Despite only ever funding one, the targeted ad powers that be have determined that I really like crowdfunding. I’ve noticed that a specific category always gets advertised to me: technology that can do something truly amazing which no one else is pursuing. A year or so later I catch an article that these same projects either get removed from Kickstarter, move over to Indiegogo, or vanish indefinitely into development hell. I’ll absolutely give the benefit of the doubt to the majority these creators, unexpected snags can pop up when you’re trying to scale hardware products. Though sometimes I wonder if people are just cashing in on technolust. In this brief post I’ll layout some steps to running a crowdfunding scam around a technology product.
Come up with a tech product that:
Fills some niche. Good categories include smartphone accessories, drones, and VR gadgets. For the appearance of novelty you can also take regular day item which just has some bluetooth addon so you can call it “smart” some ideas for free:
Smart post-it note
Claims to do something way better than anything out there, especially since you can connect it to your phone!
Technically impossible, but not so much as to make customers think that it is impossible. For example (real examples):
A hub that transcribes lectures which is also a portable battery and wireless speaker. (Titan Note)
A drone that follows you autonomously and takes selfies. (Lily drone)
A bracelet which projects a smartphone interface on your wrist. (Cicret)
Hire a prop shop to make a mock of the product.
Make an amazing marketing video featuring the prop-product. Use the magic of editing and special effects to make it look like it’s functional. You could skip step 2 and use a digital model and place it in the video too but you’ll want something physical for later steps.
Post it to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, preference to the latter because if you don’t meet the goal you still get the money.
While the campaign is on-going take the time to develop a crude actually functioning prototype to post as an update to the backers. You don’t want to deceive people too much.
After the campaign is over, post updates every couple months about the challenges and the “progress” you’re making. Do this less frequently as time goes on, a sort of fade away to make people ever forget you still have their money.
Finally, after several months–or years–make a post about how you’ve run out of funding. How there were too many problems with the manufacturers but that you’re proud of your team and the work that you accomplished.
I was thrilled when I heard we were getting a pair of Google Glass at work. This was announced a few weeks after the “Explorer Program” went public. Now, for the extreme cost of $1500 US per pair, Google Glass can be yours too. The upfront cost might make you think that you’re getting an amazing piece of hardware that will augment everything about your life. However in practice the effects of wearing Google Glass are not so thrilling.
I used Google Glass extensively for two weeks, running it through just about every use case I could. It has some notable strengths, but for the most part what it was able to do was underwhelming, insufficient, or problematic. Read on to find out more.
I used the first revision of the Google Glass “Explorer Edition” that was released to the public. Here are just a few of its annotated specs from the Google product page:
Camera: 5mp stills, 720p video.
Audio: Bone conductive transducer, the Explorer edition also comes with a small earbud too, I never tried it.
Screen: A small prism of glass, it’s close enough to your eye that you cannot see projected pixels.
Memory: 1GB if RAM, the most recent edition has 2GB which would have been a welcomed edition for me.
Disk space: 12GB.
Connectivity: Bluetooth and WiFi
The actual glasses rim immediately separates it from traditional glasses with lenses. The screen is designed to just barely be in the natural range of your eyes so you’re supposed to put them fairly high on the brow of your nose. It’s surprisingly light, even for all the hardware they’re packing on the right side. However these glasses are only portable on your face, they do not fold up like normal glasses. This makes it really awkward when you want to take them off, you can’t just fold them up and rest them on the collar of your shirt. This same rim gets in the way too. Try as I did, I could not put on another pair of glasses along with Google Glass. Google’s solution is their accessory store where you can buy different glassesattachments.
The bone conductive audio is a very clever application. It’s loud enough that it sounds like normal audio, it actually took my friends trying the glasses on to convince me that only the wearer can hear the sounds it makes. It also leaves your ears open for everything else that’s happening around you. The explorer edition glasses also come with a single ear bud that plugs into the body’s micro USB port if you want more traditional audio.
Memory & CPU
The amount of memory available was an issue, if you do too many tasks in a row the body of Google Glass gets hot and significantly slows down the processor. Recording video stressed this the most, but using Google Maps in the background also occasionally proved difficult on the hardware. When the hardware is strained, the effect on the user interface is noticeable.
The touchpad is a blank strip on the right side that is the direct physical interface with Google Glass. Three primary gestures are used with the touch pad and have the corresponding actions: tap selects, swipe left/right scrolls, and swipe up/down dismisses or deletes. Glass prompts you for valid actions for each card so I was never confused interacting with it. There were however a few times where I found the touch pad too sensitive, for example a short swipe was too easily recognized as a tap.
