Google’s smart home sell looks cluttered and incoherent

Google’s smart home sell looks cluttered and incoherent
If any aliens or technology ingenues were trying to understand what on earth a ‘smart home’ is yesterday, via Google’s latest own-brand hardware launch event, they’d have come away with a pretty confused and incoherent picture.
The company’s presenters attempted to sketch a vision of gadget-enabled domestic bliss but the effect was rather closer to described clutter-bordering-on-chaos, with existing connected devices being blamed (by Google) for causing homeowners’ device usability and control headaches — which thus necessitated another new type of ‘hub’ device which was now being unveiled, slated and priced to fix problems of the smart home’s own making.
Meet the ‘Made by Google’ Home Hub.
Buy into the smart home, the smart consumer might think, and you’re going to be stuck shelling out again and again — just to keep on top of managing an ever-expanding gaggle of high maintenance devices.
Which does sound quite a lot like throwing good money after bad. Unless you’re a true believer in the concept of gadget-enabled push-button convenience — and the perpetually dangled claim that smart home nirvana really is just around the corner. One additional device at a time. Er, and thanks to AI!
Yesterday, at Google’s event, there didn’t seem to be any danger of nirvana though.
Not unless paying $150 for a small screen lodged inside a speaker is your idea of heaven. (i.e. after you’ve shelled out for all the other connected devices that will form the spokes chained to this control screen.)
A small tablet that, let us be clear, is defined by its limitations: No standard web browser, no camera… No, it’s not supposed to be an entertainment device in its own right.
It’s literally just supposed to sit there and be a visual control panel — with the usual also-accessible-on-any-connected-device type of content like traffic, weather and recipes. So $150 for a remote control doesn’t sound quite so cheap now does it?
The hub doubling as a digital photo frame when not in active use — which Google made much of — isn’t some kind of ‘magic pixie’ sales dust either. Call it screensaver 2.0.
A fridge also does much the same with a few magnets and bits of paper. Just add your own imagination.
During the presentation, Google made a point of stressing that the ‘evolving’ smart home it was showing wasn’t just about iterating on the hardware front — claiming its Google’s AI software is hard at work in the background, hand-in-glove with all these devices, to really ‘drive the vision forward’.
But if the best example it can find to talk up is AI auto-picking which photos to display on a digital photo frame — at the same time as asking consumers to shell out $150 for a discrete control hub to manually manage all this IoT — that seems, well, underwhelming to say the least. If not downright contradictory.
Google also made a point of referencing concerns it said it’s heard from a large majority of users that they’re feeling overwhelmed by too much technology, saying: “We want to make sure you’re in control of your digital well-being.”
Yet it said this at an event where it literally unboxed yet another clutch of connected, demanding, function-duplicating devices — that are also still, let’s be clear, just as hungry for your data — including the aforementioned tablet-faced speaker (which Google somehow tried to claim would help people “disconnect” from all their smart home tech — so, basically, ‘buy this device so you can use devices less’… ); a ChromeOS tablet that transforms into a laptop via a snap-on keyboard; and 2x versions of its new high end smartphone, the Pixel 3.
There was even a wireless charging Pixel Stand that props the phone up in a hub-style control position. (Oh and Google didn’t even have time to mention it during the cluttered presentation but there’s this Disney co-branded Mickey Mouse-eared speaker for kids, presumably).
What’s the average consumer supposed to make of all this incestuously overlapping, wallet-badgering hardware?!
Smartphones at least have clarity of purpose — by being efficiently multi-purposed.
Increasingly powerful all-in-ones that let you do more with less and don’t even require you to buy a new one every year vs the smart home’s increasingly high maintenance and expensive (in money and attention terms) sprawl, duplication and clutter. And that’s without even considering the security risks and privacy nightmare.
The two technology concepts really couldn’t be further apart.
If you value both your time and your money the smartphone is the one — the only one — to buy into.
Whereas the smart home clearly needs A LOT of finessing — if it’s to ever live up to the hyped claims of ‘seamless convenience’.
Or, well, a total rebranding.
The ‘creatively chaotic & experimental gadget lovers’ home would be a more honest and realistic sell for now — and the foreseeable future.
Instead Google made a pitch for what it dubbed the “thoughtful home”. Even as it pushed a button to pull up a motorised pedestal on which stood clustered another bunch of charge-requiring electronics that no one really needs — in the hopes that consumers will nonetheless spend their time and money assimilating redundant devices into busy domestic routines. Or else find storage space in already overflowing drawers.
The various iterations of ‘smart’ in-home devices in the market illustrate exactly how experimental the entire  concept remains.
Just this week, Facebook waded in with a swivelling tablet stuck on a smart speaker topped with a camera which, frankly speaking, looks like something you’d find in a prison warden’s office.
Google, meanwhile, has housed speakers in all sorts of physical forms, quite a few of which resemble restroom scent dispensers — what could it be trying to distract people from noticing?
And Amazon now has so many Echo devices it’s almost impossible to keep up. It’s as if the ecommerce giant is just dropping stones down a well to see if it can make a splash.
During the smart home bits of Google’s own-brand hardware pitch, the company’s parade of presenters often sounded like they were going through robotic motions, failing to muster anything more than baseline enthusiasm.
And failing to dispel a strengthening sense that the smart home is almost pure marketing, and that sticking update-requiring, wired in and/or wireless devices with variously overlapping purposes all over the domestic place is the very last way to help technology-saturated consumers achieve anything close to ‘disconnected well-being’.
Incremental convenience might be possible, perhaps — depending on which and how few smart home devices you buy; for what specific purpose/s; and then likely only sporadically, until the next problematic update topples the careful interplay of kit and utility. But the idea that the smart home equals thoughtful domestic bliss for families seems farcical.
All this updatable hardware inevitably injects new responsibilities and complexities into home life, with the conjoined power to shift family dynamics and relationships — based on things like who has access to and control over devices (and any content generated); whose jobs it is to fix things and any problems caused when stuff inevitably goes wrong (e.g. a device breakdown OR an AI-generated snafu like the ‘wrong’ photo being auto-displayed in a communal area); and who will step up to own and resolve any disputes that arise as a result of all the Internet connected bits being increasingly intertwined in people’s lives, willingly or otherwise.
Hey Google, is there an AI to manage all that yet?

