Jul 15

Amazon’s Echo: The Interface for the Digital Home?


I’ve been using my Amazon Echo for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

  • It was the first device I made sure was working after my move on Sunday. That was a bit of a surprise to me since I wanted it working more than my Apple TV.
  • I’m listening to more music. I used to stream music through my Apple TV, but that required Spotify & turning on my TV.  Now all I have to do is ask for music.  This feels magical.
  • NPR –  I love NPR’s Marketplace. I used to listen to it on my drive home from work when I lived in San Francisco.  For some reason I don’t like it as a podcast during my subway commute though.  Now I play it as I get ready for bed.
  • I don’t use the App and hence the shopping list hasn’t worked for me.
  • My fiancee delights in asking Alexa random questions…

“ What is the capital of Puru?”

and trying to trick ‘Her’.

“Alexa, are you smart?”

  • She recently discovered this list of questions on Reddit, some are really funny.
  • I find myself asking about the weather a lot as well.

I think Alexa could become the operating system or interface to a connected home.  I already want her to be able to turn on my TV, to play shows and dim my smart bulbs. It may be the reason I go get Phillips Hue bulbs.

I hope Amazon opens the API and keeps working with IFTTT to add more functionality. I know they just launched a fund to back companies that are creating applications around their platform and I think this could be a killer app for them. Speaking to your smart home just feels like a magical interface and Amazon really got this one right on the first try. It is like living in the future.

Mar 15

My Umbrella Just Crashed: Why Consumer IoT is Going to Suck

Marc Andreessen was right that “software is eating the world” but he forgot to mention that most software sucks. So what happens when you have a crappy app tied to an object that used to “just work”? You get an umbrella that keeps sending you push notifications about how you’ve “found” it.

kisha-smart-umbrella-16539Like everyone on the planet, I lose umbrellas. So I recently bought a Kisha smart umbrella; it uses bluetooth to pair to my phone and lets me know when I left it behind. This sounds like an awesome idea, unfortunately the app is a bit buggy. While I gave it access to my location, it still doesn’t know what city I’m in, so it can’t tell me the weather. Also, the pairing seems a bit flakey, so every once in while it believes I’ve left it behind even while I’m in the same room.

While I expect that Kisha will iron out these bugs, this brings to the forefront the problem with consumer IoT (Internet of Things) devices. It is going to be quite some time before an IoT operating system and notification system get built that find the right balance of features and noise. I really don’t want to have a personal relationship with my umbrella. Four push notifications in a single day seems a bit much, and this is only one device. How will we deal when we are carrying 10-20 connected devices that each want to alert us every time they might be useful.

Perhaps the answers is an IoT ecosystem that lets us control how our devices interact; a digital device concierge if you like. The problems is that thus far we have seen very few systems that really do a good job mediating information for us. Just look at the state of email software to get an idea of how tough a problem this really is.

I fear that things are going to get very bad before they get better. I see a world in which we complain about the frequency at which we must interact with our belongings: “Man, my garbage can just won’t stop asking me to take out the trash and my toaster is in a fight with my scale over my carb levels.”

If you’re working on an IoT dashboard let me know, I want to get ahead of this thing before IoT spam becomes a problem in my life.

Aug 13

Replaced by a Box: Which Stores Will be Disrupted by Vending Machines

KeyMe Kiosk

I’ve been thinking about vending machines a good bit after seeing the KeyMe demo given at NYTM. You simply scan your key using an app, and then their system stores it for free. If you ever need a copy, you just go to one of the KeyMe locations and it is made by the machine. This works 24/7 and requires no poor sap to do the grinding. Clearly this, or something like it, will replace key making at hardware stores.

Certainly key duplication isn’t the first business to get upended by vending machines; Redbox put a huge dent in Blockbuster after they started stocking DVD’s instead of Happy Meals. Big box stores like Best Buy have even begun to put vending machines in airports and malls as a way to reach more customers.

There have been some predictions that haven’t panned out though: back in the late 90’s people envisioned that books would be printed on demand, but the Kindle leap frogged that.

So what other types of vending machines will we see, and what will 3D printing allow?  I’m going to limit this list to physical goods, so no media and no services. Below are my guesses with my reason on why they would work.

  1. Glasses:  A vending machine might 3D print the frames. This is a good candidate since there are very few sizing issues and high margins. You can even imagine a world where you go into a small booth, get your eyes checked, and walk out with glasses without ever talking to an optometrist.

  2. Pharmaceuticals:  Again, high margins and tiny form factor. Why bother going to a pharmacist?

  3. Cosmetics: This has already been done in some places. Their is no sizing issue and the margins are good.
  4. Hipster T-Shirts:  Okay, just T-Shirts.  Limited number of standard sizes and you can print the shirt in a matter of minutes.

  5. Phone cases:  Easy to 3d print and, judging by the stores in Chinatown, there is plenty of demand.

  6. Shoes:  There has been a lot of work on 3d printed shoes.  Nike and New Balance have already started this on a bespoke basis.

  7. High end coffee or juice:  One would need to get past the stigma of hospital waiting room coffee machines, but I’m sure it is possible.  People often get drinks to go so the convenience would be high.

So those are the kiosk ideas I have, but if you have an innovative kiosk idea let me know in the comments.


May 10

Track My Life: Fitbit (revisited)

So I got my FitBit about six months ago and promised I'd come back here and give my impressions after real usage. The verdict, I barely carry it anymore. :( 


For the first four or five months I really did keep up with it, then I fell out of the habit during a trip and I just haven't gotten back into it. I still use the weight tracker at least 3 days a week, but I only remembered to recharge my FitBit last week after it being dead for a month.

The issue for me is that their is very little positive reinforcement. I don't have friends to share data with on the site. And once you know what your averages are, well they don't change much. And since I'm not trying to use it to get into better shape, the values really don't mean much to me. I like tracking my weight, but I don't need a pedometer for that.

Might be really cool if it was integrated into a life dashboard or some such, but as it stands I'm sad to say I don't find it nearly as compelling as I'd hoped. Which is too bad, because I was pretty pysched about it.

Oct 09

Track My Life: FitBit

I received my FitBit device last night, and I was quite excited. Basically it is a pedometer that tracks your calorie burn as well as your sleep patterns. It isn't meant to be as in depth and accurate as BodyBugg, but it does seem pretty neat.

The idea is that it is like Google Analytics for your life. (Too geeky for you, fair enough. It is simple tracker to give you some good stats on what you're up to.) Anyway, I ordered mine last summer and I've been patiently waiting for it since it slipped it's deadlines a couple of times. It finally arrived last night, and I must admit I'm conflicted.

See, I like the device and it is clear they are trying to be Apple like in design. But they haven't quite gotten there. For instance the packaging looks like Apples, until you open it. Instead of that elegant feel of clever folding, you get an elegant look but with packaging that is really tricky to put back together. 

The real bummer is that it broke today. The plastic cover came unglued. The team immediately answered my email and they are sending me a new one. (I'll send this one back once I receive it.) And they are paying for shipping, but it certainly does make it feel more like a beta product than a full release. 

The data about my sleep was interesting, 97% efficiency. Take that Evil Monkey in my closet.


I'll post a more in depth review once I've gotten a week or two of usage under my belt and the data that goes with it.