For everything I did with Google Glass, the quality of the camera was sufficient, but not great. The convenience however was out of this world. It was really nice to not get my phone out of my pocket, turn it on, go to the camera app, focus, and take a picture. There are a few quick and simple ways to take picture: Manually: press a small button on the top of the body. Voice: if my hands are preoccupied the voice command “Ok Glass, take a picture” is astonishingly accurate, it takes a few extra milliseconds to actually take the picture though. Thus, vis-a-vis blurry pictures, I had to learn to stare a little longer at what I wanted a picture of. Wink: This is an experimental feature, you feel a bit like spy when it works, I didn’t use this much because it felt so unusual and covertly invasive, but it works surprisingly well.
Here are a few raw images and videos taken with Google Glass:
My primary goal with using Google Glass was figuring out just what this gadget is good for, while they were in my possession I tried as many reasonable activities as I could with them:
Taking-pictures-without-rumaging-through-my-pockets shows its strengths again when hiking. However when the whole purpose of the activity is to get out of the city and back into nature, Google Glass becomes minor nuisance. Whenever I’d look up at the trees the time or a stopwatch would show as if constantly reminding me that my time there is brutally finite. I wore Google Glass for about the first fifteen minutes of the hike, they were in the backpack the rest of the day.
Great, despite the noise from wind, I was surprised to find voice commands still go through perfectly. Combine this with the mostly touchless controls and it’s completely possible to interact with the (albeit limited) digital world while still having two hands firmly on the handlebars.
This is oddly the best use I found for it, the “Google” command is really nice when reading. Don’t know who Fritz Perls is? What Lamarkism is? Have Glass Google it for you and it will read back the results through the conductive earpiece. I felt like it added this really great distraction free dimension almost complementary experience to reading. You just look up and say “Ok Glass, what is property dualism?” Wait a second for it to recognize the words, and it will read a concise answer back to you.
Driving with Glass beats a GPS on a dashboard any day. With just a tap on the side of the device my location and route show up, when there is an instruction coming up, Glass will read off the instructions just like Google Maps for Android or iOS does. Periodically displaying and reading off these instructions however were definitely a kidney shot to battery life though, I didn’t use this for any long trips, I have my doubts whether if it could handle a six hour drive anywhere on one charge.
I’ll admit I don’t do much cooking, there are apparently some great Glass apps for this specifically. I took some videos of making breakfast one day, if I edit the clips together the output is somewhat aesthetic. If I made more fancy food than bull’s eyes this would be some great media addition to a food or chef’s blog.
Hanging Out in a Public Place with Friends
The moment I put these on in a public place I became a magnet for a few judgmental glances from strangers. I was never approached asking to take them off because I could only bear wearing them in the presence of friends and strangers for only about three minutes. As stylish and technological as these are, they do not have a stealth mode. My friends had a blast passing them around and trying them on for a few moments though before I put them away for good.
There are a multitude of apps that are readily available in a separate app store curated by Google. You can install new apps from the MyGlass companion app for Android and recently for iOS. All apps feel the somewhat the same or have the same interfaces based on principles of how the Glass SDK was designed. So no new app is so foreign because every interface is identical. Apps can all be activated with a phrase the developer picks or they can be clicked through the usual way.
I’ve gotten very used to saying “Ok Google, set a timer for 15 minutes” to my phone (A 2013 Moto X). I can say almost the same thing to Glass but it stops parsing what I say after “set a timer”. So the application opening is hands free, but then I have to set the time manually. The alarm on the timer has an unorthodox behavior too, it has never rung when it hit’s exactly 0 instead it rings when Glass gets activated next. I learned quickly not to rely on it for things that needed precise countdowns, like cooking. However for exercising activities there’s nothing wrong with going a few seconds, or minutes, over your set.
Unlike the timer, upon finishing the phrase “start a stopwatch” there is a 3 second countdown and a stopwatch begins. Stopping it takes some touchpad actions.
As nice as it would be to just watch cat videos in the corner of my eye whenever I want, the YouTube app is just for posting videos, not for watching them.
Google Now provides some helpful cards, I used Glass while the 2014 World Cup was going on in Brazil so it was always nice to look up and see upcoming games or current scores. Other Google Now cards carried over from my phone too like the weather and movies playing nearby. It’s worthwhile to note that these were among the few persistent cards that were left of the clock on the main menu.
I used Evernote on a few occasions. I found it nice to dictate thoughts but the margin where it would detect the note ending was too small. So unless my thought stream was really flowing, I just ended up with a lot of fragments that I had to concatenate later. The accuracy wasn’t always good either, here’s a full note where I was testing how long it would listen.
