Category Archives: Gadgets

Apple Watch Sport Band Flip Trick

So here’s a tiny hack for the Apple Watch that I found really useful. In all of the promo shots, Apple shows the Sport Band attached to the Watch with the Pin side at the top of the Watch, and the holed-side attached at the bottom.

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I was having a terrible time actually putting the Watch on, because one-handed, I found that holding the Pin down and trying to pull the strap upwards to it was very awkward.

The solution? Flip the bands.

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The band halves are completely reversible, and having the Pin on the lower part means that I can hold it in place with my thumb and pull the other band down towards it. Much easier for me, and you can’t tell at all once the Watch is on your wrist.

If you’ve got a Sport Band on your Apple Watch, give it a try and see if you think it’s easier.

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10 Days with the Apple Watch

I was one of the lucky few that received their Apple Watch order on April 24th, the day the  Watch was released to the public. Here’s the story of my first 10 days to try to give you some idea about the technology (and aesthetics) behind the newest Apple product.

Order

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First up, what I ordered. My order was time stamped at 12:02am Pacific Time on April 10, the day that the Watch went on sale to the public, so I literally ordered mine within the first 120 seconds of availability. From the time the Watch was announced, I had been coveting the Stainless Steel with Milanese loop band. It was, to my eye, a wonderful throwback mid-century modern look that I love. When it came time to order, I decided that since it’s likely I’m wearing this thing every single day for the next 2+ years, I should just get the one I really liked rather than “settling” for the less expensive Sport version in aluminum.

That decision-making process illustrates one of the huge differences in this particular product. Every other Apple product that I’ve purchased (and I’ve purchased plenty at this point, a decade plus into my obsession with the company and its products) was purchased on the strength of the abilities of the technology. Apple isn’t a stranger to using design as a differentiator among their products…the classic iMac is the textbook example of style selling a technology. But over the last few years they have primarily used their design sense and engineering skills to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers, and not within a line of their own products.

The stainless steel Apple Watch functions literally identically to the less expensive aluminum Apple Watch Sport (and, of course, also identically to the much, much more expensive Apple Watch Edition). So the fact that they convinced me to pay for a purely aesthetic choice shows just how different this particular market is from Apple’s normal business. But they did convince me, and thus at just after midnight on April 10th, I placed my order.

Arrival

IMG_8569On April 24th, my Watch arrived. The package that was delivered was surprisingly heavy, almost shockingly so, and that is entirely due to the incredible packaging for the Watch. It is not hyperbole to say that I believe that Apple spent more time in R&D on the box for the Watch than some companies do on devices themselves. The retail box is a heavy, thick white plastic that feels as if it could be used for home construction…it’s that solid. On the inside the Watch was cradled in suede covered custom cutouts, isolated in the middle of a box that was at least 3 times larger than it needed to be purely to protect the device inside. Again, this is Apple’s aesthetics impinging upon a technology experience. “This is not a gadget”, is what this packages says “this is a piece of jewelry.”

My first impressions are of the Watch as Object: This is a gorgeous piece of design. Some have criticized the look of the Watch for its rounded rectangleness, or for being “bulbous.” I will say that on my wrist it is a great size, not heavy at all, and feels entirely like an analog watch would feel. Slimmer and lighter even than some men’s watches, which are enormous at times. I think it’s beautiful work, and shows Apple’s unparalleled heights of manufacturing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no other company on the planet could make something this nice at this scale.

Use

Beyond the aesthetics, however, there are definitely issues. The primary function of the watch is clearly to tell the time, and Apple provides about 10 different faces to choose from, each with some level of customizability. Through the selection of detail, color, and complications, it’s possible to really focus the main interface of the watch on the information that you want at a glance: the time, your calendar, the date, the weather, and more. I find myself wishing that third-party apps had access to these complication areas, instead of being limited to just Apple’s first-party apps. For instance, a complication from Dark Sky telling me when it was going to start raining would be amazing, and I’m certain that there are lots of other really useful apps for the main face of the Watch. I’m hoping that’s one of the first bits of usability exposed during the next software update.

