Google Glass: Is it the future?

Towards the end of my time with Glass I took it to see some Baseball.
Towards the end of my time with Glass I took it with me while at the Football with some mates.

I was a while ago now that I was ‘nominated’ to be a part of Google’s Glass Explorer program, December 2013. I have since returned my Google Glass Explorer kit and wanted to share my thoughts for anyone else out there that may be interested.

Social awareness: Glass isn’t a ‘social’ friendly device whereas your mobile phone feels personal and social. You can share a video together on your phone, I can’t say the same for Glass.

My view of wearable technology is that it should remove the need for other devices, Glass is very much dependent on having a phone in your pocket. This will probably change but for now Glass is really a tethered accessory for your phone. So now you’re charging two devices or more every night… are you running out of space on your bedside table?

Real life interruptions with Glass: Google say that the intention is to have people look up and be more focused on the world around them. To me, this vision was a part of the appeal of Glass. However in the real world, Glass manages to a provide more interruptions as it notifies you with sound and the screen will activate regardless of the timing.

As Glass evolves and becomes more closely integrated with various apps and services I see this only getting worse. While Google have tried to put a positive spin on the technology and why you should wear it. Google want to be with you every moment and be a part of answering every question. And creepy as that sounds, it’s only going to become more of an issue in the coming years.

Wearable Tech: A Review of Pebble & Essential Apps

pebble wrist watch
A pretty smart watch

To start with you should know I’m running my Pebble via an Android phone, the HTC One.

I originally pre-ordered the Pebble via their website but ended up cancelling and buying direct via Best Buy. I didn’t get in on their Kickstarter project which was a huge success raising over $10m with a goal of $100k.

What makes the watch smart? Your smartphone does. Via Bluetooth,  your phone pushes notifications and information you choose directly to your watch.

Typically the watch will then vibrate and the backlight will appear. That, and it will tell you the time, date weather or even let you play a game of Snake which some of you will remember from the days of the Nokia 3310.

Of course, you can also customise your Pebble with ‘watchfaces’ which you may download via the Pebble app. There are around 12 to choose from now (9/2/2013).

Pebble watchface options
Colour options and watchfaces

Design

I think the original mock ups looked stylish and minimal. I ordered the ‘cherry’ red which was a bit of a mistake as the red is brighter than I had expected based on the original images seen on the kickstarter page.  Overall, I think the design is good, not great. The build quality is solid and sturdy. After knocking it around a little already I can’t see any visible scuffs.

Pebble as seen on Kickstarter
Original Pebble design mock-ups

The screen is easy to read although I have noticed that there is a faint ‘streak’ visible on the inside of the screen.

While the screen is also easy to read, it’s obviously no retina display and can only successfully display basic graphics well. I look forward to seeing a more detailed e-ink display in future models. I’m not interested in a colour display if it means the screen is more difficult to read in sunny situations.

Battery

The charge lasts around 5-7 days but will obviously vary depending on how you configure your apps. Even out of the box I got  a few days charge. I’ve only charged the watch once overnight in the first two weeks, with a little bit of charging at the office when I first unboxed it.

The power adaptor connects magnetically to the watch which is a nice touch, however the magnet is quite weak. Check out the connector here:

How to charge the Pubble
Pebble: Side profile

Summary

I’m pretty happy with it overall, keeping in mind that as an early adopter of a device like this makes you the subject of mockery. I’ve dealt with that before, I am not bothered by it, but you may find it a little embarrassing.

I’m not attached to the colour of the Cherry model, I think I’d prefer the Black version so I’m hunting around for a good skin to stick on and protect it. I tried the Skinomi but I was not at all happy with the fit after installing. That was a waste of $20!

Is it for everyone, no. The Pebble has a lot of potential as 3rd developers ramp up their efforts. The challenge I have is finding a balance between useful notifications and burdensome without rendering the Pebble somewhat useless. Take it from me, don’t set any chat apps to notify you of every message, I realized very quickly that this was an exercise in stupidity.