Google glasses text to speech input only last so long and it’s kind of frustrating when thoughts do not cum so unrestricted as when they do when your typing on a keyboard but its just keep talking and talking and talking the notes do continue to be taken it looks like I’ve talked about 40 seconds here and there still taking so how much longer can I talk until I reached a limit I’m really not sure and I’m not exactly motivated to find out you there but this is a lot longer than the first to know that I took is really unusual how thoughts they are kind of broken up with whom are deeper where is keyboard does pasar exactly recognized.
No punctuation and enough mistakes that it gets a little incoherent at the end. The other glaring issue with this was that all the notes are saved with the same title: “Note from Glass.” I only had about half a dozen of them but could see getting overwhelmed with if I used this feature more often. You can also send pictures to Evernote very easily, but with no text content and the same note title.
Hangouts and Messaging
The actual messaging works well, but the user interface is awkward. After the “Send a message” voice command or action, I have to manually select the contact from a list. I have about 100 contacts in my Google address book and Glass does not handle lists of that size very well. Each contact in the list is in a card layout as opposed to a vertical layout. The full computational process goes something like this: load 100 contacts, draw 100 cards horizontally, then load pictures for each one. Finally, when selecting the contact, it’s not immediately apparent which channel you’re sending the message through, that is Hangouts or the SMS app on your phone. There is a small icon on the bottom right of each card contact that represents this, but I would frequently overlook it.
There is no message send confirmation like there is if you’ve ever sent text messages with Google Now’s voice commands on an Android phone. This was a critical problem on two occasions, once where I almost sent an unflattering picture to an old contact, and again where I sent a nonsensical text message to a friend. After these two occasions I was much more careful when sending messages, and opted for using my phone more often than not.
Google Glass looks like a cool product, their website images and the device’s design reeks of it. But in experience, Google Glass is not that great. Having returned the glasses to work, I miss no parts of the experience they provided. Its efforts to augment the human condition is neither successful nor what I had in mind when I first heard of Google Glass several years ago. The price is also something that makes this a fringe product, given the device’s components I could see them lowering the price to $199-$299, but for some reason right now it remains at $1500. If you have the opportunity to try on a pair of Google Glass, without buying them, I recommend it. Otherwise they just don’t offer enough for the average consumer.
Over the years I have had the unusual misfortune of having products I like and use get acquired by Facebook. Sometimes good things come out of these deals, but often they do not. Here is my brief list.
A good lifetracking web app that had a really nice iOS app. At least until the team/co-founders were acquired. The web app continues to function, but the iOS app, which was my sole and preferred method of data entry; is no longer supported and crashes on start up. I know of nothing on Facebook’s end that came from this deal.
Mike Matas, the original designer behind iOS, brought us a fresh digital look into books and publishing. They go acquired in 2011 by Facebook after their first book “Our Choice” by Al Gore. The team at Facebook moved on to create Paper, which I have yet to try but is claimed by many to be good. Let’s remember that Paper took roughly two and a half years to make after the acquirement of PushPopPress.
I was pretty skeptical when I saw their Kickstarter in Summer 2012. Then I heard about a couple of my friends who got them and liked them. Now, where I work there are a few laying around and we have some plans for them in our interaction framework. They got acquired by the blue empire today and I can’t help but feel betrayed.
My first reaction was that it was some joke, or that it was a different Oculus. Then surprise. Now frustration and a little anger. What are they going to do with this if anything at all? Are we going to see some odd byproduct creation several years down the road like we did from the PushPopPress team? Or nothing, like what we got from the Daytum purchase. They’re either going to kill Oculus or turn it into something the original Kickstarter backers didn’t want. I really hope they don’t eff it up either way.
Today it’s getting harder and harder to escape advertising, remember when you could watch a video on any site without watching a video ad first? Modern corporate propoganda has become a finely tuned art of delivering a product that you’re more likely to want, and it could get worse. Below I’ll describe a few technologies that are all ceratainly within the realm of possibility, but hopefully, will never become a reality.
Products that are constantly listening and automatically forward reviews to their manufacturer on certain spoken keywords. This stream would be very easy to filter, bolstering a product’s rating. Posted reviews are in a converted readable format as well as their original audio format.
Eye glasses that superimpose advertising on whatever you look at. Of course you could always take the glasses off but then you couldn’t see.
Listening tables at resturants that adapt the adertising around or on the table itself to your conversation. This would ensure constatnly relevant advertising. The resturant of course gets a cut of the ad revenue.
