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Vote Early and Often: My SXSW Talks

Posted Aug 18, 2009 (updated Aug 19, 2009)

SXSW 2010 logo

I’ve proposed a pair of talks for SXSW Interactive, Austin’s fabulous brain-bending shindig about technology, media, and culture—and I need your help. Over 2200 talks have been proposed for 300 slots, and a big part of the selection process is in the hands of the public. In short, I’d like your vote.

My two talks are “Best iPhone Apps: Ingredients for Apps that Delight” and “Nerds on the Run: Tech and Casual Fitness.” I’m super-excited about both of them and I’m planning fun, lively explorations of how emerging mobile technologies are affecting areas of our life that have typically been non-technical. I’ve included details on both talks below.

SXSW is always as much about the attendees as it is about the speakers. It’s an old saw that some of the best info at SXSW is exchanged in the hallways (or parties) outside the talks and panels. The good folks who run the conference have, for several years, acknowledged the importance of audience know-how by asking the public to help choose the talks through a nifty online voting system called the PanelPicker. SXSW even encourages blatant vote-begging like, um, what I’m doing here:

Rallying your friends and associates to vote for your panel proposal demonstrates energy, motivation and organizational ability. And, all of these skills are important when it comes to organizing a successful panel for SXSW.

So, friends and associates, please take a second to check out my proposals and give them a thumbs-up if you find them interesting. You don’t have to attend SXSW to vote, and voting takes only a moment: You do have to create a PanelPicker account, but registration is quick and painless. Vote here:

...and while you’re at it, please do feel free to add a comment in support of the talk.

Best iPhone Apps: Ingredients for Apps that Delight

In Best iPhone Apps: Ingredients for Apps that Delight, I’ll explore the principles, design decisions, and wild-eyed ideas that combine to make remarkable iPhone apps. For my latest book, Best iPhone Apps, I stress-tested thousands of apps. Along the way, I uncovered an alchemy of design patterns, clever insights, and cultural shifts that result not only in useful apps but in genuinely delightful mobile experiences. This talk is aimed at app developers and designers as well iPhone-toting enthusiasts interested in exploring the eye-popping things you never knew your glossy gadget could do. Topics covered will include:

  1. What are the key design patterns of the best iPhone apps?

  2. Why is USA Today the best news app, and what can developers learn from a carpenter’s calculator app?

  3. How does iPhone change the way people work and play, and how do the best apps fit into those new work styles and habits?

  4. What do a global map of public toilets, a Parisian bicycle finder, and a listing of local concerts have in common? What do they tell us about how precise personal context transforms our relationship to information?

  5. What are the most amazing apps you’ve never heard of?

  6. Why are delight, beauty, and all-around adorability especially important in an iPhone app?

  7. How does a hiking app blaze the trail for savvy handling of offline and online usage patterns?

  8. With photo, video, and voice, the iPhone makes typing (and even reading) so last century; how do the best iPhone apps change the way we express and process information?

  9. How do the best apps make clever use of free web services like, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and others, to create rich tapestries of personalized data? What are the pitfalls of using these APIs for developers and users?

  10. Why are App Store reviews so lousy at helping to identify great apps or aiding developers to make them? Who’s the market for the best apps?

Nerds on the Run: Tech and Casual Fitness

RunKeeper map screenshot
One of my favorite iPhone apps, RunKeeper, maps and shares your running routes, letting you add photos and text updates along the way.

In “Nerds on the Run,” I’ll review a new generation of gadgets and online services that are transforming fitness chores into video games, head-to-head challenges, and dazzling cascade of personal stats. Backing this talk is my experience with my überpopular “Couch to 5K” (C25K) online running program, which has helped thousands (millions?) of skeptical, would-be exercisers get off the couch and start jogging. It’s all about introducing fun and usability to personal exercise, making fitness more game-like. Work your body by working your mind in this fun exploration of fitness as tech-enabled play. Topics covered will include:

  1. Why does exercise suck for so many people?

  2. How has the Couch to 5K program persuaded so many people who loathe exercise to start running and actually like it?

  3. How can you transform chore-like work into play-time effort?

  4. How can you get serious about fitness (or any kind of work) by taking it less seriously?

  5. What game-like elements can be applied to personal fitness?

  6. What mobile apps, websites, and gadgets can improve your attitude about personal fitness routines?

  7. How does instrumenting your workouts with a new generation of fitness gadgets and online services create tech-enabled play?

  8. How can you find new motivation by creating a delicous statistical mosaic of your personal fitness progress?

  9. How can social networking and online sharing sharpen your physical workouts?

  10. How do new technologies build upon old-school motivational methods like written exercise journals or running clubs?


Many thanks for taking your time to help my little campaign to speak at SXSW. And hey, please do consider coming to Austin for the show in March 2010. SXSW Interactive is an incredible event, and I’d love to see you there.

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4 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Aug 18, 2009 4:38pm [ 1 ]

Hi Josh,

I think the secret of really damn good iphone applications is incredibly tight focus on to a single need or task (or some very related needs and tasks).

"Normal" application development is about a land grab, and in this setting, everything became a framework. Feature lists rule, and so applications tick boxes and provided features rather than actually solving problems…

What seems lovely about iPhone applications to me is that for a bunch of reasons (an enormous user base, a distribution solution, a compelling device, good enough copy protection, a pretty nice API, and willing customers), it's become possible for developers to target applications to very specific ideas.

I hope my application is an example of that (and future apps from splendid-things will keep that up too, I hope).

In my case, there are things I'd like to do differently, and if it brings in enough revenue, then I might make some significant changes. But at the moment, I'm very pleased with it, and I think it fulfils a real need.

:-) For me, the delightful aspect is to find that someone has constructed something that is so close to what I would build if I had the time and money to do it myself. As an app author that's the kind of application I want to build - what people would build if they could. Not what I can build because I think it'll sell well and be good enough to prevent anything else overcoming the barrier to entry to compete against me.

:-) There's an episode of The Simpsons (Wow - wikipedia does know everything -,_Where_Art_Thou%3F) in which Homer is hired by an Auto firm to build a dream car for every man for them. Of course, it looks like a space rocket, is covered in fins and bubble domes, drinks aviation fuel, and can't be built for less than a million - but it's what he really wants. I think good iPhone apps are a bit like this, only practical too.

Aug 18, 2009 11:04pm [ 2 ]

Always a pleasure to spend a moment helping out someone who helps me so often.

Susan Lawrence
Sep 2, 2009 2:31pm [ 3 ]

I voted for both.

Running my SECOND 5k the end of the month.



Sep 3, 2009 6:15pm [ 4 ]

Honestly, Josh, why not some sort of interactivity between Big Medium and iPhone apps etc.? I've "messed" around with Wordpress and aside from the fact it has all sorts of bells and whistles, with plug-ins, themes, etc. I have never had more grief than with the crashes and hassles it magically provides me on a regular basis. Don't forget your core product, please.

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