Raising the Bar

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The next step for global connectivity? A smartphone for the developing world. And it’s designed by none other than John Sculley, former Apple executive and Robert Brunner, the designer behind Beats by Dre headphones.

The Obi Worldphone marks a greater push toward accessible technology–Sculley aims to provide developing countries in places like Africa and Southeast Asia with high-powered, affordable smartphones, which he predicts will replace their needs for personal computers.

In addition to its sleek design, the phone is tailored to its target consumers’ preferences. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, texting, taking photos, and banking are popular uses for smartphones, so the Obi Worldphone has features like a 13-megapixel camera and a diverse marketplace of applications.

The phone will retail for $200, a reasonable price to most first-world Americans, but still may be a problem for the standard income in a developing country.

What Sparks Our Fire: A quest for a high-powered but inexpensive smartphone that makes technology more available on a global scale.

Changing The Podcast Model

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If 2014 marked a peak for Podcast listenership (thanks in large part to the popularity of Serial), than 2015 is shaping up to be the year of redefining the podcast’s power. Midroll Media, the parent company behind the popular Earwolf podcasting network that hosts Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang Bang, is looking to lead the charge with the release of HOWL.

HOWL is a new audio service and application that is aiming to be the “Netflix of podcasting.” And part of that means helping shift the monetization model for the industry as a whole. The service will house podcasts with huge popularity and extensive backlogs, and will put their old episodes behind a $4.99 per month paywall. Podcasts like Comedy Bang Bang (with over 370 episodes) and WTF with Marc Maron (which counts President Obama as a recent guest) will join HOWL and hopefully bring in listeners who can help fund new podcasts, podcasts with lesser known talent, or even special edition podcasts that might not be financially feasible otherwise.

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Traditionally, content creators have been able to monetize their podcasts through advertising before and during their programs. Podcasts have been attracting a small but fiercely loyal audience since their inception in 2004. Midroll learned through an anonymous survey of advertisers that 91.5% believe advertising has offered them a good value on their money spent. Companies like Squarespace and Bonobos have become known for their long-term dedication to advertising on podcasts, and this only makes sense if it offers them a high enough ROI. HOWL will continue to air the commercials embedded in new podcasts, but will ideally help monetize podcasts that wouldn’t normally be able to attract advertising dollars.

What Sparks Our Fire: Reimagining the model for monetizing podcasts

 

Vice Goes Broad

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Popular media website Vice has announced the release of its 11th channel, Broadly, which caters to female readers.

Its tongue-in-cheek tagline “For Women Who Know Their Place” is a tribute to its mission to promote broader coverage of issues with a female perspective, including “politics, culture, sex, and fashion.” While its content (reproductive health and fertility, gang activity, drug culture, etc.) maintain’s Vice‘s edge and envelope-pushing tendencies, Broadly aims to add a new dimension to such topics.

A major distinction from its other sites is the noticeable lack of comments section, in order to encourage civil discussion and a safe space. However, in true Vice fashion, it will focus on subject matter that is generally underreported by the mainstream media.

This marks an important shift in focus for Vice, capitalizing on the momentum of feminism in the media and seeking to carve out its unique place in branding culture.

What Sparks Our Fire: A digital publication expanding its brand by creating a space for candid conversation among women about prevalent modern issues.

The New Meaning of “Broadcast”

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With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus on the rise (such as Netflix announcing that its second-quarter revenue exceeded estimates at $1.64 billion), tech giants are competing to enhance the streaming experience, revolutionizing the way we watch TV.

It’s clear that this is a step in the right direction, according to a report from Google regarding engagement via Chromecast that revealed users transmitting media to their TVs watch 50% more video than the average mobile app user. Chromecast, along with competitors such as Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV, represents another huge push toward digital streaming over regularly scheduled programming, which could mean the end of TV as we know it now.

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Earlier this year, The Artifice reported that more than 40% of American homes used a streaming service as of the fall of 2014, which shows that the demand for “on-demand” services has increased dramatically and is becoming rapidly integrated with the average consumer lifestyle.

What Sparks Our Fire: Data that shows how a consumer preference shift and new technology is changing the traditional pastime of watching television

The Unbreakable Smartphone

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Despite the rapid progress made to smartphones in the past few years, these devices are still some of the most fragile pieces of technology we own. Small amounts of water and one tiny slip out of the hand can wreck them permanently. But wouldn’t these smart devices be even smarter if we could use them in almost any situation? With the invention of the Cicret wristband, we might just be one step closer.

Cicret, designed by a group of French entrepreneurs, is a smart wristband created to allow smartphone users more convenience. In it’s first prototype form, Cicret works by projecting a screen onto your arm, and using sensors to detect where you are tapping. The designers also aim to incorporate a waterproof design before the product goes to market. This means that it might be a lot more convenient to text in the bathtub or check the weather without fishing through your purse, in the future.

The Cicret team is still looking for investors, but aims to have the product ready for market by early 2016. Their ambitious concept video has virally spread across the internet, and even prompted questions of it’s viability from some tech bloggers. After releasing a video showing the prototype’s capabilities, many have started to believe that this technology is possible.

Take a look for yourself and learn more on the Cicret website.

What Sparks Our Fire: Wildly ambitious technology that makes life more convenient