Ultimately, this is where I think the Pebble fails: I feel like I need to do the work to to make it super useful and fun to own, but that really should be clear out of the box.

Getting more out of Pebble

In an attempt to see what else I can get from the device I have so far installed the following apps onto my Android:

  1. Duh, the Pebble App – installing this first party app will give you all the functionality you need to get started, with the ability to choose which Music app you want to control with your watch. Notification options are Calls, SMS, Calendar events, Emails, Google Hangout messages, Facebook, WhatsApp, and ‘3rd party’ notifications. I think 3rd party includes apps such as Runkeeper.
  2. Pebble Notifier – In short, this application allows you to select and activate from virtually any app you have installed. Some do what you might expect, but others, such as Pulse don’t push notifications as you might have thought.
  3. Glance – This app is a great addition for any Pebble owner, giving you more watchface options, most of which pull in weather data, and unread messages and missed call counts.
  4. Pebble Tasker ($1.99) & Tasker – If you want to really get tricky and geeky, install these apps. You can set triggers that will send almost any notification to your Pebble you can imagine. I’ve only tinkered with this briefly, it’s not super user-friendly.

Up close

Some more pics of the watch face and sides:

Front face, cherry red, Pebble
The Pebble “Text Watch” watchface

Review of the LarkLife & Nike Fuel Compared

larklife bandI should start by explaining what the LarkLife is. To put it simply, the LarkLife is a smart health and wellness tracking device in the form of a wearable ‘bracelet’. While wearing the LarkLife, it will track your steps, meals and sleep patterns. Information collected by the LarkLife is sync’d hourly to the App on your iPhone via Bluetooth provided that your LarkLife has sufficient battery life and your phone has Bluetooth activated.

Wearable technology in this form kind of fascinates me, and I’m also looking for something that will keep me thinking about being active, eating well and keeping healthy (even if I should choose to ignore it).

I should note that I purchased up the Nike Fuel for a week or so while I was waiting for the Lark Life to arrive to compare the two – I returned the Fuel almost entirely because it lacks the sleep monitoring.

I pre-ordered the LarkLife in October 2012, expecting to receive the device in November or December. The delays in shipping were such that I received mine in the new year.

Positives

  1. It does what I had expected of the device; it keeps me thinking about being active, being right there on my arm and sending me notifications about my progress to my phone via the App it is hard to ignore.
  2. It is certainly conversation starter…
  3. The app is easy-to-use and elegant, the sleep tracking information is one of the main things that I was interested. There is no ability to drill-down or zoom-in and find out exactly what time you woke up.
  4. Tips and advice about what to eat, when to sleep and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are all good touches.
  5. Notifications about remaining inactive are a very useful, it’s easy for time to pass by when you’re at your desk.
  6. Uncomplicated UI, add meals, mood and sleep times.

Gripes

I have a few, any of which might be enough to put the average consumer off buying.

  1. The band doesn’t fit me particularly well, even using the sizing guide provided by Lark, the band is really very loose (pictures to be posted). The band would be improved by offering a more flexible adjustable band. The Nike Fuel band fit better out of the box.
  2. The sleep band is very poorly designed, you have to remove the battery component from the material and plug the sensor module in. After that, putting on the band is a frustrating pain due to the way that the materials are put together; adding to the frustration is the fact that you’re putting this thing on at the end of the day, and it’s not conducive to remaining calm and relaxed.
  3. How to go about charging the day and night bands is not well documented
  4. The alarm component of the sleep cycle is rigid, once set it’s impossible to find a way to edit the wake-up time.
  5. The pedometer appears to track WAY more steps than the Nike Fuel does, to the point that I’m not entirely confident in the LarkLife’s accuracy.
  6. The day band can pretty easily be knocked off, I wouldn’t recommend wearing on a drunken night out.
  7. I was kind of expecting more data to be available via the app than just steps, time active, calories burned and distance (plus sleep patterns).
  8. I climbed 21 flights of stairs in my building and at last sync, the phone didn’t pick up any activity. I don’t know why, but I can tell you it bugs the hell out of me that the most active part of my day wasn’t represented to make me feel rewarded.
  9. I still don’t know how to review my dashboard of data via the online login. Update Lark tell me that the dashboard feature for the larklife band is not yet available but should be soon. I have also received a request from Lark to provide them with Product suggestions and feedback which I think is positive.