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Taking a spin with Garmin’s vivosmart 4 activity tracker

Taking a spin with Garmin’s vivosmart 4 activity tracker
Garmin continues to go head-to-head with Fitbit with the launch of its latest offering — the vivosmart 4 activity tracker. This sleek new wristband not only tracks steps, activities and gives you the weather but also comes with a blood oxygen sensor and will tell you how much energy you have saved up for your next full throttle burn session.
That new body battery energy calculator estimates the body’s energy reserves to help you figure out when you feel more rundown and why. You simply swipe through the menu on the display to get to your energy levels or a number of other data offerings like steps, heart rate, stress levels and stairs climbed. The blood oxygen sensor will tell you how well oxygen is being pumped from your heart to the farthest regions of your body and can help you figure out if you are getting a good sleep in.
I took the new vivosmart 4 for a spin this week and was not disappointed in the upgrades. First off, this is a very nice looking piece of jewelry. Its slim, fashionable design fits neatly on the wrist and comes in berry with gold bezel, powder grey with rose gold bezel, azure blue with silver bezel, and black with slate bezel. It also feels good to wear. The material is smooth, soft and lightweight, slipping on easily.

The new model comes equipped with a newly redesigned wrist-based heart rate sensor, VO2 max and tracker for various activities like running, strength training and yoga.
One other interesting feature includes stress level measurement tool that will remind you to relax and take a breath throughout your busy work day.
Like its predecessor, the vivosmart 3, the 4 comes with the ability to check the weather, play music, and receive text message updates. It is safe to use under water so it can be worn in the shower or if you want to go for a swim.
The battery life is also strong enough to stay charged for up to a week at a time. Compare that to the Fitbit HR and Charge 2, which last up to five days.
The body energy feature is also a nice touch. The tracker figures out your energy levels using a combination of data including heart rate, sleep, stress levels and activity from the previous few days so it will likely take a while to figure out how much output you’ve got before a workout.

