Monday, February 2, 2015

4 Tiles 4 Sale, Cheap.

I crowdsource-funded the Tile tracker. They arrived around the holidays this last year. I've set up three of them, and here are some thoughts.


  1. Pretty little Apple-design-inspired gadgets. White, with rounded corners, and a lovely, subtle font. They are fun to hold, lightweight, smooth, attractive. Almost like little techie worry-stones.
  2. They play a cute little tune when they are found.


  1. Tile tracking is only as accurate as the last Bluetooth and GPS connection they had to your phone. If you have your Bluetooth and GPS on all the time, that's one thing. I don't, because it's a battery suck for me.
  2. The Tile will only make a sound if the app is close enough to connect to Bluetooth. If you always lose your keys in the couch cushions, then it may be useful. However, I'd expect you might look there anyway, if you do it frequently enough.
  3. GPS is not super precise. The app can tell you the Tile was last seen in your house, or "on Golden Valley Road" when it was traveling with you in the car. So, if you think it's still in the house, you have to walk around with the app searching via Bluetooth.
  4. I have no good use case for these, despite using them for a couple of months and checking out Pinterest pins. Here are a couple of simple scenarios I came up with.
    1. Lost my keys: So, let's say I'm going out for a walk. I leave my phone and take my keys with me. Drop the keys on the street, get home, notice keys are missing, check the Tile App. Tile App says, "I don't know. Last time I saw them, they were in the house."
    2. Wallet stolen: I go out with friends, take my phone and wallet. Fortunately, I had GPS and Bluetooth turned on (which I rarely do). On arriving home, my wallet is missing. The Tile App tells me "Last time I saw it, it was at Bob's Burger Barn." Go to Bob's, there is no sign of the wallet. Turns out, it was stolen. Perpetrator took the Tile off and tossed it in a dumpster. Or didn't. Either way, the phone isn't close enough to find it.
    3. Track your teenager: Hide a Tile in his coat pocket. He goes out with friends. The Tile App on your phone says, "Last time, I saw him, he was at the house. It's not my fault you lost him."
I think the most misleading expectation is that the Tile does not have its own geolocation capability. It cannot be found via GPS no matter where it is. It will not beam a signal to the Mother Ship. It will not phone home.

4 Tiles 4 sale, cheap.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The smartwatch I'm least for awhile...

I've tried the Pebble (now down to $99!) the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, and the Samsung Gear Live. I haven't been overly impressed with any of them. However, I am keeping the Samsung Gear Live, and here's why:
  • It's more elegant than the Pebble
  • It's less device-dependent than the G2N: Can run on more versions of the Android operating system
  • It uses Google Now for searching
  • There are more and more tiny apps every day that are actually valuable
I don't love the form factor: I find it quite masculine and clunky, but here's the weird part: I have gotten lots of compliments on it, all from women. Go figure.

What am I missing?
  • Sleep and step tracking synchronization (not critical; I love my Fitbit)
  • Sound--all feedback is given with vibration (not critical; I don't worry about forgetting to turn off my sound)
  • Configuration of notifications: For example, I can't have different notification settings on the phone versus the watch. The watch is just an extension of the phone.
I have to admit that I would also appreciate some standards around the UI design for the tiny apps; how they behave with certain gestures. It's The Wild, Wild West at the moment--good for creativity and ideation, but difficult for users learning the small form factor.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Smart Watch Requirements (a.k.a. "Samsung Gear 2 Neo Initial Thoughts")

I bought a Gear 2 Neo this weekend. I was planning to get the Gear Live, but the sales dude talked me into the G2N, even though he didn't have any in stock, and a competitive retailer did, plus a longer return policy.

Wore it to a social gathering last night, and got into a conversation with a technical friend of mine. He asked me “What would make a smart watch worth it for you?” and I could only blurt out a couple of stray thoughts.

It got me thinking... and my first thought is that I don’t know what I don’t know. What I mean is: back in the day, I couldn't imagine why someone would want to have a camera on their cell phone. But now I can’t imagine one without it. So I don’t really know what I can't imagine yet.

