Monthly Archives December 2011

Playing the Grace Card in 2012

Given the overwhelming pressure so many in America and around the world are feeling this holiday season, it seems appropriate to think about a different kind of blog post to end this year. One that can help set a tone for the better in 2012.

I look at this post as a “card blog” – it is about our most common threads of who we are or aren’t through the pure grace of being human in the time we all are living. You may be asking, “Why create and share a ‘card’ to various people of the world?” The act of empathy, of stepping inside another person’s world is always graceful, and today, couldn’t be more important.

In the sections below, we address this card to various people and players in the world. In some cases, they’re just my observations and don’t relate to digital. In others, they relate to the positives and negatives of the all-the-time connected-ness of social media and the Internet – how it can sometimes make us more human, and other times, remove our humanity. But ultimately, I hope that all these resonate with you as ways to make 2012 better.

To: A Politician
The electoral clock is ticking, you need to find some grace, PDQ! We are particularly impressed with Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker, whose smart use of Twitter and social media has connected him to his constituents in meaningful ways.

To: A Boss
Jobs are obviously in demand, which gives “bosses” even more power, more opportunity to affect people’s sense of self. Walk softly with your big stick as you’ll surely get more for it. Grace under pressure – and bosses are clearly under that – is transformative to all!

To: A Facebook, Twitter Enthusiast
Use your social networks to do more than aimlessly like and follow, or post and tweet. Use your imagination like never before to connect, create and immerse the collective spirit. To the social naysayers, this would prove to be a true grace of time.

To: An Unemployed Worker
Not enough jobs are available to enough people, this we all know. But by being your most imaginative, most relentless, by absolutely doing everything to elevate, to create opportunity, you are giving yourself and the ones you love the greatest gift.

To: A Subway Rider
Stop pushing, looking down at your iPod or iPad when you should be looking up when getting on, off, or giving your seat to someone who needs it more!

To: A Dog Parent
We are only as good as the company we keep which is why being a dog dad or mom is pretty damn good. We live in the age of dog awareness and dogs are fully aware of this. For this, they love us dearly. Dogs and cats relieve our stress and make us incredibly special.

To: Artists: Graphic, Literary, Whimsical, Musical, Performing, Conceptual, Digital
We live in the “Expression Age” and if you are an artist – in your soul, if not in your day job – the world of today is yours for the taking. If you have content originality to share, the future (and all kind of money trails) could not be more welcoming.

To: The Not So Humble or Gracious
Just take a moment as we turn the calendar to think about how good you have it- especially if you have your health (even if not all of it!) and some love in your life. I have always believed and tried to practice that all else (making money, creating a life or legacy) is possible with the grace of health and love.

Happy New Cheer!

Mobile App Review: Songkick – iPhone

songkick

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app designed for serious music fans and concertgoers.

The App: Songkick

The Platform: iPhone

How Much: Free

The Deal: I’m a music nerd, and I go to a lot of shows (Brooklyn speak for concerts) in and around New York. One of the worst feelings in the world to me, though, is checking one of my favorite artists’ websites to see when he or she may be coming to town, only to discover that I missed the show by a week. It happens more often than I’d like to admit, and I’d always wanted something that could stop this from happening ever again. Thankfully, the computer gods gave us apps, which led me to Songkick.

songkick app

Features: Songkick tracks your favorite artists’ touring schedule, and matches it with your location to alert you when an artist is coming to your area. You can enter artist names manually, or it can scan your music library to generate your list. The bottom nav is divided between “Concerts,” which shows artists you’re tracking that are visiting nearby venues in the coming months; “Locations,” which lists tons of local concert halls and clubs and the bands booked to play there (whether you’re tracking them or not); “Artists,” which is your master tracking list; and “Settings.”

songkick

What We Think/Like: This app is a success. My biggest fear going in was that it would be either too hard to configure or set up, or that it would be incomplete data-wise; I like a lot of different indie bands, and I doubted they would all be included. But I need not have worried. It appears as if a band exists, you can track them here, and you can track them immediately. The interface is really nice too, with photos of every act and a striking “On Tour” banner to clearly mark their status. I’ve already become aware of shows – Dr. Dog and Marshall Crenshaw, to name two – that I probably would have missed without Songkick.

songkick

What’s Missing: So far, the ticket purchase option is lacking. When you click on the “Tickets” button, it takes you to Songkick’s website, which is not a mobile site and does not actually sell tickets or link to the club or venue that is. Basically, you’re on your own to get tickets.

