Earlier this week I listed 5 signs of a great user experience in a tech product. One sign is that it changes you. I referred to revolutionary products like the iPhone and Twitter, that modified our online behaviors or habits. This trend is becoming more noticeable with the so called Internet of Things, where everyday objects are connected to the Internet. If a device or object has traditionally been a static thing, then it’s guaranteed to morph into something different once it becomes interactive.
Over the coming decade, we’re going to see a lot of new Internet-connected household devices that will literally change the way you live. A great example is a new device from a very well-funded startup called Nest Labs. At the end of 2011, the company released a Web-enabled thermostat called the Nest. Yes, a thermostat. It was designed by the man who invented the iPod for Apple, Tony Fadell.
The Nest thermostat is a round, shiny, stainless steel-encased object that is attached to a wall in your home. It features a scroll-wheel navigation, inspired by the original iPod. There is a digital screen in the middle, which changes color according to the temperature (orange for heat and blue for cool). You can have more than one Nest in your home and they’ll act as a network.
Photo by Seth Frankel, via Nest.com
The idea behind Nest was directly inspired by the revolution in smartphones, which transformed the mobile phone into a full-fledged mobile computer. Nest labs co-founder Matt Rogers explained in a blog post how he and Fadell aim to do the same for the thermostat:
“The gap between the consumer experience in mobile products and the ones in our homes is enormous. I’ve been a programmer my entire life and could not program a thermostat for the life of me. I looked at it and thought, this beige plastic box cannot be the best our generation can come up with. Surely, there must be a better way.”
So other than the elegant design of Nest (another of the 5 signs of a great user experience), what makes the product different from the traditional thermostat? The main difference is that Nest is powered by 6 sensors and proprietary algorithms, which enables it to “learn” your living habits and adjust the temperature automatically throughout the day and night. The company claims that Nest will have created a personalized temperature schedule for you after just one week of use. Nest has WiFi, which enables it to monitor weather patterns. You can also control it via an iPhone app or on the Web.
Nest is a lot more expensive than the traditional $5 thermostat you’d buy from your local pharmacy. It costs $249, plus an installation fee of $119 if you want to get it professionally installed (which All Things D’s Katherine Boehret learned is a good move). The idea is that Nest will save you money on your energy bills. Note that Nest is currently sold out, but you can add your name to an email list to be notified of availability.
The thermostat is the first home device out of Nest Labs, but it intends to expand to other devices. In a CES video interview with Techcrunch, Nest Labs co-founder Matt Rogers noted that “there are lot of things in the home that have not been changed in 20-30 years.” The smoke alarm is one example of a device ripe for Internet connection, given that it operates via sensors.
It remains to be seen whether Nest can capture a large chunk of the thermostat market, especially given its high price relative to traditional thermostats. But there’s no doubt that this is where household devices like the thermostat are heading.
Using data and the Web to learn your living patterns and change your life for the better. Get used to that, because it’s what the next generation of home appliances will do.
Source: AMD’s New Radeon HD 7950 Tested
Dan Rowinski takes a look at how Lanyrd has created a great mobile web app using HTML5. This and more in today’s Daily Wrap.
Sometimes it’s difficult to catch every story that hits tech media in a day, so we wrap up some of the most talked about stories. We give you a daily recap of what you missed in the ReadWriteWeb Community, including a link to some of the most popular discussions in our offsite communities on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ as well.
Lanyrd’s new mobile web app, released today, is a great example of how the HTML5 spec can be innovated upon. Taking advantage of offline caching, if the phone and browser support it, the app allows for a mobile conference experience that isn’t at the whim of the very fallible Wi-Fi offerings at so many events. Dan says that there is great potential for an app like this, especially in regards to how they might package the app.
“It can offer this functionality to conferences as a backbone service and help organizers put together dynamic cross-platform apps with offline caching. Or it could lend its mobile Web app to conferences as a partner app. This is not just cool technology being put to use. With a little creativity, Lanyrd could build a business model around its HTML5 offering.”
