The one critical flaw that turned my Nike+ SportWatch GPS into a non-functional piece of jewelry

I was so excited to get the Nike+ SportWatch GPS a couple of years ago for Christmas. It was stripped down to key functionality (distance and pace, time, backlight, upload results to cloud), offered some nice options (add a foot pod and a HR strap) and looks cool (one of the few watches I’ve ever owned to receive multiple compliments)

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All show, no go!

The watch has worked well, with one critical and debilitating flaw that has turned it into a piece of jewelry. In technical gear Nike has exhibited the “all show, no go” syndrome (for example, the Nike Running cloud software looks fantastic but has limited useful functionality when it comes to reporting) and this watch has ultimately suffered from this.

Critical Lesson: Design for partial failure conditions (aka, always provide a workaround)

The watch relies on what appeared to be a very clever USB connection hidden in the strap buckle (see photos).

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Now you see it

Now you don't

Now you don’t

This is the only way to recharge the device, and to upload runs, clear memory, update watch firmware and settings via the Nike Connect software on PC and Mac.

Unfortunately the wires between the USB plug and the watch itself are not robust and partially failed (of course about 3 months after the one year warranty) and despite numerous calls to the nice folks at Nike Support and multiple attempts the watch is no longer recognized as connected by the Nike Connect software. It can still be recharged however.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? Can still use it to record runs and manually record the distance and time, right? Well yes, until the memory fills up and one discovers there is no way to delete what is in memory, either through a simple erase capability on the watch (best) a device reset (ok), or running down the power (painful, but doable), and the watch will not record new runs once the memory is full.

Final injustice? Watch is not repairable or serviceable in any way.

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Where the band meets the watch is where the connection failure occurred

So I’m left with a chunky piece of jewelry that tells the time. Another failed piece of running technology (more reviews on more devices to come)

My plea to product designers: think about failure conditions and how your device will work (or not) once those occur and always provide a workaround! Even if that means just making it repairable.

Ever owned a piece of technology with the same flaw? I’d love to hear your stories.

AT&T waves the white flag at the mobile Internet buffet

Hope you’re all enjoying the excesses of the holiday season.  AT&T appears to be suffering.  Imagine deciding to stop selling your hottest product in your second largest target market. The location with the presumably second highest concentration of bloggers and influencers after San Francisco. Apple must have been livid.

Courtest U.S. Naval Historical Center

The recent decision by AT&T to stop selling iPhones online to people with a NYC zip code was not officially promoted or explained.  An online customer service rep reportedly explained “New York City is not ready for the iPhone.” If AT&T is lucky, the quick reversal of this heinous error may prevent its complete nullification of the millions spent on national advertising campaigns for their allegedly superior 3G network.

You can pummel people over the head with old school marketing, but if you stop selling the phone, no matter what the excuse, especially after your CTO admits how challenging its been and your CEO starts talking about charging based on data use, you’ve basically proven your network can’t keep up with demand.

If its really the case that they can’t keep up with surging demand, then all carriers and users are in for hell as the mainstream discovers the joy of a mobile all-you-can-eat Internet buffet.  Enjoy the streaming video while you can 🙂

A little positive psychology to be thankful for

Holland enjoying the waves in Far North Queensland

As Seth said yesterday, it’s the only holiday that really matters.  I sometimes have to pinch myself to remember the good fortune – our health, families, friends, jobs, house, food, the incredible climate and beauty of the bay area.  Especially given that so many others have had such a challenging year, I feel blessed to have had such a good one.  Every year we do calendars and cards, using a service like shutterfly, and it was such a treat to go back over the amazing photos this year looking for the best ones.  The digital SLR has not only increased the number of pictures 4-5X, but also hugely improved the quality, and pictures of our daughter’s complete and utter joy playing on the beaches in Far North Queensland will grace our cards this year.  (BTW, if you never searched online for coupons, it’s totally worth it.  Shutterfly wanted $25 for shipping – a Gogle search for “shutterfly coupons”reduced that to zero in under a minute).

Personal highlights of the year in rough chronological order include: the alt-MBA, training our new lab puppy, finishing the back garden, switching jobs, the first trip to Oz with Holland, finally starting this blog, discovering yoga, getting serious about trail running again, and several iPhone apps (see previous reviews of balloonimals and stitcher).

Henry reminded me of the ability to download TED podcasts which has filled long training runs with amazing and inspiring tales from people have made a career out of following their passions like Amy Tan, Al Gore, Dave Eggers, Katherin Fulton, John Hodgman, Brian Cox and Brian Greene.

One of my favorites, in tune with the holiday was Martin Seligman, on positive psychology.  The video is embedded below – it outlines the three components of happiness: pleasure, flow and meaning. The good news is you don’t have to be born with a genetic predisposition to have it, 50% of pleasure comes from surrounding yourself with friends and family, and success at flow and meaning will provide much more lasting happiness than pleasure alone.  Check it out – a great intro to the field, and maybe it’ll set you up for a 2010 to be thankful for 🙂

iPhone: Ultimate Kid’s Toy?

Is that a phone or a trumpet?

Is that a phone or a trumpet?

No, she’s not trying to eat the phone. And she’s not playing Ocarina.

It’s an awesome game from those whizzes at IDEO called “Balloonimals”. Outstanding child entertainment for the princely sum of $1.99 (funny how all the free apps on the App Store cause you to think twice about spending $2) The pics tell the story – choose a balloon color, blow up the balloon till it dings, shake (with all the squeaky rubber sound effects of an actual balloon being bent into shapes) and voilà an animal (t-rex, crab, unicorn, dog, snake, fish, kangaroo and baby joey) Tap the animal and it surprises with movement – feet stomping, claw clacking, you get the idea. The pièce de résistance is you can blow up the animals using a bike pump symbol until they pop. Holland plays with this for hours and the laughter and expressions on her face are priceless.

