Category Archives: Gadgets

Impressions of Android Wear (LG G Watch) with my Nexus 5

I finally got the LG G watch that I won in a contest about a week ago. I replaced my Pebble smart watch with the Android Wear device along with using my spare Nexus 5 instead of my iPhone. It’s been about four days or so since I made the switch so I thought I’d write up my impressions.

The Watch

LG G

The LG G watch is one of the two currently available Android Wear devices for purchase. My coworker Jason, who also won a watch in the same contest, got the Samsung model. We both would have rather had the Motorola watch, but it isn’t available until later this summer so Google decided to send us these ones.

The LG watch is not particularly fashionable. It looks like a pretty generic black rectangle with rounded corners. It comes with a pretty neat charging base that you can magnetically attach the watch to. I would’ve preferred some kind of wireless charging, but this gets the job done, and the watch actually charges pretty quickly. The quick charge time is good because the watch only last about 24 hours anyway.

The Software

Android Wear Software

The software for the LG watch is basically an enhanced version of the notification dock in Android. This actually mirrors Google Glass a bit, but the execution is less awkward because you’re not wearing a watch on your face. Each notification that lives on your phone will also appear on the watch. If the notification is enhanced, you might be able to take action on it through the watch. For example, you can reply to a text message or Google Hangout by dictating a message. This is probably the killer app of the watch, though I feel like talking to your watch is still going to be considered antisocial behavior.

Aside from the notifications, you can also tell the watch to take notes, send e-mails, and set alarms. The watch still relies pretty heavily on your Android phone, though. Notes get saved to Google Keep (which I am not really sure is an app that will stick around), and GPS navigation simply opens Google maps on your phone. I’m guessing that in the future the watch will get smarter, but for now I think that’s a pretty decent feature set.

I’ve been toying around with the idea of writing an app that creates a persistent notification that just shows me how late the bus is going to be in the morning. Every morning I check the AATA website to see how it my bus is going to be. The information is contextual and time sensitive, and I only need it for that one time during the day, so it would make sense to make this something that shows up on my watch when I need it and goes away when I don’t. I think that Google Now could do this to some extent, but it’s not smart enough to know that I want to leave 5 minutes before my bus comes around and not when it’s “scheduled” to arrive.

Android

In order to fully test out the Android Wear watch, I took my SIM card out of my iPhone 5S and put it into my Nexus 5. So far the transition hasn’t been too difficult as I mostly rely on Google services anyway. There aren’t really any apps on the iPhone that I haven’t been able to use on my Android phone.

I may have said this before in previous blog post, but I really think that the quality of Google’s services is catching up to the polish of the iPhone. Consider how bad Apple’s online services are, and how good Google’s are. I can live without iCloud and Apple’s email service (does anyone use their .me email as a real email address?), but I am locked into Gmail, both personally and professionally.

I am guessing that Google could increase Android’s marketshare sharply by simply withdrawing support for all Google services on iOS. Meanwhile, Apple is relying more and more on third parties to fill out the expertise that it is lacking (I mean, really, who the fuck uses WebObjects?). I can’t really see a situation in the long term where Apple beats Google on services, either directly or by convincing third party developers to do it for them. As for whether I am actually switching to Android as my main device, I’d need to see what Apple has in store for their next generation. (Sadly, this LG G watch is not nearly awesome enough to make me switch on its own)

On top of the awesome built-in services of Android, the material design stuff coming from them from this past I/O is looking pretty sweet. If Android can give iOS a run for its money in terms of look and feel, and ease of creating really nice custom views and animations, then developers might just defect en masse. I guess the only thing Android needs to do now is get away from Java (if Apple can do this with Swift, then I’m sure Google can figure it out), because developing on it really sucks the joy out of being a developer.

Anyway, enough reverse-fanboying. I think it’s time for the…

Conclusion

While I think Android Wear does a lot of things right, and it has a lot of potential, the watch really isn’t all that revolutionary. To put it in terms of the HBO show SIlicon Valley, it’s not disrupting or making the world a better place through compression algorithms. It also isn’t a particularly stylish piece of metal and glass, so I wouldn’t wear it if it didn’t serve a purpose. Having said that, Google stuff is all about the integrated services, so I am feeling bullish on the fact that Google Now is always getting smarter, and developers should be able to hook into it, giving it a bit more life than it has right now. Would I buy it if I hadn’t won it? Maybe if I was an Android user already anyway, but I tend to buy too many gadgets as it is.

