Four Months with Chromecast

December 6th, 2013 2 Comments

Since Google announced the Chromecast earlier this year, I’ve been stoked to see how it developed.

The little device has a ton of potential, and even though Google has been a little slow to push its adoption, even slowing down the efforts of some curious developers, they do seem committed to the device.

I preordered one immediately and have since added another, all for one purpose, cutting the cord, which I finally did a couple months ago. HuluPlus support sealed the deal for me.

After four months using the Chromecast every day, I still love it.

The Good

There’s a lot to like about the Chromecast, even if you set aside the price. One thing I’ve noticed over four months is there’s a ton of content available in the Google Play Store. The Play Movies & TV app supports the Chromecast, obviously, and before the Chromecast, I never really considered the Play Store as an alternative to Amazon or iTunes for movies and TV.

Unsurprisingly, it’s very easy to buy content and cast it, all from the device. I’ve never used an iOS device with AirPlay to do this with an Apple TV, but my guess is that they’re similarly easy. I don’t know if Amazon probably has anything like this for the Kindle Fire, but I have to assume if they don’t, they soon will.

If you don’t subscribe to Netflix and/or HuluPlus, you’re probably not in the market for a Chromecast. But if you do, it offers a great way to get content onto your TV, smart or otherwise. This is a plus, given the relative size of smart TV ecosystems when compared to Android and iOS.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather cast Netflix to my TV than use an app built for a smart TV OS.

Speaking of the TV, the Chromecast turns on the TV to the appropriate HDMI input when you cast, which is nice. You can also control volume from the player, if the app supports it, but alas, to turn off the TV, you’ll have to find the remote.

A final unexpected plus I’ve noticed is that having my device at hand while I’m watching and controlling programming means more second screen activity. So, I find myself looking up stuff on IMDB that I would have tabled for never in the past. On the downside, I end up reading email too.

The Rest

Not many apps have adopted Chromecast yet, which seems to be a combination of Google’s desire to keep development tight and perhaps a wait-and-see approach from content owners.

Right now, only a handful of apps support it, Netflix, HuluPlus, Pandora, Play Movies & TV, YouTube, HBO GO and Play Music. That’s a lot of content, but depending on what you watch, wider support probably matters.

Update: Today, Google announced a slew of new apps that support Chromecast.

Of course, one major feature of the Chromecast is its ability to cast from any computer with Chrome and the Google Cast extension. Although the majority of my experience has been casting from a device, I have done so from Chrome, with mixed results. You can also cast local content from the computer too.

Like anything over a network, speed matters. The faster your wifi, the better the casting experience.

Turns out that router placement for the device that’s casting matters too.

I’ve found that if my device has low (one bar) connectivity to my router, the device often loses connectivity to the Chromecast. This results in an uncontrollable stream, i.e. the player on the device disappears and I can no longer pause or stop playback, bit of a bummer, but not a fatal flaw.

It turns out that all players are not created equally. Most of them do offer the ability to pause from the lock screen on Android, which is very nice, but from a consistency perspective, each player implements casting differently.

For example, Netflix offers a stop button from their player, which is full screen, while HuluPlus does not, because HuluPlus doesn’t seem to offer stop at all in their app.


For comparison, here are the players for Play Movies & TV and YouTube.


So, yeah, each one is different, even those produced by Google for its own apps. Minor complaints, and to be expected.

Google seems poised to expand support for the Chromecast, which is great news. Rumors suggest that media center app, Plex, will soon release support for it. Personally, I’m looking forward to casting from the native Android Gallery so I can cast pictures and video of my daughter.

Anyway, those are all my thoughts on the Chromecast after using it for four months. At $35 a piece, it was a no-brainer to buy one for each of my TVs. I may even buy it as a holiday gift.

Find the comments.

Wearables and UX

November 29th, 2013 7 Comments

The holiday season is in full swing now, and I’ll bet a lot of people out there will be getting some form of wearable device as a gift.

Wearables is a pretty broad category, that seems to be right at the cusp of mainstream adoption. For now, it includes smartwatches, augmented reality on your face, and fitness trackers.