If you have the app scan your library, it scans and uploads everything – meaning it’s not smart enough to know that the Beatles no longer exist and thus are no longer touring, or that the Jerky Boys aren’t the type of artist you’d go see live. So, if you do opt to have Songkick scan your library, you’ll then need to spend time editing your list to bands that you actually want to track.

Overall: Shortcomings aside, which are really minor, Songkick is a brilliant idea executed almost perfectly. If you are a live music fan, download it. You’ll never miss your favorite artists again, and you may discover new ones.

Grade: B+

Interview: Indie Filmmakers on the Secrets of Crowdfunding with Kickstarter, IndieGoGo & Social Media

This past October, the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter reached its 1,000,000th individual backer since starting in 2009, with over $100,000,000 pledged to different projects in that time. Its peer IndieGoGo has helped raise money for over 50,000 campaigns since 2008. These crowdfunding platforms, combined with social media and other means of outreach, have become a powerful new model for funding a wide array of independent creative projects.

Flightpath caught up with two independent filmmakers who recently completed successful campaigns to glean their secrets. Jayce Bartok is an actor, screenwriter and director who’s appeared in projects from Spider-Man to The Station Agent and White Collar, and in January will show up in two features at Sundance. Jayce used IndieGoGo to raise over $20,000 to keep shooting Tiny Dancer, an indie drama he’s writing and directing. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Andrew Berends shot two films in Iraq that explore the conflict from the rarely-seen, ground-level view of Iraqis caught in the middle. He raised more than $16,000 on Kickstarter towards completing Delta Boys, about militants and oil in the Niger Delta.

Both were greatly empowered by their campaign experiences, but agreed there was no shortage of challenges.

Jayce Bartok: It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. For those 60 days, it was just insane.

Andy Berends: Yeah. It’s awesome in a lot of respects, but I wouldn’t call it fun. For me, the first thing was you have to pretty much put aside your pride.

Jayce: Totally.

Andy: I had 184 backers but I probably directly contacted over 2,000 people, and indirectly maybe 3,000 – 4,000. For every backer, there’s probably 100 that ignored it and five that think I’m a jerk because I’ve been spamming them for a month straight.

Jayce: The first quarter of our campaign we were so far behind. Then we realized we have to email all of our contacts from A-Z. We had 15,000 contacts, and we emailed I would say at least 10,000 of them. That was what really drove it; once we started those personal emails, people started jumping on. But you’re right, you have to swallow your pride.

Andy: Which for me was a positive experience, because I err on the side of being too reserved and subtle. And that’s not how it works. That’s not how you sell your film, that’s not how you raise money. So it forced me out of my comfort zone.

Jayce: You need to be the total self-promoter and ask. It was an amazing experience for my wife and me. And for reconnecting with people. Maybe it’s been two or three years and you email someone, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Hey man, here’s $100.” But you can drive yourself crazy, because that guy down the block who’s like my best friend will not respond to my email.

Andy: As awesome as it is, it’s not free money at all. First of all, you have to have a project that people think is worthwhile. Second, you need to have a decent network of people who are willing to support you. And you have to do a lot of work. I worked hard to make my campaign and my video look good. I want people to say, he’s not just asking for free money. He’s put a lot of work into making this. You then have to be able to produce DVDs, t-shirts, all kinds of stuff.  You’re a full-on production/distribution company.

I raised $16,000. If it was $10,000, I would say it’s just barely worth it for what’s going to be a month-and-a-half of work. But it’s not just the money, it’s the publicity on top of that. And then there’s no question that it’s worth it. And the experience was worth it. But it’s not free money.

Flightpath: How did you reach the point of deciding to go on these campaigns?

Andy: If I were just starting the production, I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking all these people for money if I didn’t know I’d be able to finish the film. But now that I’m finishing it, I know I’m going to be able to deliver. That’s part of why I was ready. But it was also: Everybody’s doing it now. If I’m going to do it, now’s the time.

Jayce: We’re in the exact opposite place [with our project]. We decided to do it because I’m tired of having friends who are like, “You made The Cake Eaters a long time ago, and I’ve made five $30,000 films since then.” And we were just like, “Oh man, we gotta do this.”

