Citi Bike Is My New iPhone

Citi Bike has already changed my life. How will it change New York?

Citi Bike

(Cross-posted from City Notes.) New York’s new bike-sharing system, now a month old, is still working out the kinks. It’s sometimes impossible to find a bike, and sometimes impossible to return one. Kiosks, after an embarrassingly unreliable start, seem to be generally stable. There are so many complexities that a perfectly smooth system seems improbable.

But even a month in, Citi Bike is easily one of the best things that has happened to New York in the last decade. In a place where things are routinely overhyped, Citi Bike seems to have blown past everyone’s expectations, with more than a million miles traveled so far, over 500,000 trips, and some 50,000 annual members.

And, without hyperbole, Citi Bike has already changed my life. I’ve now lived here for almost 8 years, and after riding zero blocks on bikes the entire time I’d been here, I’ve now traveled 53 miles on Citi Bikes over the past month, spending more than 8 hours in the saddle.

I’m sure there’s an element of novelty involved, which will fade as summer heat becomes unbearable. But it turns out that biking is a great way to get around the city. It’s not as scary as it had previously seemed, and it can be just as fast as taking the subway. I’m already getting in better shape, losing some weight, and feeling healthier. And because I pay for each subway trip I take — I don’t have an unlimited pass — Citi Bike is actually saving me money. At about 25 cents per day for my yearly membership, every subway ride I don’t take pays for 10 days of Citi Bike membership.

One of the things I’ve wondered, waiting for traffic lights: How will Citi Bike change the city?

Even just riding around for a month, it’s clear that New York streets aren’t designed for tens of thousands of new bikers. Some bike lanes and paths exist, and a few are really nice. But others are in disrepair. And traffic police seem to have little impact on cars and trucks parking and stopping in marked bike paths. I haven’t had any scary moments yet, but it’s easy to see how some streets and intersections are hairy, even when biking responsibly. Drivers, seeing flashing Citi Bikes everywhere they go now, should be getting a wakeup call.

Something is going to have to be done about the Brooklyn Bridge in particular: There simply isn’t enough room on the current platform — shared by pedestrians and cyclists —for increasing numbers of tourists and bikers. It will probably involve moving bikes down to a new path in what’s historically been a car lane. That’s not going to make any drivers happy, so it will be hard to force. But if New York is serious about getting more people on bikes — and for many reasons, from health to air pollution, it should be — it’s just going to need to happen. So let’s do it.

Citi Bike’s limited phase-one buildout has also already slightly influenced which neighborhoods and businesses I visit. It’s now much faster and easier than it was before to travel to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from my apartment near DUMBO. Meanwhile, traveling to South Brooklyn neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, and Red Hook seems more annoying now, because there are no docks nearby. There are enough people in New York — and further expansion seems inevitable, though not imminent — that I don’t think this will dramatically alter any neighborhoods. But if Citi Bike continues to be a great service, I would definitely think twice about moving to an apartment that’s not on the grid.

I’m also curious to see how the New York gadget-nerd community responds to Citi Bike. This seems like the perfect opportunity to Kickstarter some neat Citi Bike-specific accessories. For example: A clip of some sort, designed to hold the ubiquitous $1 Poland Spring water bottle to the bike’s basket, accessible while biking? Maybe a pet carrier for cute, small dogs? A solar-powered iPhone charger? A boombox speaker? This also seems to be a great opportunity for some creative apps. For example, could one use my iPhone’s speaker to tell me which bike stations have empty docks as I approach my destination? Or perhaps an ambient Citi Bike social network, which will alert me when friends are nearby?

Since I moved here in 2005, I’ve experienced a few flashbulb moments of unity with other New Yorkers, where it really feels like we’re all in this together. The first was the idiotic subway strike the first Christmas I lived here. Another was “Linsanity” last year, when the Knicks — the hated Knicks to me, a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan — were suddenly exciting. The hurricanes, two years running, also fall into this category. And the Citi Bike program is the latest. There are already some clever, insider handshakes, like turning the seat backwards when a bike isn’t working. (Also a jerky way to “reserve” your favorite bike while supplies are low.)

I can’t remember something that’s made so many people so happy here in such a short time since the iPhone launched. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the Citi Bike program changes New York.

Subscribe to City Notes for more like this. Our New York City guide has 20 great places to go — amazing coffee, our favorite pizza, and more — many within the Citi Bike network. $1.99 for the iPhone for a limited time.

Photo: Omar Rawlings (cc) via Flickr.

iOS 7: A Week Later

The initial reaction to Apple’s iOS 7 has ranged from thoughtful and provocative to trite and absurd — as you might expect anytime Apple does anything moderately interesting. I consider myself in the “give them time, they’ll probably get it right” camp. And, a week later, I’m still very excited to help design a relatively complex new app for iOS 7 and beyond.

