreal’s next big bet

January 9, 2020

France’s fashion sense is timeless, simple, and elegant—but it is not entirely unobtainable. In fact, L’Oréal—the Paris-based beauty group— is betting big on its next product to help women everywhere transform themselves in a style that is uniquely and solely their own.

It’s a tiny device that’s only 6.5 inches tall and weighs just over one pound, but will enable makeup mavens to create personalized cosmetics at home, Fortune Magazine reports.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, the French cosmetics and personal products giant will debut a new hardware device called Perso, which whips up compressed beauty formulas from physical cartridges to create on-the-spot skincare, lipstick, and foundations.

Think of it like a mini makeup Keurig, Fortune suggests—but, instead of getting a specialized espresso drink, you’ll be creating a unique pink lipstick or skin cream.

It’s a long-term relationship with the consumer,” Guive Balooch, head of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, told the magazine in an interview on the show floor.

For skincare, Perso’s app will take into account the local air quality, temperature, humidity, and other factors that fluctuate and affect the skin. It then creates a recipe that even adjusts depending on if you are applying the skincare formula in the morning or the evening.

Perso’s hardware features a proprietary motor system located at the top of the device, which moves and compresses the formula from the cartridges at the base of the machine in an upward motion to the dispensing tray above for a clean application.

The lipstick option is more focused on playful trends. Perso has a base of three different colors: light pink, red, and purple, and to create a shade, users can take a picture of themselves and the app will then recommend a shade based on hair color, clothing and skin tone. Users can also create shades based on what’s trending on social media at the time.

Perso is essentially all about tech-enabled personalization, a trend making waves in a variety of consumer product categories, including apparel, food and beverage, and footwear.

“Everyone understand the value of personalization and no one owns that more than beauty because it is in their foundation,” Genevieve Aronson, VP of Communications at Nielsen told Fortune Magazine.

Embracing personalization is a way for beauty makers like L’Oréal to boost the industry’s sales. In-store beauty sales total approximately $37 billion in the U.S. market, but annual growth is reported at just 1% over the past two years, according to Nielsen. And yet personalized products are 1.7 times more likely to drive sales, says Aronson. So placing a greater emphasis on personalization can potentially help jolt beauty sales.

“The only way to achieve beauty for all is through technology,” says Balooch. “You can go to a [makeup] counter and find 40 to 50 shades of foundation. But the reality is, there are far more people with different shades than those options.”

In fact, testing for Perso hit a bit of a snag during the development process when Balooch and his team realized that the application wasn’t quite nailing skincare recommendations for individuals with darker skin tones. “It was a lot harder than we had anticipated,” Balooch says, adding that for foundation, 50% of women say they can’t find the exact shade they’d like at the store.

So L’Oréal spent an additional six months testing the product with 400 women, varying from very light to very dark skin. “We realized we had to measure peoples’ skintones, put the product on skin, and then achieve the match,” says Balooch.

Still, some key details need to be ironed out for Perso. Balooch says L’Oréal hasn’t yet solidified distribution for the Perso system and no-pricing structure has been set for the device or the cartridges that would need to be re-ordered over time. The goal is to launch the technology in 2021.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

‘Angerware’ app helps consumers punish unethical vendors

November 7, 2017

A pre-election CNN/ORC poll  has found that nearly 70% of Americans are either “very angry” or “somewhat angry” about the state of affairs nationwide. As one way of relieving their stress, many have adopted a new generation of shopping-assistant apps to help them avoid doing business with companies that don’t match their values.

“A lot of people are calling it ‘angerware’,” according to Erin Ferguson, founder and CEO of  the startup Shoulder Angel —a provider of ethics-driven shopping assistance software. “I suppose that description fits our Harvey Weinstein movie boycott feature well as any,” she continued, “but most of what we do is actually about positive action and the increasing willingness of Millennial consumers to spend more on goods and services they deem to be ethical and sustainable.”

Indeed, a Nielsen survey on ethical consumerism that was conducted around the same time as the CNN/ORC poll found that up to 66% of consumers would be willing to pay more for ethically responsible goods—and that figure climbs to 72% Millennials.

How does it work? The company says that its proprietary graph technology traces “multiple, complex ethical relationships” and provides the consumer with a variety of alternative purchases.”

For example, a consumer who is looking for contraceptive products would be warned by Shoulder Angel that her employer’s insurance plan no longer covers such necessities and steered to another option.

In addition, the app covers pending and approved legislation; as well as . the politicians who vote for those bills and the companies that give money to these politicians. It is not uncommon, therefore, for Shoulder Angel to warn a user against products that are “made by companies… that have funded politicians… who have voted against laws…”, when those laws adversely impact one of the user’s causes.

“The app was designed with Millennial consumers in mind,” stated Andrew Montgomery, Shoulder Angel’s Chief Technology Officer. “Thus far, cruelty free cosmetics are our number-one seller for this age group. Millennials seem to be less about anger than positive action.”

Shoulder Angel is freely available today from both the Apple iTunes and Google Play app stores.

Research contact: erin@proximitor.com