Personally, I’d like to see more fashion innovation, e.g. intelligent clothing. I’m not a fan of encumbrances, but since clothes aren’t optional, they might as well be smart.

As wearables gain momentum, I find myself increasingly frustrated because there are so many options, so many form factors and price points, and no clear leader where I feel comfortable investing time, money and development effort.

And that’s without even looking at the technical aspects of each device, sensors, SDKs and/or APIs, openness of data, associated ecosystems.

What a hot mess, but hey, it’s exciting too.

And top of mind for many of us in Applications User Experience. Don’t believe me? Check out these recent posts from Misha (@mishavaughan) and Utlan (@ultan):

Will You Be Wearing Your Enterprise Data?

Dress Code 2.0: Wearables

Bonus, Misha’s post includes an interview with our very own Anthony (@anthonyslai) about his adventures as a Google Glass Explorer. Noel (@noelportugal) is now in that club too, so expect more Glass content soon, e.g. I heard those two mad scientists got the Glass working to control the robotic arm.

Stay tuned, and as always, find the comments.

A Few New Concept Demos

November 25th, 2013 5 Comments

Our new team members, Raymond and Tony, have been busy in their short time with us, and they’re embracing the AppsLab way.

What way is that you ask? Since the beginning, we’ve always started with an idea and moved quickly to build something conceptual to see how and if the idea works.

Connect began life as the IdeaFactory, which Rich (@rmanalan) put together in 24 hours to give life to our idea about enterprise social networking. More recently, Anthony’s (@anthonysali) new toy, the Google Glass, begat the Fusion CRM Glass app.

To be clear, none of this is product. It’s not even really project work, although we do sometimes launch projects based on the initial concept work. This is just smart developers, messing around with ideas, trying to see what works.

Over the years, we’ve built lots of these demos, which I’m calling concept demos lately. Some have evolved into full-scale projects. Others have been moth-balled into our Git repo, which I’m told has something like 40-some odd projects in various states of completeness.

I like to think that code never dies. It just waits around for the right circumstances.

Sorry about that, won’t happen again.

Anyway, with Anthony and Noel (@noelportugal) tied up with travel and other projects, Raymond and Tony have taken the baton and cranked out a couple of cool concept demos.

First, they collaborated to build a working geo-fencing demo. The idea here is that data on a device should be subject to physical location, e.g. patient data in a hospital, customer-sensitive bank data. If the device is within the fence, data exist and can be accessed; when the device leaves the fence perimeter, the data are removed from the device and cannot be retrieved from the server.

Here are some shots of the concept demo at work.

Contact data for a fictional Swiss bank’s customers inside the geo-fence, i.e. Switzerland.

Customer contact data removed when the device leaves the geo-fence.

Tony did the groundwork development for this one, and Raymond cleaned it up to demo more cleanly. The toughest part of this one was spoofing the GPS with a fake location to fool it into believing it was inside/outside the geo-fence.

Second, Jeremy, our overlord, owns a Pebble watch, so we’ve been messing about with one for giggles. Possibly as a joke, Jeremy said we should build a watchface app for sales reps that showed “motivational” metrics like days to quarter close and percentage of sales quota achieved.

So, Raymond did that.


I guess the lesson is that it’s not always a good idea to joke around developers.

Why do we do stuff like this?

Aside from proving out ideas, projects like these, the Glass app and the Leap Motion-controlled robot arm allow the guys to go hands-on with the SDKs and APIs of devices we may actually build for in the future. These experiences are incredibly valuable because when it comes time to do a full-scale project, they have a baseline understanding of what we can reasonably do and how easy or difficult it will be.

That experience leads to much better estimates of development times, and it removes some of the uncertainty involved. Oh, and it helps control the scope early in a project, which makes execution and timely delivery achievable.

If you’re counting, that’s a win-win-win-win-win, or something.