We had this giant fundraiser event planned, and IndieGoGo was our safety net for people who couldn’t attend it. And ironically, that event netted us like $2,000 and we had all these wealthy people there and some celebrities. And then the IndieGoGo campaign that went to all our broke-ass friends got us 20-some thousand. It started as almost an after-thought.

Flightpath: One early model for indie film-backing online was getting micro-investments, as opposed to a straight donation. What are the differences there?

Andy: Investment 99% of the time is just a pipe dream. This does away with the pretense that you’re going to see a return. I never felt comfortable asking for investors, because it’s very hard for independent documentaries to break even, let alone make money. This is more straightforward. And also, you don’t get $50 investments. That’s when you’re going around looking for someone to give you $5,000 – $10,000.

Jayce: It’s part of the shift where people are giving locally. You’re helping this person make a project happen that they passionately believe in, as opposed to trying to say, “You’re going to get a 120% return.” If I give Andy $50, he’s going to create something that I feel really connected to and that I’m a part of.

Flightpath: Jayce, you did a 60-day campaign. Andy, yours was 30. How did you choose the length, and how much did you plan in advance for sustaining it?

Jayce: We had no clue what was going to happen. The first half of our 60 days, we didn’t raise that much. It was scary, like we’re not going to make our goal. And what I found is that everyone loves a winning team. When you get close to your goal, everybody comes out of the woodwork to give you money. They want to be the one who pushes you over the top. In retrospect, I’d probably focus on 30 days, knowing the last 15 would be super-intense.

Andy: And also because, it’s a full-time job. Kickstarter actually pushes you towards 30 days. They feel that’s the most efficient bang for your buck. On a 60-day campaign, maybe I would have raised another $1000. The people who come in at the last minute would have just waited another month. In twice as much time, I wouldn’t have raised twice as much money, but I would have had to work just as hard for two months.

Jayce: I do believe what you put into it, you get out of it. But at the same time, I don’t believe we could raise any more money than we did. You only have a certain amount of contacts.

We learned that for your project, this is a giant PR campaign with the added perk that you’re getting money. But you want to make your goal. You want to show that this is successful. With IndieGoGo we knew we could keep the money no matter what. But there was an incredible amount of pressure when we were so far under-performing, that we were like, “Oh my God, we’re spamming everybody and they’re going to know that we failed.” We were definitely sweating it.

Flightpath: What about the psychology of choosing the all-or-nothing model, as Andy did, versus the take-what-you-raise platform, like Jayce. I’d argue that all-or-nothing creates a bigger incentive to donate.

Andy: Absolutely. And it’s also a bigger incentive on me to make sure I hit the goal. Once you click “launch campaign,” the countdown is on, and your pride is on the line. The incentive is there to make sure I hit the goal. And some people looking at it would say, “He hasn’t reached his goal, I better kick in some money.”

Flightpath: Jayce, you were blogging for MovieMaker, and you made a lot of down-homey videos with your wife and your intern. What was the social media outreach strategy?

Jayce: We tried to listen to what IndieGoGo told us, that your video has to resonate with people personally. We sat on our stoop with our son and made a video and put the trailer at the end. We tried to keep in touch with videos.

We were very strategic about social networking. Besides personal emailing and posting every day on Facebook, we went on a limb and tried to get anyone who was vaguely famous to tweet or retweet. I had worked with Kevin Smith on Cop Out. I emailed him and didn’t hear anything, and then someone at MovieMaker said, “Hey, did Kevin’s tweet help you guys?” I was like, “What?” I looked and four days earlier, he’d tweeted, “Help Jayce Bartok’s movie.” And he’s got 1.5 million followers.

We were going to get MovieMaker subscriptions to give away to a certain donor level, and they said, “In return, will you blog about your crowdfunding experience for us?” And ironically, my blogging has been way more beneficial to our campaign.

Andy: You get analytics on your campaign. Unquestionably, Facebook is by far how I reached the most people. Through my personal page, plus I set up a page for the film. I also set up an event, so that I could invite all my friends on Facebook. And there’s a Facebook group that friends of mine set up while I was detained in Nigeria making the film, with almost 1,000 members. Of my 184 backers, 69 clicked through from Facebook. Almost half of the people, and 26% of the dollars.

I had this other awesome stuff. Sundance has a curated Kickstarter page, so I was on their page. Stranger than Fiction has a page. Rooftop Films has a page. Barely any donations came through that. But I was able to leverage that and say I was endorsed by all these organizations. The endorsement is huge. Sundance sent one tweet for me. And it helps. But for me, it was Facebook and personal messaging. Getting other people to post on their wall is how it really starts to build momentum.