Overall, I’d say it’s a nice watch to hang on your bod. However, there are some drawbacks. The display is hard to work with. I found I had to tap several times, not just twice, as the instructions indicate. It’s also not very intuitive to maneuver and doesn’t pick up immediately that you are trying to swipe through the menu at times. You’ll need to take some time playing around with it to get the hang of it.
This is an activity tracker I would like to recommend for the fitness and life balance oriented individual, except for the difficulty in navigating the screen. That is one area that could be vastly improved by the manufacturer and would put it at the top of my list for trackers instead of somewhere in the middle.
For those interested, the vivosmart 4 will retail for about $130 and can be found online or at a sports gear shop near you.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

The UDOO BOLT is a powerful computer on a tiny board

The UDOO BOLT is a powerful computer on a tiny board
When we last met UDOO, the team was building a powerful Raspberry Pi-based DIY board with a bunch of impressive features, including more ports and a better processor. Now the team behind the first units has released the UDOO BOLT, a DIY board that can run “AAA games” thanks to a built-in AMD Ryzen Embedded V1202B 3.2 GHz SoC processor and a Radeon Vega 3 graphics card. The system is also Arduino compatible so you can connect it to your robotics and other electronics projects.
The BOLT, when outfitted with a chunk of RAM, is, according to the creators, “almost twice as powerful as a MacBook Pro 13-inch equipped with an Intel i5, and three times more powerful than a Mac Mini.” Because it is nearly a fully fledged computer, you can stick it into a case and treat it like a mini-workstation with a USB keyboard and mouse and HDMI out to a monitor. The BOLT can drive four monitors at once, two via 4K HDMI and two via USB-C. It runs Linux or Windows.
The team plans to ship in December 2018. The starter kit costs $298 on Kickstarter and includes a power supply and 4GB of RAM. The 8GB unit with SATA and Wireless costs $409.
Is a DIY board with a massive processor and graphics card a bit of overkill? Absolutely. However, because the system is designed for experimentation and on-the-fly design, you can easily repurpose a board like this for a kiosk, store display or workstation. Because it is so portable, you could slap a few of these on school desks and give the kids powerful computers that run nearly everything you can throw at them. Plus, it’s pretty cool to be able to play VR games on a machine the size of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
UDOO has been adding onto the traditional Raspberry Pi/Arduino stack for so long that they’ve become experts at making basic boards much more powerful. Given their earlier models could run drones and control multi-legged robots all while running Android, this new product should be a real treat.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

LifeDoor crowdfunds the production version of its fire-thwarting door-closer

LifeDoor crowdfunds the production version of its fire-thwarting door-closer
At CES in January I was pleasantly surprised by the LifeDoor, a smart home gadget that’s actually worth having. These little boxes automatically close doors when smoke detectors go off, inhibiting the spread of fire and smoke. The company is heading to KickStarter to fund the production version of the device, which has several improvements over the prototype I saw.
The simplicity and practicality of the device made it a standout at a show flooded with useless junk; the small team essentially made a gadget that automatically does what firefighters all insist you do: close the door in case of fire. That can be hard to remember to do or enforce, but the LifeDoor makes it so you don’t have to do either.
Installation, on any standard door hinge, shouldn’t take longer than a minute or two. It doesn’t detect smoke or heat, but rather lets your smoke detectors and other gadgets do that — instead, it listens for the beep when smoke is detected, and quickly (but gently) shuts the door against the threat. It’ll then light up and sound its own alarm in case you didn’t hear the first or the door muted the noise.
The version I saw was fully working, but was 3D-printed and the team was still making improvements. The production device is only about two-thirds the size of the prototype, which wasn’t too big to begin with. The new enclosure should help with detecting alarm signals as well. The microphone subsystem also will now sit idle unless it hears something, saving power and allowing the LifeDoor to go for up to two years on one battery.
Right now they’re looking to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter — they’re going for a little less than $100 each as perks. My guess is all the backers so far are firefighters. I can say honestly that if I had an actual house I would buy a couple of these things in a second. I’ll leave myself open to accusations of shilling here because unlike most smart home knick-knacks, this one is more than useful — it could save lives.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch