In its modern industrial facility in Santa Monica, Calif., the Science technology studio has been quietly incubating its next new business — a lab devoted to developing mobile applications that it hopes will become daily habits.
Science Mobile Labs emerges from an 18-month-long stealth period with a half-dozen entertainment offerings, from dating apps to pop culture quizzes to brain teasers designed to playfully sharpen math and language skills. It plans to rapidly launch a constellation of applications to learn what connects with users and build on those insights.
Science Chief Executive Mike Jones said his goal is to capture snippets of people’s time throughout the day through a series of applications that, if successful, become part of a user’s regular routine. His strategy is informed by fundamental changes in how people access media.
“In the past, when you consumed media, you consumed it in large blocks of time. You sat down in front of the television and watched the entire show or read an entire newspaper,” Jones said. “Now it feels like, to us, content is consumed in micro-fragments, in 60- to 90-second time frames.”
The mobile lab expands Science’s focus.
The technology studio has been attempting to quickly create and grow a number of companies in a variety of areas. A few of them include DogVacay, a service for locating pet-sitters, and Homehero, which identifies caregivers for the elderly living in Southern California. The studio also invested in Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based products company aimed at men, and Ellie, which sells activewear for women. Science received a $30 million investment last year from Hearst Corp.
The newest app, Hiq Lockscreen, asks multiple-choice questions designed to strengthen math, science, vocabulary or language skills. The game resides on an Android phone’s lock screen and poses a multiple-choice question to be answered to unlock the device (What’s 7 + 10? Jim Morrison died in what year? How long is a day on Jupiter?). Questions get progressively harder, and participants collect coins for correct answers, which they can redeem to get more quizzes (or use to challenge friends to a winner-take-all contest).
Science created a set of trivia questions based on some of the more provocative statements of Re/code Co-Executive Editor Kara Swisher. Right now, it’s only for Android; stay tuned, the Apple version is supposed to be up here soon.
It’s the brainchild of Kyle Olson, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, who said he got the idea while on a road trip with a friend who could quickly calculate gas mileage in his head.
Olson looked for an app that would allow him to practice simple math problems, flash-card style. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, he spent nine months developing one in his spare time, which he refined and launched earlier this month while working over the summer at Science.
If you don’t have time or are stumped, you can dispense with the question with a double tap to reveal the correct answer.
Jones said Hiq is a great example of Science’s mobile strategy for media content.
“You’re interacting with customers … every time they touch the phone, with these little micro interactions,” Jones said. “We’ll find lots of little bits and pieces to touch you throughout the day.”
The mobile initiative is headed by an executive with experience in running another mobile incubator, Adam Huie, the co-founder of the IAC-backed Hatch Labs, which launched Tinder. Under Huie, Science’s mobile unit has introduced its own dating apps: Sway, which makes introductions through six-second videos (think Tinder meets Vine); Meetinghouse, a friend-finder for Mormons; and Tryst, which allows users to anonymously show interest in someone they find attractive (if the feeling is mutual, the app makes the connection).
Wishbone, another app it has released, poses a dozen binary choices a day: Who’s more beautiful, “New Girl’s” Zooey Deschanel or French actress Marion Cotillard, or what’s worse, bad breath or body odor? Users cast a vote and see how their opinions compare with those of others who’ve taken the quiz.
Usage has tripled in recent weeks, Huie said.