Yeah, concept demos are usually rough around the edges, but they’re baked enough to give an idea of what’s possible. Plus, concept demos get done quickly, so ideas can be vetted and move on or be tabled without spending a ton of time and effort, e.g. Raymond and Tony banged out the geo-fencing concept demo in less than two weeks, and Raymond built the Pebble concept in under a week.

And that’s real time. They were doing other things too.

The Google Now TV Card

November 25th, 2013 Leave a Comment

A while back, I promised some details on the Google Now TV Card I found accidentally.

I was watching TV via an HDTV antenna and happened to pop open Google Now for some reason or another. Now showed me this card:


Freaky, right? I dismissed it, but my curiosity was peaked. So, I did some digging about the TV Card and went back to give it whirl.

The card only works on broadcast TV, which makes sense when you reverse engineer it a little. Google Now knows where you are, and based on that, can determine the shows that are being broadcast. That helps narrow down the possibilities, but even given that information, I found the card a bit tough to trigger.

I did my testing during daytime TV, and it failed to detect the Ellen DeGeneres show and another show I tried. It did finally work for the Fox broadcast of the MLB playoff series between the Tigers and Red Sox.

Here is the card it showed:


If I remember correctly, the announcers were talking about Torii Hunter.

Pretty interesting stuff, not mind-blowing, but interesting. This is a pretty powerful example of what Google wants to do though, which is integrate all it knows about the world and you, a.k.a. its knowledge graph, and provide what it thinks might be useful to you at the moment.

Find the comments.

Watch Paul on Shark Tank

November 25th, 2013 Leave a Comment

Did you know that Paul (@ppedrazzi) and his lovely wife and children were on Shark Tank?

If you hurry, you can watch their episode on Hulu. If you decide to wait, they appear in Season 5 Episode 10. Paul and family are the very first segment, so you won’t have to watch the entire episode, although I did because I’ve never seen Shark Tank. It’s an interesting show.

The premise is simple; companies seeking investment pitch a panel of investors, who, if they’re interested, commit a sum of money in exchange for a stake in the business.

Now for the background. Paul founded this little team back in 2007, along with Rich (@rmanalan) and me. Many of you may know Paul, but you might not know that he and his wife started a little lunchbox business called Yubo in their spare time. I think that was in 2009.

Using their savings, they set out to solve a common problem for families, the lunchbox and the jumble of containers and baggies that go into it. Yubo comes with BPA-free, dishwasher-safe containers that fit snugly inside, along with a reusable cold pack.

Plus, the Yubo’s faceplate is customizable and replaceable. It’s an ingenious product. I bought one for my daughter; she loves it; I’ve known Paul for years, etc. Consider that your disclaimer.

I remember the inception days of Yubo. Paul told me about working with an industrial designer and taking late calls with manufacturers overseas, all in his free time. It all seemed very draining, but like every small business, they soldiered through it because they believed in the idea.

Anyway, it was oddly gratifying for me to see Paul and family on national TV, successfully pitching this panel of luminaries. I can only imagine how elated they felt when they struck a deal.

If you’re wondering, Paul recently left Oracle, again; this time for a small company called Achievers.

Good luck dude. Without you, we wouldn’t be doing cool stuff here.

We’ve Grown

November 20th, 2013 2 Comments

Busy times lately here at the ‘Lab. We’ve grown from a small band of three to six in the past six weeks.

Joining our happy little crew are Osvaldo, whom we were lucky to find on our adventure to Mexico, Raymond, a friend of Anthony’s from Taleo, and Tony, whom I’ve known for many years.

Our ‘Lab veterans have been road warriors lately. Earlier this week, Anthony spoke at the OTN China Tour in Beijing, showing off the Glass concept app he built, as well as the Leap Motion-controlled robotic arms he and Noel hacked together right before OpenWorld.

Noel was in Mexico, and soon, he’ll be heading to UKOUG Tech 13 to speak. His session is called “Oracle Fusion & Cloud Applications: A Platform for Building New User Experiences” at the happy hour friendly time of 17:45 on Tuesday, December 3.

If you’re attending Tech 13, drop by and say hi, or just look for Noel. He’ll be hanging around the show all week.