That said, here are the things that would make me really love one today:

  1. The fitness and sleep tracking is a given. If it can’t compete with Jawbone or Fitbit, it’s not going to replace either, and I don’t need ANOTHER wearable.
    1. The pedometer needs to be on all the time (G2N seems to be)
    2. The heart rate monitor needs to be accurate. (G2N S Health Exercise app's Running Coach suggested I slow down my walk because my heart rate was about 165. It was not.)
    3. The fitness apps need to integrate with myfitnesspal, runkeeper, and the other mainstream apps that allow access. (G2N does not)
  2. A gmail app would be really useful. I don’t use the Android mail app on my phone (though I could for gmail, but I like the gmail UI better). (G2N does not have one, though I can get notifications from Gmail.)
  3. Open system. This one made me create a Samsung account, instead of letting me use my google, facebook or other oauth account. Now I have to manage data there, too. And use their apps. That’s one thing I did like about the Pebble: I believe it’s open source.
  4. Notification settings PER application selected. There are privacy settings for all notifications, but it would be great to decide which apps can do what. The Pebble offers this.
  5. The ability to get notifications on the watch that you aren’t getting on the phone. For example, I might like to see news on the watch, but not have those notifications on the phone. Right now, the G2N is mostly just an extension of the phone.
  6. A thinner, more attractive form factor. I have very small wrists. (Was looking toward the Samsung Gear S, but it loses some "must haves" in my book)
  7. Swappable bands (Check!)
  8. Changeable clock faces. I mean--it *is* called a "watch". (Check! Though there aren't a ton of creative choices yet.)
  9. Option to leave clock on always (though I’m finding that’s not as important as I had thought)
  10. Changeable desktop/wallpaper (Check!)
  11. Reliable, fast voice command (G2N uses S Voice, which isn’t great; I would prefer Google Voice and Google Now notifications that are available on the Gear Live)

What I didn't know would be cool:

  1. Using the G2N to answer/reject calls, and as a Bluetooth speaker. I don’t know how often I’ll use that, but maybe driving? Will have to test the quality of it in the car with both hands on the wheel. Can I live without this? Probably.
  2. Screen resolution is REALLY good.
  3. I did find a free SMS app that has a teeny keyboard. It’s fine in a pinch, to get away from the G2N pre-fab (editable) templates.
  4. The most creative use case for this type of auxiliary device technology (that I've seen so far)? The escape call. You know--where you fake a call to get out of a conversation? I've never used one, but it seems that subtly tapping your watch to have it "ring" your phone would be much less obvious. There's an app for that.

What’s not as important:

  1. Playing music. A Samsung device isn’t likely to compete with an iPod for me. I haven't found an easy way to get podcasts and music on my Galaxy, so there’s really no point. I don't listen to music when I walk/run, and if I do, the iPod can come along. So much less fuss.
  2. Taking photos. I haven’t see the quality of the smart watch cameras, but…I don’t really think it’s that hard to get my phone out.
  3. Games. Tried Solitaire on this. I laughed so hard when the tiny cards loaded. Even after I realized I could pinch and zoom in to read the actual card faces, I was laughing. Maybe someday there will be a good "DWR" (Doctor's Waiting Room) game that I can see without magnification or scrolling.
  4. TV Remote. Cute, but not critical.
Apple Watch may have more things I've never considered, but since I don't have an iPhone, I'll not likely find out. I find it disappointing that the devices require a certain phone to be of any value. The Pebble is in the lead there, but I suspect there may be more potential in Android Wear for longer-term extensibility and apps.

I was waiting when I wrote a Pebble review in April, and you can sign me...

Still waiting,

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On Horses and Water

This week I've been chewing on some thoughts about promotion of the UX practice within our organization. While we have lots of opportunities, being embedded in a web development organization, there are still opportunities to build awareness and help drive better product design (and therefore successful adoption). Here are five people who challenged me this week:

  1. The person who thinks UX is a good idea but can't get off the ground: A client wanted to engage us for some research to provide objective evidence for design decisions. After weeks of trying to contact her and insert myself in her project, I've stopped trying.
  2. The person who thinks design is something anyone can do well: A client contacted me to give his non-designers a crash course in good form design--rather than asking whether or not they should be doing that, and why we're not using internal resources we already have.
  3. The person who is a designer and said it was useless to talk to users. Wow. There is nothing I can add to this.
  4. The person who asked for a "UX Developer" (what some in our industry call a  "Unicorn"--beautiful but mythical) who can make some ugly user interfaces "more appealing". Has no information about what the users need or want, never mentioned the word "design", and never scheduled an agreed-to meeting for follow-up.
  5. The person who asked for us to use UX to help improve their adoption and outcomes on the next phase of their project, but won't talk to anyone on my team until the project starts.
We have this strange culture of people wanting to try to do everything themselves, assuming they know how to best work in UX, without the openness to collaborate and ask how we can help. It's another example of people coming up with a solution before the problem has been identified.