Ideo's beautifully executed ballonimals game

Ideo's beautifully executed balloonimals game

There are a wide range of great learning apps for kids – learning words, shapes and numbers. Couple this with a few movies, TV shows and games and you’ve got a brilliant child minding device in a very tiny package. It’d be nice if you could selectively disable some features like email and the phone when you give it to them, but you should be paying attention, right 😉

This has really cemented the learning for me that the apps are really the killer app for the iPhone. It’s a great phone on an ok network. It’s a phenomenal piece of intuitive design and convergence that has transformed the smart phone market. But the endless creativity of the apps is what blows your mind.

When Good Enough is Absolutely Not

Step off and on again for a different answer

Step off and on again for a different answer

Earlier this week I wrote with joy about when good enough is perfect.  The comments inspired further thinking, so tonight we contemplate the other side of the story.

The simple scale at left suited the decor (a minimalist design) and the price was right.  What could go wrong?  Apparently just because its a scale, doesn’t mean it weighs correctly.  Every time I step on again I get a different reading.  Some people would call this a benefit – keep trying till you get the answer you want.

We pulled out the instructions.  Apparently we are supposed to step on it once to set the scale and then a second time to get an accurate reading.  So now we just ignore the first answer and keep trying till we get two consecutive answers.  Frustrating as hell.  Clearly, the right answer is a refund and a new scale.

Turns out we haven’t had too much luck with scales.  The previous model was one of those fancy Body Mass Indicator scales with alleged accuracy of +/-0.1 lbs and +/- 0.1% body fat.  You could drop 2-4% body fat by just having a shower.  Would that it were true.  I’d have been much happier with a scale with a good enough resolution (say +/- 1lb, +/- 1% body fat) that gave consistent measurements.

My conclusion: apply good enough thinking to the feature set (accuracy to +/- 1lb and don’t bother with BMI), but please don’t apply good enough to the execution of the primary benefits (in this case accurate, consistent and quick weight measurement).  That won’t benefit anyone.

Bye bye pledge drive

Stitcher.com: Tivo for Radio

Stitcher.com: Tivo for Radio

I love NPR. When we first moved to the US it was a wonderful discovery – Car Talk one week, Fresh Air the next.  Countless driveway moments.

I don’t love pledge drive.  Twice a year, for what seems like forever, your local NPR station tries to raise money, which they desperately need.  We subscribe, but that doesn’t stop the pledge drive interruptions.

Enter stitcher.com.  This wonderful free app (available for iPhone and Blackberry) is like a DVR for radio, but even better.  Listen to a wide variety of sources, in any order you want to, anywhere: driving, working out, cooking dinner… Discover great new podcasts and news sources.

Highly recommended and ridiculously easy to use.  It comes pre-loaded with a set of favorites and six categories.  Like the awesome Pandora interface you can give thumbs up or down to a track, start/stop and skip to the next one.  Like google mail you can favorite a track by selecting the star and its automatically added to your favorites station.  You can re-order the favorites. It display how many refreshed favorites tracks you haven’t listened to. The ads are non-intrusive banners and most programs have no audio ads. Sorry if this post sounds like a commercial (I have no association with the company, just love both the idea and its execution).

What would I like to see: better search functionality so you can find a specific show (I was thrilled with both the amount of NPR and Australian programming available), perhaps some indication of duration of each track, maybe linking to the tracks website and tagging so you can follow up on something interesting you hear about or play something again. And of course, the iPhone needs to be able to let apps like this run in the background.

Just like Tivo changed TV forever and for better, stitcher has changed radio for me.  Let me know what you think. Bye, bye pledge drive.

When Good Enough is Perfect

Perception is reality

Perception is reality

My nearly-4 year old daughter taught me another valuable lesson this weekend – how good enough can actually be perfect.

She is currently into Disney’s Little Einsteins.  Rather than go buy more crappy pieces of plastic, and inspired by a recent Wired article on a Japanese paper plane that broke the world flight record (27.9 seconds and BTW, they have the design for the Sky King in the magazine and it is awesome!), I decided try to make the toys instead.  I used to love making models as a kid.  Apparently I still do.

Anyway, dug around the counter and found the glitter-encrusted, dry-lentil filled plastic ball you see in the photo.  We glued on some paper, colored and cut-out the rotor blade and feet from an amazon.com box, and held it all together with a rubber band.  Total build time was maybe 10 minutes and she’s been playing non-stop with it, a purple plane and a red rocket we made ever since.

If it had taken longer, she would have become bored. Making it together was so much fun (you might just be able to see that she chose to decorate it with ink stamps) and we did our little bit to save the planet as well.  This was just good enough for her to associate with the green helicopter in the show, and nothing more.  This crude toy and its effectiveness reminded me of IDEO’s preference for rapid prototyping. If I had obsessed over building a perfect replica, it never would have been finished, or I would have been mortified if she broke it.

Call it serendipity, but the same issue of Wired included Robert Capps thought provoking article, the good enuf rvlutn, which uses the examples of Flip in video cameras, Predator in military aircraft, MP3s in music formats, skype for calls, netbooks for computers, etc, to argue that accessibility and ease-of-use in a low-cost “good enough” solution trump perfection for most of us.  In the case of kid’s toys, I couldn’t agree more.