Android Wear Design Contest!

Last week I went to a GDG Ann Arbor Android meetup on Android Wear. The presentation was set up by Google and had a bunch of information on the upcoming Android Wear SDK. At the end, it was announced that there would be a few vouchers for Android Wear devices available. A design contest was announced and the deadline was set at Sunday.

Being naturally competitive and really into new technology, I made a design mockup for a home automation app that I thought would be useful to have on a wearable device (the most common form factor happens to be a watch). Here’s my submission that I originally posted to Google Plus:

Home Arrival

The app uses the user’s location as a way to provide feedback only when it’s necessary, and to stay out of the way when it isn’t. In this example, the app can detect when a user is arriving home and can ask if they want to switch the lights on.

Voice Controls

Instead of switching individual lights on and off, the user can create preset groups and activate them with voice commands. Users can set commonly used groups like “living room” and “kitchen.”

Sleepytime Reminder

Night owl users can set reminders to go to bed, and the app can turn off lights if the user decides to stay up late.

Motion Sensor

The app can also use sensors to detect when motion is occurring in the home and alert the user if no one is supposed to be at home. The user can decide whether the motion is a false alarm or if further action should be taken.

There is obviously much more that can be done with a home automation app, but these are just a few scenarios that would work well on an Android Wear device. I’m looking forward to experimenting on Android Wear when it becomes available!

I heard this week that my submission was a winning entry, so I’ll get an Android Wear device as soon as they go on sale some time this Summer. Thanks to Google and the GDG group here in Ann Arbor for setting up the event!

Ideas and Recipes For Home Automation With The Internet of Things

A few weeks ago my friend Emily asked me to speak at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire for their speaker series. I said “sure” and figured I’d talk about something like app development or design. I ended up picking a more “Maker Faire-y” topic since I thought it would work better for the crowd.

I’ve been really getting into home automation and buying a lot of “internet of things” products lately. I decided to do an introductory talk on home automation along with ideas on how people can get up and running quickly. I did the talk last weekend and had a great turnout. Some people asked for more information so I thought I’d write up a blog post that more or less summarized the talk. So here it is!

What exactly is the “Internet of Things?”

“The Internet of Things” is a term that gets thrown around a lot but doesn’t seem to have an official definition. I like to think of it as the concept that, as devices gain more intelligence through the ability to communicate wirelessly and through the internet, they become more useful. In other words, things will form their own internet and will generally be awesome. I was reminded the video game, Megaman Battle Network, where literally everything, including a microwave, has a port to jack into (and can thus catch a virus).

MMBN Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 10.06.29 AM-140 Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 10.06.50 AM-138It also means that your refrigerator might be able to tweet when you run out of milk, or stream music via Pandora.

Why am I hearing so much about the IoT right now?

In the past few decades, we’ve seen the cost of producing software go way down. Starting a software business simply costs less today than it did in the 90s. While hardware always brings more upfront costs, it seems like commodity hardware and Kickstarter are making it easier for smaller companies to get into the hardware game. On top of that, wireless technologies like Bluetooth LE and low power Wifi are enabling devices to talk to one another as well as to the internet. In the past few years we’ve seen large companies like Belkin get into this space as well as smaller startups like Nest (though they were aquired by Google pretty recently).

Some things you can accomplish

I’m just going to list a few use cases that I consider to fall in the category of “Internet of Things.” After I give an initial survey, I’ll go into ways that you can use these off-the-shelf solutions to automate your home.

Turn on/off light switches

Wemo

One of the simplest use cases for home automation is turning off/on light switches. You can do this with the Belkin Wemo (which is what I use) or with something like Ninja Blocks or SmartThings.

Detect Motion

Dropcam

You can use Dropcam to detect motion with video, or Wemo / SmartThings to detect motion events. This is mostly useful indoors if you don’t have pets since they can set false alarms.