If I were assigned to code an application, I would never go to a developer and say, "could you give me a quick 30 minutes to show me how to code?" I'd question whether I should actually be doing that, if there are people available who possess the skill. We need to figure out how to convey that design is a developed area of practice that requires some education and expertise, and not just a bunch of tools and checklists.

With the possible exception of #3, in some way, these are all people who are fighting their own impulses. They know intuitively this is something that should be done, but because of ignorance, discomfort or ineptitude, we are unable to move forward.

I can work to overcome ignorance and discomfort, but the ineptitude is a tougher foe. At the moment, I'm tempted to let these "opportunities" slip away, because I'm tired of trying to make the horses drink.

Monday, June 30, 2014

OXO Water Bottle

Somehow, products I love always seem to be discontinued (like Unfrosted Cherry Pop-Tarts). So, I'm certain this will be changed or discontinued, as well. Nonetheless, I'll rave about the OXO Good Grips Two Top Water Bottle. I've had two of these for a couple of years now, and they are designed so well that I've disposed of several other bottles, including the super-expensive-but-impossible-to-clean Sigg. I expect usable design from OXO, based on other products I've tried. Here's what I love about this:

  • Two tops, which mainly makes cleaning (and drinking) easy. I can put this in the dishwasher and actually get it clean without having to use an old, germ-ridden bottle brush.
  • An indentation for gripping, or for holding the stretchy locker key thingy at the gym.
  • Markings for measurement
  • Good seal for no leaks--as long as you take care to screw both lids on securely
  • I have dropped this several times, and the material is thick and hasn't shown any damage, other than scratches over the years. (I love the idea of drinking out of glass, but I drop bottles enough that it's not practical for me.)
  • My favorite feature: the top lid has a tether made of smooth coated woven wire, which means I won't lose it, and it's not likely to snap off like some plastic ones can. The tether isn't fixed to the body or lid, so it can rotate to any position.
My only complaint is that it can be a bit top-heavy because of the weight of the lid. But overall, one of my favorite well-designed products, and better for me than Unfrosted Cherry Pop-Tarts.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Conqueror Australia UEV 440 (Drool.)

I know, I know...I rarely write about good experiences. Well, here's one I'd love to have: The UEV 440 from Conqueror Australia.

Seriously. Watch the video.

The design is simply amazing--it seems they've thought of everything.

When we sell our house to downsize, I think this would be a fabulous way to see the world. Don't get me wrong: a few nights at the Waldorf-Astoria or Kimpton Hotels in the Big City is in my top 3, as well.

But this...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pebble Watch: First Impressions

So, on a whim, I bought a Pebble Watch this weekend. Only one other time in history have I been an early adopter: the iPad 1st Generation (and that was a good choice).

Reasons I became an early adopter:
  • I have a Fitbit and a Jawbone UP, and like them both, with reservations.
  • I am intrigued by the "applet" concept
  • The Pebble is more attractive for a smaller wrist (which I have)
  • I'm seeking a fitness tracker with a screen-based interface
  • I don't want a device that is specific to a phone brand or model

Here are my first impressions:

The watch is attractive. Its form factor is better than its larger, more masculine competition for a small-framed human. (Though the red version is really the most engaging, I was raised in the South where women are "matchy-matchy", and I don't wear nearly enough red to warrant that one. I bought black.)

These 50-year-old eyes have a hard time reading the screen sometimes, especially in dim light. The best applets let you change the font size.

Buttons are relatively intuitive and easy to access.

Most impressive: I have a small wrist, and I am on the third hole from the smallest on the watch strap. Usually I have to punch extra holes to make things small enough.

I have a Samsung Galaxy SII on Sprint, with Android 4.1.2.

Think of the Pebble Watch as a Bluetooth earpiece on steroids. It doesn't do much on its own without the phone and an active Bluetooth connection.

I had no trouble setting up the connection via Bluetooth.