Bar glasses that detect when the cup is empty and then make a recommendation on either another drink or to stop drinking. This recommendation could be intelligently made by a sensitive breathalizer in the glass, or a connection to a sensor in what you’re sitting that gets your weight and calculates BAC on the number of drinks you’ve had.
The same weight sensors in a resturant or bar could detect the customer’s overall health, gender, and age and direct ads based on those readings.
In case you hadn’t noticed, everyone of these ideas also violates privacy in many ways. If you are uncomfortable with thse ideas I recommend you give some thought to the ad stream just to the left of your Facebook timeline or Google Searches which have been curated based on your statuses, searches, and the ‘likes’ of you and your friends. I don’t think any of these ideas will ever manifest in real life, but in some form or another, they already have.
What’s the point of product design if everyone is just going to put the device in a case? A case rarely improves the user experience and instead simply provides the user with the reassurance that if they accidentally drop their device it will be alright. Not to mention the larger pocket fingerprint. Cases usually don’t seem to bother people once they’re on too, this is only a good measure of how important software, operating system, and software ecosystem are over hardware design.
A non-durable device, no matter how sleek, provides a sub-par user experience due to its fragility, or rather the feeling of fragility. There are devices out there that are the epitome of this, devices that make me 100x more careful when handling. So much so that I am constantly focusing on making sure the device is secure in my hand, rather than the experience the product has to offer.
The best device should feel not only feel durable but it must live up to that feeling at the same time. It should feel herculean, it should instill the same level of confidence we have in the software on the phone, essentially, it shouldn’t fail if we make a mistake. The phone case industry today is a testament that we are not confident in the structural (let alone aesthetic) integrity of our phones. There is certainly glass that can take the impact of a drop, there are also materials and practices that can make a device withstand said drop. Why aren’t they both in a product in my hand?
About a year ago I decided to leave Facebook for three primary reasons.
I was getting less out of the network than I was putting in.
Trivializing human interaction.
Through the month of October and November I’m going to re-explore those points. Perhaps the way I feel about them will have changed. While I don’t think I’ll ever fully come to terms with their privacy settings and policies, it’s hard to remain critical of a product I haven’t tried in a year.
Around last year, I felt like I was posting into a black hole; content and statuses in, nothing out; nothing about it felt social. I was also in immediate contact with many of my friends on a day to day basis. Today those friends are scattered across the country and globe. I return to Facebook to give their mission statement a second chance.
…give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
Sharing is not what concerns me, and my Twitter feed is pretty open. It’s that I’ve been feeling disconnected, let’s see if/how/why or why not Facebook alleviates that.
I had just come back from Iceland and a summer of otherwise developing an Android app for the trip. With all the design and programming paradigms still in my head I decided I should try to make another one. I’ve always wanted to port FiveTimer from iOS to Android, but the time or opportunity never presented themselves. I decided to undertake it as soon as I got back.
That was about 15 days ago. The whole process took just over two weeks! Rather than taking everything over at once or at random, it was broken down by most to least essential. Wunderlist was a huge help in doing this breakdown, in the end FiveTimer was 44 discrete tasks.
By the first week I had a basic timer that had some scramblers. At the middle of second week I had more scramblers, a statistics viewer, a timer with 15 second countdown, and hold to start. In the last few days I was scrambling to make sure that the app looked decent in all screen sizes and the 3×3 and Square-1 scrambles didn’t make the UI hang too much (threads are cool).
Through this whole process I was uploading a .APK to my site for a few beta testers to give me feedback on. Without whom the initial release of FiveTimer would be pretty sub-mediocre. A small localization error for example would crash the app whenever the timer was stopped, this was due to the time strings being formatted with a comma instead of a period, never would have caught that one on my own. A huge hand goes to the beta testers.
In the final weekend I noticed how much my table was flexing when I would slam the cube down as if I was on a stackmat. It struck me then that why should we be touching the screen to stop the timer at all? Drop to stop was implemented, and then with a sensitivity slider a day later. It was a “why haven’t we been doing this the whole time” kind of moments.
Even when the app went into production there were still changes to be made and bugs to squash. An “add time” button was a welcomed addition for example. FiveTimer for Android is actually well ahead of its iOS counterpart right now and I intend to carry over the add time and drop to stop, let me just do a few solves first.
Session exporting. In iOS you can only email the session, in Android you can send the session string to any app that will receive it. My favorite is Dropbox in this instance.
Drop to stop. Kind of a silly name in retrospect, but if your device you’re timing with is on a table, you can slam the cube down as if you’re timing with a stackmat and the timer will stop. This uses the device’s accelerometer to detect a sudden Z change and stop the timer. I’m really psyched about it. The tweet above was an accidental reference to this. Wait until you see a video, you’ll be wowed I’m sure.