Jayce: I am super-impressed, because my wife and I were partners in this, but you did it by yourself. I don’t really understand social media. She’ll be like, “Go email Kevin Smith.” And I was like, “Okay,” scared shitless. I couldn’t really coordinate all that on my own. I was really in charge of the personal emails. I did all those 15,000 contacts. I just wrote them one-by-one with a couple of personal sentences and then the cut-and-paste part, and my fingers were going to fall off. That was the most effective.

Flightpath: Beyond the money, how much awareness did this spread about your projects, and how does that create a foundation for the rest of the film’s life cycle? What starts now?

Jayce: Because we still need to go raise $75,000 more, we have all these statistics now and all these backers. Instead of floating out these bullshit business plans, where we’re going to take the movie to Sundance and sell it and get this rate of return, we can say we have 1,000 dedicated followers, and that equals this number right off the bat. We’re using this audience that we built and trying to leverage that to raise the rest of the money and apply for grants.

Andy: For me, I’ve actually sold more DVDs than I probably would have if I’d waited until I finished and sent an email to my friends. Nobody’s going to buy the DVD for $30. But with the campaign, I’ve sold 42 DVDs for $30. I’ve sold 45 digital downloads at $15. So essentially, distribution has already begun.

This experience has been realizing that if I’m not going to sell it, there’s nobody else out there trying to sell my work, and that’s what I need to work on. That’s why this campaign was such a good thing for me. Because it’s freaking hard. And you do see your friends unsubscribing from your emails, and it’s devastating. There are moments of panic where I feel awful, like I’m going to raise this money, but am I going to lose friends over it?

This is something that independent filmmakers have to learn. You can’t just be a filmmaker anymore. You have to be a filmmaker, a distributor, a fund raiser, a graphic designer. It’s hard, but it’s empowering.

Flightpath: How empowering is this for you guys and your projects, emotionally and creatively?

Jayce: Hugely empowering. And morally, you owe these people who are your backers and supporting you, so you have to finish this, you have to carry on and see the journey through. You can’t be like, “That famous person never wanted to be in it, so it’s just sitting on my desk now.”

Andy: From every single person, it’s a vote of confidence, and now I have to live up to it. The thing about independent filmmaking is it’s lonely sometimes. You take a lot on by yourself. And to have the personal support from individuals feels very good. It makes me realize that we’re all indie filmmakers, but we’re all working together to make our independent projects, which I love.

Flightpath: Finally, what advice would you give people starting their own campaigns?

Jayce: Plan, plan, plan. For every dollar you get, you have to earn that dollar. You have to go out there and earn that money. You really have to think about it, plan and persist. Swallow that pride and figure out how to ask people to support you.

Andy: Chris at the Sundance Institute said to me, “Don’t be shy.” That’s the piece of advice I personally needed the most. I agree, swallow your pride. But you have to have a good project. Otherwise, don’t do it. Have something you believe in that’s worthy. And then swallow your pride and don’t be shy.

The Flightpath Holiday Gift Guide for Digital Geeks

holiday gift guide

Having trouble finding a gift for that special tech-head in your life? Or maybe you want to treat yourself to something? Either way, we’ve compiled a list of nine slam dunk digital-themed gifts to help you out – perfect for the digital-minded. Selected by Dan Brooks, Tyler Abrams and Roxanne Oliver.

1. Digital Comics. Viewing comics on an iPad (or other mobile device) is a revelation. They look awesome, plain and simple – clear, vibrant and detailed. You can manually “flip” the pages like a regular comic, you can zoom in, or you can navigate panel-to-panel. A Comixology gift card – which will work for any publishers’ comics – would be perfect for the comics nerd in your life. (Read our interview with DC Comics’ SVP of Digital, Hank Kanalz, for more info.)

2. Arduino. If you whisper the words “open source” to almost any programmer out there, whether an amateur or professional, you will immediately see their eyes light up. Follow that up with the word “Arduino” and you’ve got them drooling now. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with giving your geeky programmer friend (you know, the one who helps you fix your computer all the time) the gift of open source software AND hardware.

3. Philips Fidelio. Chances are, if you purchased an iPhone in the last year, you’ve had the potential to stream music from the phone to an AirPlay capable device. Docking stations are a thing of the past now, so gone are the days of having to dismantle your bulky iPhone case to get it to connect. Check out the Philips Fidelio wireless speaker system and free your phone.