Detect when doors/windows are open

SmartThings

You can use SmartThings to detect when a door or window has been opened. This could be useful for knowing if you left a window open while it’s raining, though it would be even more helpful if it could close the window for you automatically.

Detect water moisture / floods

Flood

Apparently it really sucks to have a flood in your basement. It might be worth the extra money to install a SmartThings moisture detector to tell you if there’s a water leak or flood.

Lock or unlock your front door

schlage-century-BE469NX-chrome-580

I ordered a Lockitron a really long time ago and am happy to announce that it should be shipping soon! I also found a product by Schlage that seems to do something similar.

Keep track of your driving

AutomaticAutomatic helps you keep track of your MPG and total distance traveled by connecting to the data port of your car.

Don’t kill your plants

flowerpower

This is a fairly stupid product called the Parrot Flower Power that can remind you to water your plant when the soil gets too dry. It’s probably more cost effective to just buy a new plant if yours dies from under/over watering but whatever.

Keep track of how many eggs you have left

eggminder

The Quirky Egg Minder keeps track of how many eggs you have in your fridge.

Recipes with IFTTT / Zapier

IFTTT (if this then that) is an online tool that makes it easy for non-programmers to connect different internet and mobile services to each other. Think of it as glue that can tie all of your IoT devices together via triggers and actions. A trigger might be that your Wemo has detected motion, and an action might be to open your garage door. IFTTT works well with many of the devices I’ve listed previously and offers an iOS and Android app that can hook into things like your location and photos.

Zapier is another tool that is similar to IFTTT but a bit more complicated and expensive to use. Some recipes are only compatible with Zapier (like Lockitron) so you might need to sign up for that service as well.

I’ll share a few recipes on IFTTT or Zapier that you can use to automate your home with your newfound gadgets.

Play the radio when a burglar enters your home

This recipe is possible without using IFTTT (and is probably more secure since it doesn’t require internet). I set up my motion detector to turn on a switch that’s connected to a portable radio. During certain hours when I’m not at home, if someone enters my house, the radio will start playing. The hope here is that the noise will be a deterrent to the invader. If I was feeling in a Home Alone mood, I could also connect the switch to a tape player that played scenes from a mobster movie.

 Make sure your doors are locked when you leave home

When your IFTTT mobile app detects that you are leaving your home, you can send an email that Zapier can use to connect to Lockitron to ensure that your doors are locked. This is a pretty convoluted recipe since it uses both services, but there isn’t really a better way to do this, unless you want to simply lock your door with the Lockitron app when you leave.

Automatically start the coffee maker by waking up

IFTTT Recipe: Turn my #coffee maker on the moment I wake up connects up-by-jawbone to wemo-switch

This is a really cool IFTTT recipe I found that was shared by another user. The Jawbone UP 24 has a feature that can wake you up at the best time in your sleep cycle in the morning. The UP can send a message the moment you wake up to IFTTT that can turn on a switch that’s connected to your coffee maker. Voila, your coffee is ready as soon as you get out of bed.

Log all of your driving trips in Google Docs

IFTTT Recipe: Keep track of all my driving trips connects automatic to google-drive

I use this recipe to keep track of total miles driven and my fuel efficiency. It’s not particularly useful for anything, but if I was a taxi driver (or Lyft or Uber X) it might be pretty useful for tax purposes.

DIY Home Automation

One thing I haven’t really touched on is creating DIY projects to automate your home. I’m a big fan of home grown projects like this DIY Lockitron using Arduino. I recently bought a Raspberry Pi to act as an iBeacon in my home. I’m trying to create an app that will be location aware to the room in my house that I’m in (or at least that my iPhone is in). I’ve heard that the best way to predict the future is to invent it, so if there’s anything in this space that you haven’t seen available, the best solution is to do it yourself!

If you have any interesting projects or recipes you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them. I am about to move into a new house, so the automation potential is about to grow a lot more for me (versus living in an apartment). Good luck and try not to get any viruses in your microwaves!

Google Glass Megapost (+ win an invite!)

Here’s a giant post of stuff I’ve been doing with Google Glass! I made a survey, wrote an app and am running a contest, so that’s all bundled into this blog post.