The other central concepts in using the Watch are Notifications, Glances, and Apps. Notifications are just what they sound like, and display as either a pop-over style update or in a list after pulling down from the top of the initial Watch screen. Aside from telling the time, Notifications have been the most game changing piece of the Watch in my life. It really is the case, as reported by lots of other reviewers, that I am looking at my phone a lot, lot less than I did prior to wearing the Apple Watch. Notifications on my wrist allows me to glance and decide whether any individual thing needs the escalation of “Deal With Now” or if I can just…not. As just one example, I wore the Watch at Computers in Libraries the day after receiving it, and realized after a few meals that I hadn’t taken my phone out of my pocket at all during lunch or dinner. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t take my phone out and put it on the table beside my plate…it’s nearly an automatic gesture from everyone I hang out with. With the Watch, I avoided the psychological habit of needing to be “connected” with the phone. It was shockingly liberating.

Glances are mini-apps, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the main watch face. They are displayed as a linear row of full-screen windows that are swiped through, left or right, that are single-screen displays of an app’s information. For instance, going back to my favorite weather app, Dark Sky, the “glance” is just the weather in your current location, whereas the full application contains multiple screens of information. Glances can be useful, but since the only way to navigate is literally by paging through them one after the other, if you have more than 5-8 Glances active, finding the one you want becomes an exercise in futility. Luckily you can control which apps allow Glances and which don’t, as well as the order left-to-right of your glances, from the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

Finally, we have what is the least useful bit of the current incarnation of the Apple Watch…the Apps. This is surprising, given that it was the app store and 3rd party app development that really ignited the iPhone as a mobile platform. However, the current status of Apps on the Watch as second or third class citizens makes them very difficult to use effectively. Currently, third-party apps don’t run on the watch natively, the run on the tethered iPhone and push display items to the watch when called. This means that the process of opening an App on the Watch is roughly: Press the digital crown in once, tap an App icon from the screen, and wait as the Watch tells the app on your iPhone what it wants, the app on the iPhone spins up and calls out for network resources if needed, the network traffic comes back, the iPhone app builds the view for the Watch, and finally the view is sent back to the watch over Bluetooth. This is roughly like sending an email to tell your neighbor to order a pizza, then having it delivered to her house and having her walk it over to you. It does end with you getting pizza, but there’s clearly a better way to accomplish this task.

When you launch a third-party app, pretty much any of them, there’s a 3-10 second delay while it does its little dance from the watch to the phone to the network and back again. This isn’t to say that the apps aren’t usable….many are, and some are very well designed and thought out. A few stand outs are Transit, Dark Sky, Workflow, and Lastpass. But for apps to really be usable, they have to be on-Watch, and not dancing between the two devices. The good news is that Apple has already announced that “this year” there will be an SDK for third-party native Watch apps…the only mystery is whether that will be an announcement at WWDC in June, or are they going to take “this year” literally and push that ability well into the Fall or Winter.

Two other Watch abilities that I haven’t yet mentioned are the Digital Touch haptic communication and Apple Pay. Haptics between Watches include the ability to “tap” someone else on the wrist to get their attention to communicate something, or to send them your heartbeat via the built in heartrate sensor. These are both interesting, and the taptic engine is a marvel of possibility, but until it’s opened up to third parties it strikes me as a parlor trick.

Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a revelation. With Apple Pay active on the Watch, you can double-press the side button and pay for something faster than you could even pull your iPhone from your pocket, and in the best sort of Apple way, it Just Works. It’s so easy and useful that I can see preferentially choosing to go to one store over another based on the fact that their payment system is compatible…it’s that good.

There are dozens of other services that the Apple Watch throws at you: activity measurement, maps, Siri on your wrist, taking a phone call from your wrist, music controls, remotes for your music or Keynote presentation. All of these are well done, and fine reasons to use the Watch. But if I have to boil my use case down using just the first 10 days, notifications, apple pay, and the fact that it is…well….a really nice watch are the things that keep me using it. It’s clearly going to be an ongoing platform for Apple, and they have a very, very good track record for incremental improvement of experience. I’m very bullish on the Watch overall, even if my recommendation for most people right now is to wait for version 2 or 3.

Libraries

Apple Watch So what’s the library play for Apple Watch? Given the existing capabilities, I would say that using some of the older, proven tech in Apple’s stack gets much better with the Watch. Passbook for your patron’s library card is a no brainer, and a fantastic use, and Apple Pay for fines/fees is going to be interesting as adoption of that service continues to grow. Also, Apple Pay is among the most secure and private mechanisms available for the use of a debit/credit card, which I think is a huge patron privacy benefit.