Anyway, I have a backlog of posts, just not a backlog of time to push them. Stay tuned.

Hot Sriracha News

October 29th, 2013 5 Comments

I love a good pun. This way off-topic, even for me, but I can’t pass up not one, but two Sriracha stories.

As background, this is Sriracha, beloved by The Oatmeal and multitudes of others, including yours truly. Dare I call it “the Cadillac of hot sauces.”

First, there’s a profile of David Tran, h/t The Verge, founder and CEO of Huy Fong Foods, maker of Sriracha. Tran is secretive and seems to be the Bizarro of CEOs.

From the rare interview with Quartz:

His dream, Tran tells Quartz, “was never to become a billionaire.” It is “to make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”

Well worth a read.

Then today, there’s news that the city of Irwindale is suing to stop production of Sriracha due to the smell produced by the Huy Fong factory, which sounds like it might be similar to, if not exactly, aerosolized capsaicin, a.k.a. pepper spray, h/t Foodspin.


Of course, if this suit is successful, production will be impacted, which means higher prices.

Tying it all together, Tran says he has never raised wholesale price for his hot sauce.

The Future and Past Are Google Now

October 15th, 2013 6 Comments

I like Google Now, and although it’s not a fixture in my daily device life, I it use pretty often, and it just keeps getting smarter and more useful.

Case in point, a couple weeks ago, I got my first Activity summary card, or at least, I noticed it for the first time.


Pretty interesting stuff I suppose. My biggest takeaways were: wow, if I could track older months this might be useful, the health tracking market is getting very crowded, and holy crap, Google could pwn that entire, admittedly nascent, market if they want.

To that last point, I use so many Google services that they could offer me a truly valuable summary of my activity, including the reasons, e.g. because of the events in my calendar, I walked more, or because of my searches for walking directions, I walked more.

From what I’ve seen so far, most fitness trackers are marginally useful at best. However, just by tracking my month-over-month walking, Google could offer cards that give me a decent incentive to be more healthy, e.g. the Travel Time card that shows time to work or to make an appointment on time could easily recommend that I walk, or walk a longer route, to spur healthy choices.

Plus, that card could create a competitive incentive by comparing my miles walking month-over-month.

If nothing else, it’s a reminder that I should at least consider walking.

I read about an internet of things startup today, Greenbox, that is building a smarter sprinkler system. In classic pitch terms, they’re calling it Nest for the garden. Sounds like a good pitch, e.g. using weather data to shut off the system when it’s raining.

There’s no reason to think Google Now couldn’t use weather data to produce more useful cards; Now already shows you the weather conditions and forecasts for cities to which you’re traveling in the near future, based on itineraries in your Gmail account.

So, cards that alert you to severe weather conditions or even changes in weather, e.g. to let you know to pack a jacket if the weather is drastically different, would be welcome.

And if micro-weather ever becomes a thing, like Waze for weather, Google could just throw money around to buy whatever startup seems right, just like they did with Waze. Incidentally, I’ve used the combination of Waze and Maps several time to avoid traffic jams.

There are lots of examples rattling around in my head, and I don’t even have all the Now cards enabled.

I stumbled across another new card over the week, the TV card. Although I ignored it at the time, I plan to test it out at some point if only to see the Info Cards.

All this is possible because Google has access to so much data and has so much computing power, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they also have access to tons of mobile devices that we carry around all the time.

Google Now could easily lay claim to both the future and past, all provided in easy to consume cards. It’s too bad they’re just an advertising company.


Find the comments.

Some Random Cool Things

October 14th, 2013 2 Comments

For the nostalgic readers out there, I found the install disks for Windows NT 4.0 in my desk last week.


I thought it would be fun to spin up a VM for old time’s sake, but that idea will take some doing. Stay tuned.

If nothing else, I’ll keep these as a history lesson to amaze children who wonder about the Save icon or to demonstrate what a floppy disk is.

Kohler Moxie

I don’t watch many commercials, but thanks to Hulu Plus, I now know about the Kohler Moxie, a showerhead that is also a portable, Bluetooth speaker. You know, for listening to music in the shower.