Survey

I got a Google Glass invite after signing up at Google’s official waitlist. After deciding I would go ahead and get one, I was paralyzed by the choice of which color to order. I made a survey that asked participants to rank the five colors in order of awesomeness. The results surprised me. I was leaning towards white (cotton) and sky blue, but everyone seemed to really like tangerine (orange).

glass survey
Tangerine wins by a landslide!

I was going to go against the popular vote and get the white one, but both the white and black ones were out of stock at the time, so I went for the fan favorite. I ended up getting the Tangerine device the day after I ordered it (next day shipping FTW).

 GlassFart

My intention with getting the Google Glass is to try it out and see if I can make anything really cool with the additional sensors and the fact that the device is worn on a person’s head. I was really struggling with what to start working on, and then it hit me: a fart app. I was actually working on a Dragonball Z Scouter app, but that was going to be too complicated. I found that you can insert your own “Okay Glass” prompts to start an app, so I figured I’d make a hello world fart app.

The history of fart apps on advanced mobile operating systems is a long one, so I won’t go over all that. Suffice it to say I am proud to have written the first (as far as I know) native fart app for Google Glass. Here’s a video of me demonstrating it:

Having played around with the GDK a bit, and the device a bit more, I am still not sure if I will keep it. The $1500 price tag is one factor. The public acceptance of the device is another. My opinions on my previous Glass post still hold. If anything, the opportunity is definitely worth the $1500 “loan” to Google plus return shipping.

Contest

Before I even got my first Google Glass invite, I went to a GDG Android meeting in Ann Arbor. The organizer had some spare Glass invites, so I asked for one. I hadn’t heard back about the invite, but after ordering my Glass from my original invites, I got another one from the GDG group’s pool. I figured I’d give it away, and to drum up interest in the fart app, I’m going to make a tweet and ask users to retweet it for a chance to win.

Here’s some rules:

  • Enter the contest by retweeting this tweet.
  • You can only enter once per Twitter account.
  • Don’t make multiple Twitter accounts to enter or you’ll be disqualified.
  • The contest is for the invite code. You still have to buy the Glass yourself.
  • The contest will end on Sunday, Dec 8th at 11:59PM ET.
  • The contest winner will be chosen by random and will get a DM with the code (you should also follow me to make sure I can DM you).
  • The invite code expires some time on Dec 10th, so you’ll have a couple of days to order it.
  • I’m not liable for anything. Like if you’re mad about getting an invite and want to sue me or something.
  • If no one enters I’ll probably just tweet out the code and the first person to use it gets it!

Here are Google’s rule for eligibility:

  • be U.S. residents
  • be 18 years or older
  • purchase Glass
  • provide a U.S. shipping address OR pick up their Glass at one of our locations in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles

Prediction for 2011: Death of the Phone

It’s January, which means it’s time for really misinformed predictions that will just look silly in hindsight! I’ve been reluctant in the past to use Google Voice because of integration issues, but I think 2011 is the year that I’ll start relying on it more, especially if I end up changing my real phone number (I’ll just give out my Google Voice # and forward calls).

I recently bought an Android phone and was thinking of what I could use it for. With Google Voice and Skype, I could make “calls” and send text messages wherever I have an internet connection. If Google eventually enables making voice calls over wifi (like in Google Chat, and I predict they will some time this year), I think the big phone companies will start hurting, because people will want data-only plans so that they can call with Google.

This “cable cutting” has already happened with landlines (my Mom has a dedicated phone device that does VoIP) and cable tv. So it makes sense that wireless phone providers will soon feel the effects as well. I’d really love to set up the HTC Hero that I ordered as a dedicated “landline” phone that I use with my internet connection at home.

Of course, most people will still probably continue to use the standard bundled minutes + texts (+ data) phone plans, but I feel early adopters are just itching to pay one monthly data bill for all of their infrastructure needs. It’ll only be a matter of time before the mainstream begins to head in that direction. I think that the phone as we know it (how ridiculous is it to pay a phone plan based on the number of minutes in the plan?) will begin to die in 2011, with more emphasis on bandwidth as the infrastructure requirement.