You can always read more about the features on the LarkLife website.

UPDATE: I’ve pre-ordered the Misfit Shine. The bulky and loose fit of the LarkLife band eventually got to the point where I gradually stopped wearing it.

Alternatives

iPhone 5 and the frustration over the new cable. Oh, and Apple Maps…

With the announcement of the iPhone 5 came news of the USB ‘lightning’ cable that Apple have decided to implement moving forward.

While I agree with the sentiment that the announcement could have come as a softer blow should Apple have improved functionality with the new cable (not just an ever so slightly thinner iPhone and the option for reversible ‘insertion’). I’m more confused about why they didn’t use a Micro USB connection instead.

Taking this whole discussion into the twisted den I call my mind; I did come up with a few thoughts or ideas that I hope are worth sharing and at the core of it I like what (I believe) Apple are doing; which is to make hardware choices that may compromise some of their following but in doing so they push consumers forward towards a longer term vision:

  • Cables: the masses are being encouraged here to ditch physical USB cables and go wireless. At home I have the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air Wireless AirPlay Speaker Dock and it is fantastic. Not only can I place my iPad or iPhone on the dock to play or charge, I can also stream audio from any device. Aside from that wireless-syncing has been available for well over a year and I’m sure wireless charging is not far away either
  • Expandable storage: the way I see it Apple opted out of expandable storage and in doing so were deliberately leading customers to adopt Cloud based storage which is clearly smarter forward-thinking approach. They could have easily sold off millions of Apply branded Super Mega Micro SD cards at $20-70 a unit

AirPlay does have it’s shortcomings though; the audio and video are permanently paired. I can’t play the audio from a movie I cannot play the audio through my B & W Zeppelin while playing the video through my TV. Given the adoption of AirPlay this is a shortsighted flaw of Apple’s otherwise incredibly smart technology.

Now about those maps. Apple are many things, but extensive mapping of the globe is all new to them. For whatever reason they’ve had to step away from Google’s map solution which is arguably the most extensive and accurate map provider in the world. I feel inclined to defend Apple on this one, they could well have ditched the Maps app and encouraged customers to use one of the many free and paid apps in the store.

Instead they have done their best to deliver a Map solution that has problems but is also in it’s own right, quite impressive and highly usable. I think customers need to level set their expectations just a little here, we’ve all come to believe Apple to be the best in their field but the truth is that they are not. Most of the default Apps that Apple give you by default (Compass, Newsstand, etc) aren’t the best Apps by any stretch.

Does everyone think of Apple as a company that provides Mapping software solutions? Perhaps they do. But to my mind this is an over-hyped topic given that the satisfaction rating for mobile devices is won again and again by the iPhone.

About the iPhone 5, I’m getting one through work contract in the next few weeks and I’m interested to see how well it holds up against my more customisable (albeit uglier) Android Galaxy Nexus. I’ve come to like the flexibility of the Android platform since adopting for the second time and on Jellybean (or one of the custom ROMs) I don’t know that the iPhone even in all it’s perfectly manufactured glory can hold up.  Rant done.

Instant gratification: An Info-graphic

I had someone contact me via email about a post from a number of months ago that spoke a bit about instant gratification and my concern that as society depends increasingly on technology, there is an equally negative effect on our brains, essentially rewiring the “circuitry”. This email was almost certainly an effort to gain some link-juice but non the less it’s interesting topic and the info-graphic is kind of cool so here it is:


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