If your library already supports an iOS app, adding Watch functionality now is probably not really worth it. At the very least, waiting until WWDC in June and seeing what they announce (or don’t) for the next version of WatchKit is warranted. It’s interesting to consider what a library Watch app might do…it isn’t possible to do text entry other than via Siri and voice transcription, so actually searching a catalog in the traditional manner isn’t really going to work. On the other hand, a Watch app that displayed a patron’s “cart” of interested books with the call numbers would be really handy while browsing in the stacks.

Conclusion

I said aboveapple watch closeup that I am recommending that the average technology consumer wait on the Apple Watch until v2 or v3. This will give Apple time to work out the issues with some of the biggest hardware flaws (no on-board GPS, and like all Apple devices it will get thinner and lighter). It will also give the ecosystem time to evolve, 3rd party apps to run natively on the Watch, and for the price to drop a small amount. By version 3 the low end of the line will be under $300, the design will be slightly improved, and there will be more and better app experiences that enrich the experience of wearing the Watch. Until then, I’m going to keep mine, because even with its flaws it’s an absolutely incredible piece of tech engineering that has already shown that it can improve my relationship with my information ecosystem. And I think it will get better and better at doing just that, allowing me to deal with the information flows in my life. That, turns out, might just be worth the cost of the Apple Watch.

CES 2015 MegaPost

One last CES 2015 post, collecting the video coverage I did in one place so that you can watch them all at once if you so please. I don’t recommend consumption of video in parallel, though…generally speaking, it’s best consumed serially.

Here’s all five of my CES2015 videos for your viewing pleasure:

CES2015 Preview

CES 2015 Unveiled

CES 2015 Press Day

CES 2015 3D Printers

CES 2015 Best & Worst Wrap Up

Thanks one last time to Springshare for sponsoring my CES2015 coverage. If your library needs a solution for desk scheduling, research guides, or room booking, check out their LibApp platform

CES 2015 Press Day

The day before the actual conference exhibits and such open at CES is Press Day. Effectively, it’s a day full of large press conferences that require standing in line to hear the big announcements from all the major players at CES: Samsung, HTC, Panasonic, and such. The evening of Press Day, however, has one of the better press events that happens at the same time as CES every year, Pepcom’s Digital Experience. This report is a wrap up of what I saw at press day, which includes new 3D printers from Ultimaker (one of my favorite 3D printer manufacturers, along with Lulzbot and SeeMeCNC, both of whom I’ll report on as part of tomorrow’s coverage), a handful of drones, and an interesting robotics platform that I think could be useful for library programming with kids and young adults.

I apologize for the audio quality, especially during the first part of the video. I’m not sure exactly what happened other than my microphone really didn’t like some of the ambient sounds in the room. I promise, it gets better.

CES 2015 coverage sponsored by Springshare. If your library needs a solution for desk scheduling, research guides, or room booking, check out their LibApp platform

CES Unveiled 2015

After a full day of travel, I attended the first press event for CES 2015, CES Unveiled. This is the event where the eager press gets its first shot at video and interviews with newest and shiniest tech of the year…and some of the silliest. The standout at this particular event seemed to be Belty, a (and I assure you, I am not making this up) automated smart belt. It was so popular that I couldn’t even get close.

It’s pretty easy to make fun of some of the products, whether that’s the bluetooth enabled propane tank sensor (even more frightening? There’s MORE THAN ONE OF THEM ON THE MARKET) or the $180 smart basketball.  On the other hand, there are some really interesting things as well, like the Ozobot robot platform that allows kids to learn programming thru interacting with it via the Blockly programming language. Even better, the company that makes them is working towards open sourcing the hardware to allow the enabling of even more interesting interactions.

All of those, and more cool stuff, in the video below. Thanks for watching!

CES 2015 coverage sponsored by Springshare. If your library needs a solution for desk scheduling, research guides, or room booking, check out their LibApp platform

Walking in the Mandalay Bay

Just a funny video testing my equipment and showing how large some of the hotels are here in Vegas.

I’ve got more video coming over at the American Libraries The Scoop as soon as the weather cooperates and people get back into the office, as well as a prologue to my coverage and the first of several upcoming posts about specific tech and companies that I think libraries should be watching. But if you want 6 minutes of me walking, this is definitely the video for you.

Make the Tools that Measure the Future

Here are the slides from my presentation from Computers in Libraries 2013 about Open Hardware & Libraries. The overall concept is that in the same way that libraries have benefited from open source software, we should now be examining how open hardware could benefit us. The open platforms of the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi are empowering us to collect data in new and interesting ways, and this could be very, very valuable for libraries. We should start now.