It’s $0.99 on the Google Play Store. I feel like some one is going to complain instantly in their head about the price to which I have this response. It’s a dollar, you pay once, you own it forever, you’ll get all future updates, you can use it whenever you want, you can uninstall and resinstall it indefinitely. Consider for a second the things you buy which cost more and you get much less out of, a candy bar, a soda, a movie ticket. It’s just a dollar. Thanks, I hope you enjoy it.
I got a late 2008 Unibody MacBook only a few weeks after it was released in my senior year of high school with the intention that it will last me through college. It’s done exactly that and then some, that is, I’m still using it. In July 2013 I went to Iceland and realized that lugging the 13″ aluminum block around wouldn’t work out. The department I went with just got a new 11″ MacBook with a Haswell chip, I moved all my important documents and workspace preferences on there from the 13″ and I’ve been using it this last month, here’s what I think. It’s amazing.
At first the screen seems extremely small. Turns out its just the right size to read, write, and develop on. Thanks to multiple desktops in OSX and window snapping in BetterTouchTool, surprisingly screen real estate has not been an issue. I’m editing the final draft of this post back on the 13″ Macbook and the first thing I noticed is that all the UI elements are automagically scaled down on the 11″. In Chrome for example, the size of the tab bar and omnibar is smaller by about 30 pixels.
The whole laptop is very very light and compact. So much so that a 13″ MacBook Air now seems heavy by comparison. The downside of this is that the keyboard is a little crunched up particularly the modifier keys and the F buttons. A few people have complained that the trackpad is a little small, I use the highest sensitivity options on the trackpad so it hasn’t been an issue for me.
There are two big hardware issues I have. The first is with the 802.11ac wifi antenna. There’s an asterisk on Apple’s website about the 802.11ac antenna, it’s still an IEEE draft specification. In the last month I’ve intermittently have had dropped connection problems where my peers with devices using 802.11n have not. In one case I could not connect to the router at all while everyone else and my iPod Touch did.
The second issue stems from what I believe is the Intel 5000 graphics chip (or drivers). There are occasions where the screen simply turns off, it’s not asleep, it’s distinctly deactivated. Usually it turns right back on, but there was one case where I had to hold down the power button to reset the device. I have a feeling it’s the graphics chip either software or hardware side of things.
I’d expect a patch for the hardware issues to come as they can be pretty serious, particularly if you’re traveling and connecting to new routers every day. In short the computer does everything I need it to. The two hardware issues mentioned above are actually what’s holding me back from getting it instantly. If you’re looking for a very portable laptop that is still competent in day to day tasks (oh, and doesn’t have Windows 8) the 11″ MacBook Air is an obvious answer.
Most people know about deactivating Facebook (and my experience without it). What they don’t know is how to permanently delete it. On a help page, hidden away, they provide a link to delete all of your Facebook data if it’s been deactivated for a few weeks. The other day I decided to take that plunge and totally get off Facebook. I started by downloading all of my data with their archiving tool, and then using a third party tool to download all the photos I’m tagged in. Everything was all squared away, then, several things happened, making me almost forgetting why I was there.
I have a friend studying abroad in London and having not talked to her for a while I struck up a small chat with her. The value of spontaneously communicating with a far off friend is invigorating, needless to say it was probably the last thing I expected to do when I woke up that morning. Suddenly I never wanted to leave Facebook again, the interaction was invaluable. While chatting away and browsing idly between messages something else happened.
I was bombarded by dozens of statuses and posted pictures on the Facebook wall. Not necessarily just from people I haven’t seen in a long time, but people I recently broke up with, and even people I saw just yesterday. All this struck up a totally different flurry of emotions; not good feelings, a feeling that my life was not as great as theirs. The statuses were written in a voice that did not sound like the friend I actually associate with, there’s more bragging and facaded voices, never negative. Then, in the pictures everyone was smiling and having fun parties, which I would never have been aware of otherwise. I didn’t like any of it.
Again, the only thing saving this experience was the conversation with the friend I was involved with. It was still the best set of words I have exchanged recently. As the conversation was coming to a close I decided not to permanently delete my data, just deactivate my account again (redeactivate?). I definitely still do not like Facebook, there will hopefully be a day when I can delete everything, by that time Facebook will be yesterday’s MySpace and I won’t lose too many contacts. Today even though I’m not on Facebook, it’s where at a moment’s notice, all my friends are available for conversation, among other things.