Beyond my surprise that such a thing exists at all, I wondered how I had missed this gadget, given how much gadget and industrial design news I read. The Moxie is a beautiful piece of design that combines utility with luxury in a modern package.

I say utility because it’s a showerhead, and also because shower radios are a market segment, also much to my surprise. Amazon has a product category for Shower Radios with more than 250 results.

Rounding out my surprise was the lack of coverage about the Moxie, which has been on the market since late 2012. Here’s one of the few reviews I found.

Given the list price of $199, this is a niche market to be sure, but the connected home as an interest area of mine. So, I’m curious to see how devices like this evolve into the mainstream.

Speaking of, erm, speakers, one of my favorite listening gadgets, Sonos, announced the PLAY:1 today, just in time to add to my holiday wish list. I’ve had a PLAY:3 for several years, which I love, and I’ve been pondering how to justify adding another one. The PLAY:1′s price makes that justification easier.

Self-Assembling Robots

And finally, MIT is developing self-assembling robots for your amazement and possibly to haunt your dreams. So enjoy.

On Phablets and Other Observations

October 10th, 2013 12 Comments

Traveling a lot lately, which means I’ve had time to sit and observe people in airports. In today’s world, this is a great research opportunity for mobile devices. I’m a huge fan of anecdotal evidence, and I like to watch users in the wild to see what devices they use.

Numbers can tell you a lot about the rise of the phablet, you know phone + tablet. I liked that term better when I thought it was phab, as in phat for fab. Something about phablet in that sense suggested a blinged-out device, all sparkly and trimmed in 14K gold; related, the rise of phablets in Asia led me to this assumption.

Why? Gold iPhone.

Generally speaking, phablet is a phone whose screen is larger than five and smaller than seven inches, e.g. Galaxy Note, which could be said to have created this segment. I remember the negative reviews when the Note debuted; I remember thinking “that will never sell.”

Win some, lose some, am I right?


Image from Wikimedia

Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more phablets, and they’re growing popularity leads me to wonder why.

Beyond the allure of big screen, I’m not sure why people want such a big device. While in an airport, I got an interesting clue; I saw a person talking on a phablet, which looked comically uncomfortable until she went to the shoulder-chin cradle.

Physiologically, that makes sense. Holding any phone up to your ear for a prolonged period of time tires out the arm, which is why this plastic doodad exists. I think it’s called a telephone shoulder rest or something.


Wonder what future people will think we used this to do?

While the telephone shoulder rest has gone the way of the audio cassette tape and floppy diskette, the problem persists. Sure, headphones work, but sometimes, it’s just faster to put the phone up to your ear and go, assuming you even make phone calls.

In this instance, the phablet creates a bigger object to squeeze between your chin and shoulder.

Otherwise, I really don’t have a good understanding about the popularity of phablets. Do you?

Here are some other random observations from my recent time in airports.

Care to chime in or add your strange device observations? Your anecdote research is welcome here.

Find the comments.

Stephen Hawking’s Party for Time Travellers

October 3rd, 2013 2 Comments

This is just plain awesome. From

Steven Hawking came up with a simple and clever way of seeing if time travel is possible. On June 28, 2009, he threw a party for time travellers from the future…but didn’t advertise it until after the party was already over.

Usually, I’d be all over this type of story, but it somehow escaped my attention. Tracing the coverage, Ars mentioned this party last year but before that, this Hawking piece in The Daily Mail in 2010 seems to be the first mention of this time travel party. And that mention is purely conditional.

I’m wondering if this trickling out of coverage is all part of the experiment. Anyway, even though no one arrived at this party, assuming it really happened, that’s not empirical evidence to disprove the possibility of time travel.

Fun stuff.

Hey, A Link Post

October 1st, 2013 Leave a Comment

For some reason, I’m reminded of a lottery commercial that ran in my hometown in the 80s. The refrain was “Look, there goes another winner,” over and over; I guess the subliminal messaging has attached itself to other things in my mind.

Anyway, been busy lately, so here’s a recap of some stuff that I’ve found interesting, a curated list of cruft or something.