The Future of Things: How everywhere changes everything

This morning I was privileged to give a keynote address to the Homewood Public Library in Homewood, IL for their Staff Development day. It was the first time I gave this particular talk, and it was a distillation of an essay that I’ve been trying to write for some time. The thrust of both is that the technological changes coming over the next 5-10 years are likely to be so transformative that we (libraries and librarians) need to be thinking now, hard, about how we prepare for them. How do libraries continue to measure our value when our historical measurements become useless? How can we use open hardware to prepare ourselves for these newly-needed measurements? How will the continued and unavoidable drop in price, increase in processing, and lessening of power consumption of hardware be useful for libraries?

I don’t have lots of answers. But I think these are the beginnings of some interesting questions.

So here’s my slide deck from the presentation. I hope to have the essay/post/whatever it ends up being done soon. I really want to start talking about this with other librarians.

My Spring

I’ve got a few things going on this Spring that I felt I should promote here on the blog, just to tie together some interesting content that people might be interested in. So here’s a quick look at what I’m either doing or working on over the next few months.

This coming Monday, April 16th, I will be speaking at the Southern Illinois University LIS Spring Symposium about the Post-PC Era, which should be a lot of fun. I’m always excited to meet with new librarians, so this should be fun.

Coming sometime this month is Gadgets & Gizmos II: Libraries and the Post-PC Era (link forthcoming), a Library Technology Report from ALA TechSource that is a followup to my 2010 LTR on Gadgets and Personal Electronics. In it, I take a look at how the world of personal electronics has changed in two years (TL;DR version: A LOT) as well as some new tech that libraries are either just starting to implement (3D printing) and some trends that I see coming in the next couple of years (health and other personal data tracking, drones).

The thing that I am maybe most excited about is that this is the first Library Technology Report that will be Creative Commons Licensed. It will be published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which is a big experiment for ALA publishing. I intentionally asked to allow derivatives, because I’m very curious what might spring from that. I’m also very interested in how a CC license will effect sales of the LTR…most LTRs rely on subscription sales for the vast majority of their volume, but I wanted to try to reach as many people as possible. But it still makes ALA Publishing a bit nervous, I think, to have the CC on it, at least if you judge from the amount of time it took to get it ok’d.

And then finally, I’ll be doing a webinar for Techsource based on that very same tech report, a 2 day online workshop on May 10th and 24th titled “Gadgets in the Library: A Practical Guide to Personal Electronics for Librarians“. The workshop is going to be a great mix of practical advice for the management of tablets and eReaders (and other personal electronics…leave a comment if you want me to cover something specific!) and a look at some of the newly-affordable hardware coming down the road in the next year or so.

In June I’ll be attending the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, and will be meeting with various LITA groups, as well as the  Library BoingBoing/LibraryLab Members group. I’m also hoping to catch up with the LITA CodeYear IG, which has some cool things starting to come together. Exciting stuff happening at Annual, I hope you’ll come join me!

LibraryBox

What is LibraryBox? It’s my newest hack, a hardware and software project that takes the “pirate” out of PirateBox to produce a tiny, battery-powered, linux-based, anonymous file server capable of serving arbitrary types of digital files to anyone with a wifi-enabled device.

But, you may ask, what is it for? It’s for any situation where you need to distribue digital files but don’t have or don’t want Internet access. LibraryBox is based on a fork of the PirateBox project, using the TP-Link MR-3020 router, an 802.11n router that is capable of running on a USB 5 volt power source. This means that for about $40 and some time, you can have a file server that fits in your pocket. I loaded my demo unit with the top 100 Public Domain ebooks from Feedbooks and Project Gutenberg, and hooked it up to an iPad battery pack that will run it for 16 hours.

This means I can be a walking digital library, giving people access to eBooks anywhere I happen to have the LibraryBox. These could be used in a million different ways, from bringing eBooks, Audio, even movies to areas with digital devices but without Internet access to just being a personal file server for conference slides or other resources.

More information, including pictures and such, are all up on the LibraryBox website. The code is all licensed under the GPL and is available on Github. Several people have looked at the project, and I’m hoping that others will see the value and help me make it better. There’s lots of improvements possible, and I (and hopefully many others) will be working on making the process easier and better for users.