4. Elago Slim-Fit iPhone Case. We came across this case too late to include in our iPhone case post from last week, but it deserves a spot in that list. The Elago is sleek, feels great, and shows off the design of the iPhone while still providing protection. Available for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

5. Drivemocion EX Series LED Car Sign. This LED sign that shows an emoticon to whoever is behind you in the car satisfies that wish to let that individual who just cut you off know how you truly feel. Car nuts, or really, anyone with a car, would love this.

6. Belkin Headphone Splitter. If you are strapped for cash and need a gift or stocking stuffer for a significant other, there is hardly anything more romantic than a headphone splitter. Whether you’re in a metropolitan area or going to a park, nothing is sweeter than sharing a soundtrack with someone you care about.

7. Fisheye, Macro, Wide Angle and Telephoto Phone Lenses for the iPhone.. The new iPhone 4S was just released, and if you have a tech-head in your life, they will love these accessories from Photojojo to accompany it. The range of photographs that you can capture just improved tenfold!

8. TextMate. When it comes to cranking out code, programmers tend to have their own text editor of choice. Some prefer monster-sized text editors with tons of options and bell-and-whistles, while others need minimal and distraction-free programs (cue Notepad/TexPad). TextMate (only for Mac) is the perfect combination of feature-rich options and a slimmed-down interface.

9. Panasonic Retro Headphones. The iPod/iPhone was a great innovation in portable music; the earbuds that come packaged with them were not. They’re junk. But higher-end headphones can be prohibitively expensive. Panasonic’s retro-style line is a good half-way point: they look beautiful, with a vintage ’70s design, the sound is fantastic, and they’re not too pricey. They’re also noise-canceling, making them perfect for the subway or an airplane.

5 Awesome Holiday-Themed Digital Marketing Campaigns

frank-the-fruitcake

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, and with that comes holiday-themed digital marketing campaigns from brands big and small. Like Halloween, it’s a chance to get extra creative in a short window of time, take chances with brand identity and show consumers that you have a sense of humor. Here are five of our favorites.

Walmart’s Frank the Fruitcake – This is a pretty substantial effort on Walmart’s part to achieve numerous things – to change its brand image, to attempt something digital/viral, and to show that it has a sense of humor. The joke is that Frank, a piece of fruitcake, is the holiday “gift nobody wants.” He’s voiced by the great Bobcat Goldthwait, and complains about be passed over year after year. If you log in via Facebook, a customized video is posted on your wall, where Frank arrives via package, addressed to you. Open him up, he talks a little, and you can then send him on to a friend. It’s fun, it’s got Bobcat and it’s ultimately a nice entry into the viral space for Walmart.

Sears Cheer Tree – The Sears Cheer Tree is a simple idea that again calls on user interaction, but the result is pretty charming. Visitors upload a photo of themselves putting up or posing with their own holiday decorations, which is then added to an increasingly growing mosaic. You can then zoom in on every photo in the mosaic. There’s something nice about it, plain and simple, and by not offering awards or anything like that, there’s no ugly competition aspect to it. Great concept.

Santa Yourself – This owes an obvious debt to the immortal Elf Yourself, but it seems to be taking off. Upload a photo of yourself, and voila, you’re a dancing Santa. Good animation and sound, and it’ll make you laugh and probably drive you a little crazy, which I’m guessing is the point.

Toys R Us – This isn’t a viral or interactive campaign per se, but the branding on the website really works. It’s filled with cartoon elves and reindeer, and works for kids and adults. Even with all that, the site is still clean and easily navigable. The right way to decorate your website for the holidays.

Coca-Cola – Coca-Cola is almost synonymous with holiday marketing, but I like how understated its website is this year. In fact, the landing image and seemingly only thing on the site that’s holiday related is a link to Arctic Home, Coca-Cola’s initiative to save polar bears (its longtime holiday mascot) in the Arctic. That’s valuable real estate for a company like Coca-Cola to give up towards a good cause, and it makes me think more of them than any campaign to sell more soda could have.

The 5 Most Important Things I Learned from My Dog About Marketing and Social Media

airedale-dog

(Full disclosure – I also learned this from knowing other dogs and working on great pet brands.)

