Barometer: innovation

Snaps and apps

1. Wearable cameras

Here’s an intriguing, if unnerving, peek into the future. Two cameras are launching soon that quietly, automatically take photographs from their wearer’s neck and lapel.

The Autographer, which costs £399, uses a combination of sensors and software to determine the right moment to take a photo. Memoto, meanwhile, which is raising funds on Kickstarter, takes two geotagged photos every minute.

2. Self-filling water bottle

The Namib desert beetle overcomes its dry habitat by using its back to condense water from the wind. The bug inspired NBD Nano, a spin-out from Boston College, to use superhydrophilic and superhydrophobic coatings, powered by a battery or solar cells, to enhance water condensation and collection. NBD is hoping to launch a self-filling water bottle, among other applications, by 2014.

3. Blackjet

Taxi apps like Hailo and Uber bring a car to the kerbside with a few taps. But how about doing the same for private air travel? One of Uber’s co-founders, Garrett Camp, is now backing BlackJet, which allows members to book a private jet at two days’ notice from an iPhone app. New York to LA costs around $3,500.

4. Rockmelt

Rockmelt’s iPad browser pulls photos and links into a Pinterest-like grid, grouped by topics such as food or what’s been shared by friends on Facebook, saving you the trouble of searching the web. Machine learning behind the scenes helps tailor your feed.

5. Blue Badge Style

Pitched as a Michelin guide for the less able, Blue Badge Style rates nearby venues on style and ambience but also accessibility and facilities. “I haven’t lost my sense of style, just because I’m lacking in mobility,” says Fiona Jarvis, who has multiple sclerosis and founded the BBS site in 2007. Its new smartphone app launched last month.

Meet the innovators

Loren Brichter, iPhone app developer

As the developer of Tweetie, Loren Brichter created one of the first Twitter apps for the iPhone – and in the process, established new standards in designing for the small screen.

His simple innovation of dragging down from the top of the timeline of tweets to load the latest updates – “pull to refresh” – has been adopted by many other app designers. Even Apple itself, where Brichter used to work as a graphics engineer on the original iPhone, has adopted the technique in the latest iOS email app.

Twitter liked Tweetie so much it bought Atebits, Brichter’s company, in 2010. He worked on Twitter’s iPhone and iPad apps until leaving last year.

After a time advising other app developers such as Sparrow – an acclaimed Gmail client recently acquired by Google – Brichter’s latest is Letterpress, a maddeningly addictive new iPhone game that has Silicon Valley hooked.

A combination of Scrabble and Risk, where players make words on a five-by-five grid, it’s another lesson in clean, elegant mobile design.

“I appreciate being true to the medium you are working in,” says Brichter. “I’m asking the graphics hardware to do something that it’s naturally good at – it just so happens to look good.”

Brichter works from his Philadelphia home, far from the Californian tech bubble, which he shares with his wife and dogs. “It’s definitely distraction-free,” he says.

He insists that many of his innovations were “unintentionally stumbled into” and says he now looks back on some of his past work as “idiotic”. “You can’t go a year without looking outdated.”

Brichter says Letterpress is likely to be his last game for now, but he plans to use the app to experiment behind the scenes. “I don’t like the way apps are made,” he says. “There are so many moving parts, so many pieces I want to reinvent.”

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