More Must Read Stories:
We’re not even two weeks into the aftermath of the Megaupload shutdown, but the saga seems to unfold with a new angle or detail everyday. From Kim Dotcom’s colorful personal life to questions about the fate of non-infringing data uploaded by former Megaupload users, this story is far from over. (more)
Admit it. You’re an amateur food porn photographer. But don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone.
Last week, my esteemed Internet ReadWriteWeb-y colleagues Jon Mitchell and Curt Hopkins cooked up this insanely hilarious story about the grossness of amateur food porn. Amazingly, every single photograph in his story was shot by an amateur. And every single time, the food looked totally disgusting. (more)
Pinterest, the increasingly popular pinboarding social network, is able to present a visually arresting interface in large part by using copyrighted images pinned by users.
“It’s a huge concern for creative bloggers,” said Amy Anderson, who blogs on the arts and crafts site Crafter Minds. “I don’t think Pinterest does anything to help protect copyright besides removing content when people ask.” (more)
Contrary to an Associated Press report implying otherwise, teens are not shutting down their Facebook accounts in favor of Twitter.
Emil Protalinski has a much more thorough analysis of what is happening, which includes the Pew Research report AP used, as well as a July 2011 Pew report that focused solely on teens and social media use. His conclusion? Teens are definitely using Twitter more, but they are not giving up their Facebook accounts to do so. (more)
“We can gamble in Vegas. We can donate on Kiva or Kickstarter. But it’s illegal to purchase $100 of stock in a job-creating business? That makes no sense.”
That is the tagline to a new project called WeFunder from three TechStars Boston alum who are trying to garner support for the “Democratizing Access to Capital Act” (S.1791) that would allow entrepreneurs to crowdfund startups. (more)
It’s being called the “Mexican SOPA,” especially by press sources wanting to place highly with Google News. Last week, Mexican Senator Federico Döring announced an anti-piracy bill, which that country’s justice ministry describes as establishing a notification service for suspected content pirates, one which would enable the authorities to obtain those suspects’ identities. (more)
In my recent piece Reengineering Capitalism I highlighted a phenomenon that the global entrepreneurship ecosystem is paying very little attention to: Over 99% of entrepreneurs who seek funding get rejected. Yet, the entire world is focused on the 1% that is “fundable.”
The media, when pitched a startup story, is interested in who funded the venture. They seldom ask how much revenue the company has or if it is profitable. (more)
Amazon is notorious for sharing very little information about how its products and business units perform. Its new Kindle Fire tablet is no different.
Amazon just reported its fourth quarter financial results, and, shocking no one, it doesn’t disclose how many Kindle Fire tablets it sold. Or even how many total Kindles it sold. (more)
Google’s Blogger has found a way to handle local government takedown requests similar to the way Twitter now does. It will now start redirecting readers to country-specific top-level domains (TLD) instead of the usual blogspot.com domain. It does so based on the location of the user’s IP address, just as many other Google services do. This gives Google the “flexibility” to comply with removal requests according to local laws. (more)
Macworld | iWorld was last week, and as Apple-watchers expected, the emphasis was on the i-part. The iPhone and iPad are becoming blockbusters, so this must have been an exciting year to be at that show. I wasn’t cool enough to be there, but I’m pretty sure I read the blogs of every single person who was. And there’s one iPhone app they’re all talking about this week: Launch Center.
To a hardcore iPhone user, it seems like it should be relatively easy to explain what Launch Center does. But as the many meditative blog posts show, there’s more here than meets the eye. Launch Center’s creators at App Cubby are still figuring out for themselves what they’re onto here. They’ve broken into something fundamental about iOS that it doesn’t have yet, and they’ve made a $0.99 app we can all use to figure out together exactly what that is.