A few more things, now that I’ve had a week to think about it.

The big-picture reality is that iOS 7 really isn’t very different. This is actually what we were told to expect: Some superficial changes, but nothing drastic. And that was correct. Feel free to gush about or criticize Apple’s new “design language” in iOS 7. For some people, that’s important. But for most iPhone users, once they get used to the new look — which is, obviously, a work in progress — their phone is going to work pretty much the same way it did before: Screens of squarish icons for apps that don’t really talk to each other very much. No complex desktop “widgets” or 2-up-app split-screens, or anything like that. (Yet?) The trickiest thing at first will probably be learning about some of the new, hidden gesture controls.

And now, some irresponsible speculation about future hardware. That is, after all, the big thing with Apple: Hardware and software in perfect harmony. Moreso now — in theory — that one man, Jony Ive, is leading design of both.

  • Those app icons with big-ass circles in them? The App Store and iTunes Store logos that go almost too close to the edges? The seemingly unbalanced “grid” system? Is that, perhaps, telling us something about the design balance for future hardware devices? The iPad mini and iPhone 5 already have some pretty thin bezels, especially on the sides. But could we perhaps see screens going all the way to the edge soon, where there are almost no borders and the content is everything? That might be neat.
  • That parallax tilting effect on the homescreen? You know, “seeing behind” your icons? My sense is that it’s going to get old pretty quickly — or at least you’ll forget about it. Unless! Unless there’s something very cool to do with it. Perhaps some new sort of camera technology, where multiple lenses and parallax scrolling actually make some really interesting visual effects? (3D-ish Vines and Instagrams someday?)
  • One size fits all? I mentioned this briefly in the last post, but something about iOS 7 feels like it’d be more flexible for a more diverse lineup of iOS device sizes. At least I hope that’s something they’re thinking about — making it feel more appropriate on the iPad, for example, and maybe even a really small screen, too. The shift away from a discrete status bar at the top and moving more navigation elements into the content — something app makers have been doing for a while, actually — seems like it’d better fit a wider selection of gadgets.

iOS 7: Beyond The Flatness

Yes, Apple’s new mobile operating system looks different. Now what?

iOS 7

  1. I actually like the way Apple’s new iOS 7 looks. I don’t immediately prefer it to what it’s replacing — the original iPhone OS was one of the most beautiful interfaces ever imagined. But much like American Airlines’ new paint job, I think I’ll like it more when it’s mine. It certainly fits the times better — including, no doubt, some influence from competitors. And it resets the consistent iOS look to its current feature set. Too many of the mistakes in iOS came with the add-ons, and now there’s a new set of cues to start from — at least for built-in apps, and developers who play along.
  2. Key phrase, there: “Developers who play along.” It will be interesting to see how many of the top firms — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Path, Foursquare, Google — adopt Apple’s new-school design. On one hand, it’s nice when key apps resemble the system they’re part of. On the other, these companies have put a lot of work into developing their own unique looks, and many use them to visually bridge their iOS and Android apps together. My hunch is that we’ll gradually see the iOS 6 “linen” look phased out from most big apps — good riddance. But I’d be surprised if most redid everything to look just like Apple’s stock apps.
  3. One of my throwaway one-liners about iOS 7 was that Apple “basically traded Lufthansa for Virgin Atlantic.” But I do feel that away. Until now, iOS felt very continental European, including Swiss railway clocks, back buttons that resemble European highway signs, and beaucoup de Helvetica Bold. Like the classic Lufthansa look. Now it feels more modern and skinny, slightly ironic, and trendy, like the new Virgin Atlantic look, and other contemporary British design I’ve seen. Yes, Jony Ive has been in California for a long time now. But that’s how it feels.
  4. Is this the first iOS designed to look better on a white iPhone than a black one? I haven’t used it yet, but all the white icons might make it pop better. And so far I’ve only seen it demonstrated on white iPhone 5s. Under the current (old?) rules, developers aren’t even supposed to use white-iPhone photos to promote their apps. I wonder if that’ll change now. (And if I’ll use this opportunity to buy my first white Apple portable since my first iPod? Probably not, but who knows.)
  5. Ok. Beneath the surface. Design is how it works, remember? Is this an improvement? I think so. The basic stuff — being able to turn on Airplane Mode and Bluetooth from the new Control Center — is actually useful. Perhaps it will blend the iPhone and iPad experiences together a bit more? Not having to manually update apps will be good for everyone. The new photo management features look great. AirDrop — transfer files with someone nearby — is something I’d actually use, instead of e-mailing photos to my wife sitting next to me on the couch. The new theft-deterrent activation lock feature sounds like it might actually benefit the planet. There are still some basic, obvious places for improvement in iOS — how various apps can talk to each other, or how two apps could share the screen, or how two people could share an iPad better, for example — but iOS 7 doesn’t just seem like an art project.
  6. Back to the Mac? It was fitting that Apple showed off the new Mac OS X on Monday before the new iOS, because once again, they look completely different. I wonder if Apple will try bridging them together again more next year, or if that’s a pointless exercise. Anyway, the new OS X looks fine. (Although I was a little surprised that relatively few Mac owners — 35% or something? — have updated to Mountain Lion. Yes, that’s better than ~5% for Windows, but it’s nowhere near 90%+ for iOS.)
  7. The Cook Offensive. The bigger-picture mission, as highlighted by two motivational videos, including Apple’s new TV commercial, is that the company isn’t just sitting around, trying to figure out what Steve Jobs would have liked everyone to work on. (Actually, you could argue that Jobs might have disliked the iOS 7 look. We’ll never know.) Instead, the message was: Apple is self-aware and it’s playing offense. This leads us to the natural question: Ok, what’s next? Apple’s big thing is the happy marriage of hardware and software, and increasingly, services. This time, we saw a bunch of good-looking mobile software and a few decent-looking services. (Not nearly enough to say that Apple’s out of its “cloud” trouble, but a start.) As usual, “this fall,” I expect we’ll see the new hardware. It may just be the S versions of the iPhone and iPad mini, and a catch-up edition of the big iPad. iOS 7 would certainly run nice enough on those. But maybe there’s something else, something more? That would be a much better way of showing — not just telling — that Apple is moving faster and doing bigger things than ever.

City Notes San Francisco Is Here

Just in time for WWDC, with a special $0.99 launch price.

City Notes San Francisco

A quick update about City Notes, my local/travel guides startup. We’re going on a summer blitz of new releases, starting with today’s launch of our new San Francisco travel guide. If you’re in SF this week for WWDC, or will be visiting this year, grab it now at a special introductory price of 99 cents.

The idea, again, is to highlight the best and most interesting places in a city, not the most famous. This guide includes a great-looking, new coffee-and-toast-shop called The Mill, one of my favorite design shops in the world, Park Life, and an excellent cocktail bar close to downtown. Plus some amazing food and breathtaking outdoor views. (On a personal note, I haven’t been to San Francisco in several months, but researching this guide with some friends made me very eager to visit as soon as possible.) Anyway: 99 cents for iPhone, for a limited time.

We’re also using this opportunity to give our New York travel guide a little late-spring push with a special price, $1.99, down from $2.99. Check it out for our favorite Manhattan pizza place, a great bourbon bar, and more. With both apps, you’ll be in line for free future updates.

Next, we’ve recently redesigned our website, where we’ll be posting about gear we love, neat travel artifacts we’ve picked up around the world, and an interview series — coming soon! — with our favorite creators, much like SplatF’s beloved series. Please bookmark, add to your reader, follow us on Twitter or Tumblr, and stay tuned for more fun stuff.

Lastly, we’re now working on more guides and more cities: Paris, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Tokyo, to name a few. We’re also looking for people to get involved for future products, so sign up and get in touch if you like what we’re doing and want to play a role.

And let us know where you’re going if you’d like some help researching your next trip. I’m personally around on Twitter most of the time, and am happy to help you whenever I can. Thanks again for your attention!

“The switch to Android first hasn’t happened yet, but at least based on conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs, it seems likely to happen in the next year or two.”

Chris Dixon has some interesting thoughts on mobile. We’ll have to check on this in a year or so — I’ll set a reminder in my, uh, Google calendar.

“The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far.”

— Kickstarter’s recent success with Hollywood celebrities reminds me of Twitter’s four years ago. Although I wonder how many of Ashton Kutcher’s first million Twitter followers are still active users today.

AOL vs. Netflix: The Entire Internet In One Simple Chart

Dialup out, broadband in. It doesn’t get more clear than this.

AOL Netflix chart

At the end of March, almost 2.7 million people still subscribed to AOL service, the company reported this morning. That’s about where Netflix stood at the end of 2004.

Since then, Netflix’s subscriber base has grown — 29 million at the end of March — and AOL’s has declined at a remarkably parallel rate. But that makes perfect sense: Nothing says “dialup” more than AOL, and few services have benefited more from the growth of broadband than Netflix. (The paths cross in early 2008, just as Netflix’s streaming video service was starting to take off.)

  • Worth noting: Netflix now has more subscribers than AOL ever had. (The distinction changed hands late last year.) This makes sense, given the rise of mobile devices, cheaper computers, connected videogame consoles/TVs, and just the increasing popularity of the Internet, thanks to broadband.
  • Worth pondering: What will eventually cause Netflix’s decline? Missing the next era of Internet technology? (Something mobile-first or mobile-only?) Internal crumbling? Or are Netflix’s best years just getting started?

Also: Microsoft’s Mobile Comeback Isn’t Happening