I've found one defect, which may be a deal breaker for me: In order to send notifications to your Pebble, you must enable Accessibility Options. Once that is done, the phone speaks notifications to me (such as where I am on which page of the Launcher). I can turn down the volume, but then the phone's Navigation won't speak to me. I have tried 1) Pebble notification applets, and they all seem to make the phone behave the same way and announce things I don't want it to. It seems to be a tradeoff. 

Fitness and Activity Tracking
This device does not compete with Jawbone UP or Fitbit for fitness tracking. There are some sleep tracking apps, which I'm testing out now. The free Morpheuz app is very rough and techie (think "open source"), but the minimally-priced "Sleep as Android" app has a bit more potential with its features and tracking. I'm still wearing my Fitbit, as it tracks steps throughout the day and syncs without any user action.
  • Pedometer: You can install this and invoke it when needed, but it doesn't run constantly.
  • Runkeeper (and other apps): You can have the watch display your Runkeeper data while exercising, but you still must carry your phone.
  • Pebble Bike: Haven't tried it, but it looks a lot like Runkeeper. Don't know why I'd use it instead of Runkeeper yet.
  • Pebble My Tracks: Haven't tried it, but if you use MyTracks, this might be a nice integration
I can definitely see the potential here, but there's too much "hands on" for it to replace my fitness trackers at the moment.

Utilities and Other Apps
There are lots of watchfaces. Whoop-de-doo. Okay, they're fun...but for these 50-year-old eyes, I need large displays, so I've tried and ditched about 72 options.

There seem to be three kinds of applications:
  1. "Standalone" applets that you install via the Pebble App Store app. The Pebble App Store is a free smartphone app that manages and installs applets to your Pebble via Bluetooth. An example would be a watchface.
  2. "Companion" applets that you install via smartphone apps. These are phone apps you install that then install and configure their own applets on your Pebble. An example would be Glance- a smartphone app for configuration that contains a function to send the configured Pebble applet to the watch (this is the only way you can install the Pebble applet).
  3. Extension functions that Pebble shows from smartphone apps. These are "display only" functions that are enabled by connecting smartphone apps to your Pebble. (These don't seem to take up a "slot" on your Pebble, like the other applets do.) An example would be Runkeeper, which recognizes the Pebble and will use it as an extended display of workout data while connected.
(The distinction and behavior of these three application types is one reason I think this device is not ready for non-technical users.)

I like this feature a lot (irrespective of the audio bug mentioned above). Unfortunately, most integrations are one-way (from the phone to the watch). I've found only one applet that lets me respond to SMS notifications: Glance. It has canned replies that you can send to SMS messages that are sent to your Pebble from the phone.

The price is about US$150.

The Samsung Gear Fit is the other device I looked at recently because of its form factor, its fitness tracking, and its media buzz. However, I am not sure I'll keep a Samsung phone, and I'm not sure it's fcompatible with my older model. Also, it doesn't have the applets, and it's $50 more.

Fitbit (and Fitbit Flex) does not have a screen-based display, but it does fitness/activity tracking 24/7. It syncs via a Bluetooth dongle on your computer. Nice web-based summary dashboard.

Jawbone UP does not have a screen-based display, but it does fitness/activity tracking 24/7. It syncs to your phone. No web-based summary dashboard, but the smartphone app dashboard is very lovely and usable (except manually logging sleep needs some usability improvements).

My Ideal Smartwatch
  • Ability to delete / archive gmail messages from notifications
  • Ability to receive notifications without my phone invoking its accessibility audio
  • Ability to have activity tracking 24/7 without launching an app
  • Better screen with configurable contrast
  • Not phone-specific
  • A keyboard UI for quick SMS responses
  • Nice smartphone UI (UP) as well as web-based dashboard UI (Fitbit)
  • Can sync data via phone or via computer (USB / Bluetooth dongle)
  • Integrates with fitness tracking software (MyFitnessPal, Runkeeper, Map My Run, Map My Walk, etc.)
  • A form factor for a small wrist.

The Pebble is a fun gadget if you like to tinker and explore possibilities. It's not ready for non-technical people, and it does not have the robust fitness/activity tracking of the leaders in this space. The form is attractive, but the screen can be difficult to read in low light. This is a good first foray into the smartwatch field. Think of this as a Bluetooth extension of your phone. It doesn't do much on its own but attractively show you the time.

These devices are in their infancy, and it's really too early to buy, unless you are an early adopter. There aren't any ideal choices in the space yet, but the potential is booming.