Launching An Experiment
Launch Center is one app for launching tasks across many apps. It can be a simple speed-dial-Mom or text-my-girlfriend launcher, or it can hook deeply into an app and, for example, go straight to Instagram’s camera screen. You can also link to any Web URL, which it will open in Safari. It also comes loaded with some neat shortcuts like a ‘Flashlight’ button to turn on the phone’s LED. An update last week added scheduled tasks, so you can now associate an in-app action with a timed reminder. This all sounds so useful, but it’s surprisingly hard to figure out how to work it in.
@JonMwords hmm. I have “call girlfriend” and backup website.
— Federico Viticci (@viticci) January 29, 2012
I talked to App Cubby founder David Barnard today, and it sounds like he and developer Justin Youens are still figuring it out, too. Barnard says they only put Launch Center in their iPhone docks themselves in the last week or two. They’re experimenting now with different kinds of interfaces, beyond a simple list of actions, as well as different kinds of tasks to launch.
They’re also working with developers of other apps to create good URL schemes for inclusion in Launch Center. iOS apps have URLs for different screens or actions, just like websites. For example, to launch Instagram straight to the camera screen, the URL is
instagram://camera. Launch Center users can input URLs themselves, and developers often make these publicly available. But it also comes loaded with some easy and common ones for users who don’t want to get their hands too dirty.
But is this something users want? Is the convenience of going straight to a common action, rather than swiping around for the app you need, tapping it and then acting, important enough for most users? Barnard and I discussed that at length, and I think we concluded that there’s no way to know without trying. So they went ahead and launched Launch Center at the unbelievably good price of $0.99, and now we can all try it. Barnard says that they’re getting about 1,000 downloads a day, and they’re especially big in Japan.
A Better Mental Model
Federico Viticci at MacStories wrote a thoughtful post last week about the shortcomings of Apple’s iOS home screen. The problem is that its “badges on a table” metaphor is not quite flexible enough sometimes. It forces users to think about launching an app and then finding a task, even though one or two taps might seem like enough to cut straight to the action. Apple has had to hack its own interface with features like Notification Center to speed things up.
Launch Center started as a way to extend Notification Center, but the first version was rejected by Apple. The Launch Center of today is like a shelf containing its own list of actions chosen by the user. Barnard says they’re considering making an “experimental” version for pro users, letting people choose from a variety of different launcher styles to see what works for them.
Whether or not we’re conscious of them, I believe these kinds of time-savers and mental models are important to everyone with a smartphone. RWW fans almost certainly don’t know this, but I co-host a weekly podcast with my friend Jamie from App Advice about what to do with all these devices. We discussed Launch Center when we first heard of it and again in great detail two days ago, because we’re both frantically searching for ways to work this app into our lives. For now, I think we’ve both decided to just stick it on our docks first and find a way to use it over time.
In my Launch Center right now, I’ve got the Instagram camera launcher, ‘compose tweet’ in Tweetbot (my Twitter client of choice), and a few Web bookmarks I use all the time, like my Kippt inbox. It’s still very much an experiment, but that’s the fun of Launch Center. If you’re looking for ways to get a little more oomph out of your iPhone, check out Launch Center and share what you come up with.
Users made a big stink about the Facebook news ticker, that annoying, constantly updating feed in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. Facebook responded. Now some users have the option to hide the ticker. This is good news for people who prefer to use the news feed and would like to avoid noisier information about which links their friends “like,” what friends are listening to on Spotify and who is now friends with whom. Teenagers spoke up about the news ticker, calling it the “stalker feed” and insisting that it provided too much information.
The news ticker debuted before Facebook launched Timeline. Perhaps that was part of the user pushback on it – and because many of the same stories appeared in both the news feed and the news ticker.
Seeing interesting music selections from friends pop up on the news tick make it easier to discover new music. That is a very different experience than seeing annoying updates about which links friends have “liked” or commented on. Publishing activity from open graph apps – such as “watch,” “run,” shop,” “cook” – to the news ticker makes a lot more sense than seeing the mundane moves of your friends. In the meantime, if you’re one of the lucky users, you can now hide your ticker.