Ambient Technology

Somewhat ironically, ambient technology has crept into my consciousness and now seems to be a hot topic, to wit Ambient Reality and The Ambient Economy.

Ambient technology is evolving, but it seems to fall somewhere between gentle, environmental signals that let you know to pay attention and yet another notification mechanism to ignore. I like the intersection of real things and digital ones, made possible by IoT, and the opportunity to couple industrial and digital design.

It’s an interesting space. Stay tuned for more.

Infographics Reactionism

In the vein of WTF Visualizations, I give you Why We Hate Infographics (And Why You Should), a thoughtful look at the infographics fad. As an old school bar-chart-line-graph dude, I got a huge kick out of this.

Big Brother and User Experience

How Monitoring Can Affect User Experience is an interesting read. The Prius example resonates for me, since I’ve ridden in many a Prius cab. I’ve always wondered how distracting the UI is; Paul (@ppedrazzi) told me years ago that the UI dramatically changed his driving habits simply by showing the impact of a tire-burning start.

All interesting stuff, presented for comment.

Internet of Things that Go Really Fast on Water

October 1st, 2013 Leave a Comment

Even though sailing isn’t my thing, it was impossible to avoid getting swept up by last week’s boat race. Possibly lost in all the drama is the amount of technology these boats and race teams use to help them win.

Check out this video that highlights all the technology out on the water and how the race team uses it.

Even if you’re not into sailing or the competition aspects, these are very cool uses for technology that can be applied to everyday life improvements.

Bonus, there’s a 92-minute behind-the-scenes feature from Make you can check out if you want more.

Oracle OpenWorld Google Glass App Is Here

September 22nd, 2013 Leave a Comment

In the midst of preparing for Oracle OpenWorld, I have spent couple hours building a micro app for our marketing team to keep attendees up-to-date with the latest OOW news and announcements.  You may head up to to start using it if you have Glass.

I look forward for a fun and exciting week starting today.  You can find us in the Fusion UX DEMOGround and OTN lounge.  See you all in OOW!

OpenWorld Developer Challenges

September 22nd, 2013 Leave a Comment

You may have 99 problems, but finding a contest to show off your coding chops during Oracle OpenWorld won’t be one of them. You’ll have two from which to choose, the Oracle Fusion Cloud Developer Challenge or the Applications Express Developer Challenge.

Or hey, why not do both?

I guess because of our challenge exploits last year, Noel (@noelportugal) and I have become the unofficial hackathon guys. So, it’s fitting that Noel will be one of the judges for both these challenges.

Even if you can’t join the fun, stop by the judging events, check out what people have built and chat with Noel. Judging for both challenges is Wednesday, September 25 in the OTN Lounge, Moscone Center South lobby; Apex runs 3-4 PM, Cloud 4-5 PM.

Where to Find Some Robot Action

September 20th, 2013 Leave a Comment

Sounds like a line from some dystopian future movie, but surprise, it’s a real question, i.e. where can I see the fantastic and amazing dueling robot arms?

If you’re attending Oracle OpenWorld next week, you can find the robotic arms, controlled by the Leap Motion, at the following venues and times:

2013 OPN Exchange & OAUX Expo

We’ll be one of several Apps UX teams attending the Oracle Partner Network’s Expo on Monday at 1:30 PM at the Marriott Marquis Mission Grill. If you’re an OPN member, check out the skinny from OPN and Misha (@mishavaughan) and definitely plan to attend.

In addition to the robotic arms, we’ll have some other cool stuff on tap. Can’t tell you what, but I think it’s cool.

OTN Lounge

As an eleventh-hour thing, we’ll also be at the OpenWorld OTN Lounge, in the Moscone South lobby, on Tuesday at 3:30 PM, and the JavaOne OTN Lounge in the Hilton, on Wednesday at 1 PM.

We’ll also be showing them to the Ace Directors in about an hour, so there’s that. Even the real-time web might not be fast enough to help you make that one though.

Dueling Robots

September 19th, 2013 Leave a Comment

I told you, we need more robots. A while back, Misha (@mishavaughan) asked us to build something fun. So, we decided to put our new-ish Leap Motion controllers to good use to control robotic arms, specifically the OWI 535 with the USB interface, because why not.

Here you have Anthony (@anthonslai) and Noel (@noelportugal) dueling with said robot arms, each controlled by a Leap Motion.

Although Anthony won this round, they dueled again later, and Noel won. They’ll be dueling all week, so we’ll see who prevails. I’ve tried this myself, and it’s harder than it looks.

Beyond a fun exercise, this was a chance to dig into the Leap SDK, which we plan to use for other projects. Stay tuned for some technical thoughts on that.

Even though the Leap hasn’t been GA for long, there are a lot of hacks like this out there, including this exact one. The Leap is a fun tool to work with, and we’re excited to kick its tires some more.

What We Need Is More Robots

September 10th, 2013 Leave a Comment

I keep saying this, but if you read here enough, you’ll recognize that I tend to repeat myself. Noel (@noelportugal) pointed me to this “60 Minutes” segment from January of this year called “Are robots hurting job growth?

It’s an interesting segment to me, mostly because it showcases new (to me) uses for robots in the workplace. I have a thing for robots, and I’m always interested to see how they’re being used.

Not surprisingly, I like to indulge in the SkyNet/Hal-robot-overlord plot lines too.

Anyway, I think I speak for all of the team when I say that robots fascinate us. The guys are hacking away at an interesting robot-related demo that we hope to show in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned for that and find the comments to share your insights on robots. Or economics or ethics, although those might go unanswered.

Design Round-Up

September 6th, 2013 4 Comments

For those so-inclined, here are some design-related goodies I found recently. Enjoy.

Dark Patterns: inside the interfaces designed to trick you

This is a great read. We’ve all run into counter-intuitive features that seem designed to confuse. Although I like to think the best of humanity, in some cases, confusion is intentional, and this post cites some possible examples.

In my career as PM, I’ve seen many checkboxes and toggles labeled with confusing double-speak, e.g. checking a box for a negative label seems odd. Yes, don’t do A seems much less intuitive than Yes, do B, but it’s not always possible to convey what’s meant in a succinct label.

In the case of Apple’s ad-tracking feature, you wonder about the motivation. From the post:

If you haven’t been here before, the only option in the advertising menu, “Limit Ad Tracking” is probably selected “Off.”

But let’s take a closer look at the way this is worded. It doesn’t say “Ad Tracking – Off” it says “Limit Ad Tracking – Off”. So it’s a double negative. It’s not being limited, so when this switch is off, ad tracking is actually on.

Purposefully misleading or not, it’s difficult to understand without some thinking. Anyway, the post a good read.

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design

This is an interesting read. It centers on the fingers and hands as input devices for “Pictures Under Glass” touch interfaces and the shortcomings of said interfaces. Essentially, touch interfaces ignore many of he physiological advantages of the hand and fingers.

This is a rant without any real guidance for other options, which is fine, and going forward, I’m hoping three-dimensional technologies like the Leap Motion can begin to open new gestural interfaces that make more sense than single-finger swiping.

That’s little more than promise right now, but I have high hopes. As an OpenWorld teaser, the guys are cooking up a Leap-enabled, fun project that will give them experience with the Leap’s SDK. Stay tuned for more.

WTF Visualizations

And finally, by way of FlowingData, check out WTF Visualizations, a great collection of what-were-they-thinking visualizations, some impossible to read/interpret, some humorously not-to-scale, some just wacky, all humorous.

Here Come the Smartwatches

September 6th, 2013 17 Comments

This week featured big news for smartwatches with the announcement of the Samsung Galaxy Gear, Qualcomm Toq and Sony SmartWatch 2.

These watches are all essentially smartphone accessories, but in the event that you want an independently smart timepiece, the Omate TrueSmart Kickstarter project is for you.

RWW has dubbed this flood of devices, the “arm race,” and given the persistent iWatch rumors, you’d expect Apple to join the race very soon.

While many are watching and waiting, we’ve decided to jump in with a watch that’s already (sort of) shipping, the Pebble.


Why? First, Jeremy, our fearless leader, has one by virtue of backing the initial Kickstarter project. Plus, Pebble has an SDK and small, but dedicated group of developers already pushing the device and probing its capabilities.

I got my Pebble a few weeks ago, and quickly set it up and got down to business adding watchfaces and pushing watch apps to the device. There are differences between the two.

I quickly hit my functional limit with the SDK, which requires C, a skill I only developed minimally back in the first Clinton administration, so my impressions are basic at best. Even so, here they are.

The Watch

I’m not a watch guy, so take that into account. The Pebble doesn’t do much, and that’s OK. It’s solidly constructed, with a rubbery band, which can be replaced, and a display that is big enough to read, but not too big for the average wrist. It’s chunky, in a cool way and very easy to read, thanks to its display which also contributes to its hefty battery life.

In my unscientific testing, the battery life has been outstanding. It’s been on my desk for at least a week without a charge.

The watch body has four buttons, three on the right side, one on the left, for basic navigation. This design is decidedly right-hand friendly, depending on how much you decide to manipulate the watch. If I were using it left-handed, I might find it difficult to press the buttons.

Again, not a watch guy, but the overall weight seems comparable to other watches.


Initial setup of the Pebble requires a smartphone app, iOS or Android. Although I didn’t try, I think the Pebble would function just fine as a basic watch without the smartphone.

The Pebble uses Bluetooth to communicate with your phone, and the app controls the notifications you receive on the Pebble, which include new emails, texts, calls. There might be more, but again, not a watch guy, limited testing.


I did test the mail notifications from the Android Gmail and stock Email apps; the Gmail app shows new mail, which you can open and scroll through via the buttons. The Email app only shows a general notification of how many new messages you have, with no ability to view the message.

OOTB, Pebble includes three watchfaces, and via the smartphone app, you can find a handful of others, including Big Time, which I’ve been using.


Beyond that, there’s a large community at My Pebble Faces, where you can find a surprisingly wide array of watchfaces.

Installing watchfaces (and watch apps) from your smartphone is the easiest path. For example, if you hit My Pebble Faces from Chrome on Android while running the Pebble app, each watchface has an Install button. After a quick update, the Pebble app pushes the watchface to your Pebble, where you can immediately use it.


Overall, the software experience is good. I’d expect the Pebble app to include more watchfaces over time as third-party developers are vetted, evolving into an official Pebble store, but for now, you have to trust the at-large communities like My Pebble Faces to get variety.


We’re an R&D outfit, so obviously, the SDK matters. After you register a developer account, you can download and install the SDK. The install instructions are very complete. On OS X, you need XCode or at least the command-line utilities, which is a bit of a bummer. In retrospect, I should have gone the Linux route to avoid that annoyance.

I breezed through the install and all the dependencies and then the Hello World example. Beyond this, I’m useless. So, now it’s time to hand off to Anthony (@anthonyslai), who used to teach C apparently, for the real work.

Deploying apps to your Pebble requires an http server, which isn’t a big deal. It was a bit of a surprise to me; I was expecting communication between the watch and computer via USB, but again, I’m functionally useless so there’s that.

Some clever developers have built a communication protocol called httpebble, which according to the developer:

. . . is a scheme for communicating with the internet from the Pebble, using a generic protocol and without any application-specific code running on the phone. It also provides a mechanism for storing persistent data, reading timezone information, and getting the user’s approximate location.

Nice little workaround.

What’s next?

Although I’m not a watch guy, I like the Pebble. I’m definitely interested in the coming tsunami of wearable devices and how they can enrich the overall user experience.

It’s actually refreshing to design for a device like Pebble, which has very limited functionality. These limits actually clear the mind of all the noise of what could be done and focus it on only what matters to the user.

And once I get the Pebble to Anthony, we’ll start working with Jeremy and any other smartwatch users we can find to build some representative cool stuff.

Thoughts about smartwatches generally or the Pebble specifically?

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