Dear world: Catering to hipsters will not help your app

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on November 5, 2013

From The News Desk

The war on passwords wages on, and apps and companies are working as furiously as ever to get your attention.

"Hey, over here!" these apps yell. "Hate unlocking your Mac laptop? Have I got an app for you!"

That's pretty much what the new app Knock is saying, but it has an added twist: It's REALLY hipster. Think you're a trendy millennial? Not until you knock on your iPhone to unlock your Macbook you're not.

Knock is an app that lets you knock on your iPhone to unlock your computer. Today it launched, with a webpage and video to boot. The concept is beyond simple: Using bluetooth technology, the Knock app is always on. When users are within reach of their computer they can knock on their iPhone and the app transmits the computer's password to the computer thus unlocking it. Because, you know, manually entering your computer password is so time consuming!

It appears the people behind Knock were aware that the app's service isn't the best gimmick around, so they decided to stylize its marketing. A lot.

Picture this. You're in an abandoned, yet very aesthetically pleasing warehouse. Your computer just happens to be on a block of wood (obviously). But it's locked. What do you do? You stare ahead longingly, knock on your pocket, and your computer just turns on.

Also, you're a bearded man in denim.

That's it: that's the app and the campaign. Where to begin.

First, the problem of passwords seems to be reaching new heights of lunacy. It's true that passwords are proving to be more and more insecure, and new forms of authentication will become necessary as time goes on. This one, however, doesn't make sense. For one, it doesn't replace passwords. You still have a password to unlock your computer, but it's stored in the app. Instead of actually entering it, you knock. This is completely useless. If you want to look at an actually useful and secure password replacement look at Clef. That company is actually dealing with the real issues of authentication.

Second, why do apps think they must become an esoteric hipster cultural object to be considered relevant and cool? To me, that's just admitting that your product is worthless. Don't get me wrong, it's good to give your campaign and product style. But if all you have is a bearded man looking at a camera in a warehouse, something is terribly amiss.

I emailed one of Knock's co-founders, Jon Schlossberg, and he told me that he hails from Palo Alto and his co-founder Will Henderson (who I believe to be the mysterious bearded man) resides in Portland, OR. As much as it pains me to pigeonhole my former hometown, this makes all too much sense.

In his defense, Schlossberg did go on to say that he has future aspirations with the Knock program. "The end goal," he wrote, "is being able to walk up to any computer -- yours, your friend's, the library's -- and have it recognize you via a knock and a second factor we aren't talking about just yet." That is somewhat promising, and a much better gimmick than what Knock is currently touting.

But until that comes to fruition, Knock is going to have to overcome some real image hurdles. As in, it should get a new image.