bicoastal explainers

12 San Francisco Tech Obsessions That New Yorkers Haven’t Discovered Yet

I spent the last week visiting New York HQ from my home in the Bay Area. Recently on these trips out East, I’ve reluctantly assumed the role of West Coast cultural ambassador and tech-world explainer. I roam the city like a cut-rate Ray Kurzweil, answering questions from my friends and colleagues about what the crazy futurists in San Francisco are doing — if they all wear Google Glass (no), if self-driving cars really roam the streets (yes), and whether Silicon Valley fixations like Bitcoin are going to be adopted more broadly (not until the infrastructure gets better, and maybe not even then).

I’ve been asked to explain these things so many times that, in the interest of saving time, I’ve decided to make a list of all the things that are staples of (a certain kind of yuppie, overprivileged, tech-centric) San Francisco life, but haven’t caught on to the same degree back east. New Yorkers, here’s a guide to what your West Coast counterparts are up to.


What it is: An app that lets you choose one of two or three meals per day and have it delivered to your house in 15 minutes or less.

Why it’s popular: The meals cost $8 apiece, and are usually fairly decent. Also, no digging for ones — you pay and tip the driver through your smartphone. In my neighborhood, SpoonRocket cars are everywhere around lunchtime, their little red window flags flapping in the breeze.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Maybe. New York has more (and better) lunch options than San Francisco, and more places that deliver. But if SpoonRocket extends to New York — it’s currently only in the Bay Area — it could steal business from Seamless.


What it is: An app that tells you fun things to do.

Why it’s popular: It’s the digital-age Time Out, and helps you find quirky activities like flashmobs and cooking classes. San Franciscans use it to find date ideas, fill an empty Friday night, or get clued in about concerts and parties.

Will this be a Thing in New York? It already works in New York, but I mostly hear about Sosh in San Francisco. Maybe because New Yorkers don’t have to look as hard for adventure.

Photo: Shutterstock

Personal drones

What they are: Remote-controlled or auto-piloted helicopters, costing anywhere from $100 to $10,000 and up.

Why they’re popular: You can strap a GoPro to a drone to take a “dronie” of yourself from above. But early adopters are also experimenting with more practical applications, like surveying crops or as part of home-security systems. It’s not rare to see multiple tiny helicopters flying overhead on any given weekend afternoon in Dolores Park, shooting photos and scaring tourists.

Will they be a Thing in New York? Yes, if Martha Stewart is any indication.

Photo: Wealthfront


What they are: Online money-management services. Both take your money and invest it (mostly in low-cost index funds) for very small fees, using software instead of human financial advisers. Just put your money in, answer a few questions about your financial goals, and the software does the rest.

Why they’re popular: Both companies have marketed themselves to Silicon Valley techies who have money but no time or expertise to manage it. Wealthfront gives seminars on investing at Facebook and Google, and Betterment — which is based in New York — has tried to capitalize on the tech boom as well. I often see people checking their portfolios with both companies’ mobile apps on the train.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Probably. It’s not as cool to say “my money’s in Wealthfront” as “my money’s with Goldman Sachs,” but it’s a lot cheaper.

Photo: Courtesy of Venmo


What it is: An app that lets you send money back and forth to your friends. Lucas uses it.

Why it’s popular: It solves the check-splitting problem at restaurants, and doubles as an underground social network.

Will this be a Thing in New York? It already is, to an extent. The difference is that Venmo is everywhere in San Francisco. Landlords collect rent through it, friends use it to split Uber rides, and charities use it to collect donations. Expect it to get universal in New York as well.

Photo: Courtesy of Lyft


What it is: A car-sharing service. It’s like Uber, but weirder.

Why it’s popular: Uber is now ubiquitous in major American cities, but Lyft — which uses silly pink mustaches and has fist-bumping drivers — is still strongest in the Bay Area, maybe because it’s often as cheap or cheaper than other car services. People in San Francisco tend to use Lyft if Uber is doing surge pricing, or if they’re in the mood to converse with their drivers.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Probably. Lyft just started operating in the city, but it’s still having trouble keeping up with demand. If it can iron out the kinks (and ditch the mustaches), it should be fine.

Photo: Oculus Rift/Facebook

Oculus Rift

What it is: A virtual-reality headset.

Why it’s popular: It’s been a gamer favorite ever since it launched, but Silicon Valley got obsessed after Facebook bought the company for $2 billion. There’s even a monthly virtual-reality meet-up for hard-core Oculus fans.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Not for a while. Oculus is still not widely available, and living in Brooklyn is kind of its own virtual reality.

Photo: Courtesy of Hinge


What it is: A dating app that connects users to friends of their friends, and sends each person a short biography of the other when they match. (“George went to Princeton. He works at Google, and lives in Mountain View. You both like foreign films and cooking.”)

Why it’s popular: Easier than OKCupid, not as creepy as Tinder. Hinge started in Washington, D.C., but it seems to have become biggest in San Francisco, where it launched just this year. Anecdotally, Facebook employees seem particularly fond of it, perhaps since it uses Facebook as its match-making data source.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Hinge is already in New York, but doesn’t seem to be throwing much competition Tinder’s way. Maybe New Yorkers like a little more randomness in their love lives.

Hacker News

What it is: Reddit for coders. The news-aggregator site is hosted by Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator, and is read by most of the engineering crowd.

Why it’s popular: It’s a one-stop shop for all programming-related news.

Will this be a Thing in New York? No.

Photo: Courtesy of Postmates


What it is: An app that allows you to get anything delivered in an hour or less.

Why it’s popular: Because people love instant gratification and are lazy. Plus, unlike Seamless, Postmates can deliver non-food items like phone chargers, toilet paper, or emergency socks.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Yes, unless WunWun or another rival beats it out.

Photo: Shutterstock


What they are: Computers on your wrist. Samsung and LG are making them, and Google and other companies are hoping they’re the wave of the future.

Why they’re popular: Because it’s more polite to glance at your wrist for new e-mails than pull out your phone. Smartwatches are still mostly big with developers and tech workers, because early models don’t do much except make you look like Dick Tracy.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Only when Apple releases one.

Photo: Courtesy of Secret


What it is: An app that allows you to share things anonymously with your friends.

Why it’s popular: Because techies love to shit-talk.

Will this be a Thing in New York? Probably not. New Yorkers say it to your face.

12 SF Obsessions New York Hasn’t Discovered Yet