1) Age is Meaningless
Is Abby 9 or 63? Sure, there are real health management concerns with an aging Airedale. But that shouldn’t mean not experiencing life and all the new things that continue evolving around us. It’s not about teaching or learning new tricks, but simply being open to the reality that new tricks are almost always built on the shoulders of old ones. So, what’s old is in fact new!

2) Barking is Like Spitting into the Wind
Yes, it gets attention, feels empowering if you are doing it to ward off intruders, but in the end, making noise or drool doesn’t mean much…especially if it blows back in your direction. Marketing used to be akin to this, but social media has changed the pushing of messaging into a new form of active engagement that leads to attitudinal and behavioral change.

3) A Smell Test is Still the Best Way of Figuring Stuff Out
Zappos has it in their DNA about touching, sniffing, and trying stuff on by the boat load – just like Abby gives everything her own smell test, and likes interacting with things before trusting them completely – with no downside to the customer. But more than that, more than ever, marketing outreach and social media are all about giving people the ability to experience brands or corporate cultures through informational transparency unimaginable a decade ago. This inclusiveness is credited with helping create deeper loyalty on the consumer, customer amd employee fronts – even in the “Occupy Age” of today.

4) Leashes Don’t Choke, People Do! (Or Something Like That.)
The simple truth is, we live in a device world. What marketers do and how they innovate with smart phones, tablets, etc. – let alone on social platforms and app-forms – is what matters in the end, especially to the end users. Great brand stewards like Apple and Amazon have done an amazing job of making a commodity of themselves. They’ve become objects of desire and utility that have kept the marketplace flowing. Pulling on the leash too hard could hurt creativity and a brand’s potential.

5) Once You Know Unconditional Love, There’s No Turning Back
Everyone who has or has had a pet knows that there’s a symbiotic life enrichment that takes place between both parties, and it’s hard to imagine not having that in your life after you’ve experienced it. Social media has given us the same thing. Social related sharing has made connecting people to people, people to causes, and people to brands so easy it is hard to imagine ever not being in the emotionally rich flow so many of us find ourselves in today. We all have seen too many photos, read too many OMG! reunion posts and watched too many ridiculous pet videos to ever think that new media is “new” anymore!

Thanks for reading and here’s some more maple bacon to enjoy with that adorable, talking dog!

Mobile App Review: New York Rangers Official App – iPhone & Android

new-york-rangers-logo

Welcome to a new series on the Flightpath blog: Mobile App Reviews. We’ll be exploring all different kinds of apps, both paid and free, and for a wide variety of subjects. Today we’ll be looking at the app for a certain local sports team.

The App: New York Rangers Official App

The Platform: iPhone & Android

How Much: Free

The Deal: I love hockey and I’m a big Rangers fan. I try and watch every game, go to a few every season, and my jersey collection is getting bigger than it should be. (That Cyber Monday deal at FansEdge for a Brandon Dubinsky home jersey was too good to pass up.) So when I finally got my iPhone 4S (my first iPhone), the first thing I did was download the Rangers’ official app. It’s branded as part of “Blueshirts United,” which is the organization’s catch-all for online Rangers fans.

Features: There’s actually a pretty robust set of features. The home screen, dubbed the “Featured” tab, looks as follows: the last game’s score is up top, with the next game info (opponent, day, time) listed right underneath; below that, in the center of the screen, is a tool that lets you track the stats of any player on the roster, game-to-game; at the bottom is a wheel of “Recent Updates,” mixing scores, videos and news. Other tabs include “News,” “Videos,” “Schedule,” and “More,” which links to photos, standings, stats roster info and tickets. All are updated daily and easily navigable.

What We Think/Like: If you’re a Rangers fan, it’s a must-download. I’m trying not to be biased, but I’ve honestly used it every day since downloading. I check the schedule often, the video content updates frequently, and the news covers everything from roster updates to game recaps. Just yesterday, the Rangers held their 18th Annual Toy Drive; this morning, I can access photos and reports from the event. The app was also the first place I saw, via video, the Rangers’ unveiling of the team’s new Winter Classic jerseys. In addition, the “News” tab is divided into “Rangers” and “Social.” The “Social” tab aggregates all Twitter updates using the hashtag #NYR; it’s a surprisingly fun, effective way to connect with fans and stay current with what people are saying about the team. But it’s not just the features that make it essential; it’s very, very cleanly designed and easy to use.

What’s Missing: For whatever reason, the app appears to offer no in-game alerts – meaning notices for goals, penalties and end-of-period and game score updates. I have to use the NHL Game Center app for all of that, which is odd. It seems like no-brainer functionality for a team-specific app.

Overall: This is an excellent app. It’s user-friendly, and the content strikes a balance between being deep enough for the diehards yet easily digestible for those who may want to learn more about the Rangers but don’t know where to begin. Highly recommended.

Grade: A-

3 Awesome iPhone 4S Cases

iphone-4s-cases

As several of us here at Flightpath took the iPhone 4S plunge, we were presented with another purchasing decision: Which case should we buy? There are tons of options out there that can meet your needs – slim versus bulky, level of screen protection, etc. – but prices vary. Here are three iPhone 4S cases that we love, providing significant bang for the buck. Selected by myself, Tyler Abrams and Denise de Castro.

Tyler’s Pick:
SonixShield
MSRP: $39.99
sonix-iphone-case
What initially sold me on this case was this YouTube video demonstrating its extreme sturdiness: An iPhone encased in the SonixShield being rolled over by a 4000lb truck. Of course, I don’t own a truck (let alone a car) and nor do I go around strategically placing expensive phones underneath trucks to see if they survive. But, I did want something slim and sturdy, and this case seemed to be a good balance between the two. It’s a two-piece case, one part consisting of a rubberized plastic that wraps around the sides with an embedded aluminum plate that covers the back, and the other part that snaps on the front to hold the phone in place. In my hands, it definitely feels strong and you can tell the phone is fitting snugly inside (I really had to jam the phone in there when putting it together). I tend to be fairly careless about portable electronics, so I feel pretty confident that this case will keep my iPhone safe and sound. I did come across two downsides with this kind of case: 1) The front piece that snaps on was difficult to install, which in turn caused me to break one of the pieces that holds it in place. The case still works fine and you can barely notice the breakage. 2) The case really form fits to the iPhone, so it’s not easy to take it out of the case if you need to frequently clean it or dock it in some sort of station that doesn’t have enough room.

Denise’s Pick:
Case Mate
MSRP: $34.99
case-mate-iphone-case
I wanted a case that was unique and would protect my phone from scratches and the occasional drop. The size of the case was another key factor – I wanted something thin and sturdy. I’ve seen cases that make the phone look like a tank – that was a look I wasn’t going for. I almost went with a custom bamboo case, but didn’t want to cough up $80 for it.

So I went to Case Mate, the site where my husband bought his Carbon Fiber case for his new iPhone. I noticed the “DIY Design Your Own” cases and checked it out. With a reasonable price for a custom design case ($35) I decided to give it a shot. It took me a week to finalize the design, because I couldn’t decide which photo to use. Then I had doubts about what the final product would look like. So I checked YouTube and checked out videos of other custom cases.

It fits nicely and it’s thin, meeting my requirements. I think it would look better if my iPhone was black, but what can you do…I actually already dropped it, and it’s fine, so I’m confident it will provide good protection.

Dan’s Pick:
OtterBox Defender Series
MSRP: $49.95
otterbox-iphone-case
If Batman was looking to buy an iPhone case, he’d buy the OtterBox.

I usually take really good care of my electronics – game consoles, TVs, computers, iPods, etc. – yet with my phones, for whatever reason, I tend to drop them. I’ve never actually broken one, but I drop them. I also, often times, toss them into my backpack or onto the passenger seat when I’m driving, where they can bounce around and maybe get damaged. And I do a lot of outdoors stuff like fishing and hiking. So it was important to me, in getting my first iPhone with the 4S, that I get a case that could withstand the occasional dumb drop, toss, or outdoor excursion.

After doing some research, I decided on the OtterBox Defender Series, and I’m glad I did. It’s slightly bulky, which may be a turn off to some people, but never mind drops – I feel like I can stop bullets with this thing. It actually encases the iPhone in a hard shell, and then encases that in a rubber exterior; the screen is protected not by a flimsy plastic sheet, but by actual glass, which doesn’t impact the touch screen functionality at all. And it has flaps and holes to allow for camera use and easy plug and headphone access. (It also features a cut out for the Apple logo on the back, so I can still show off to everyone that yes, I’m using an iPhone.)

Ultimately, I’m so confident that this will protect my iPhone, that I’m really wondering if I need Verizon’s insurance plan. I just can’t picture anything damaging it while in the OtterBox.