Stop. Pebble Time. They’re doing it again…

I have a Pebble watch. It’s freaking awesome.  Originally they broke all Kickstarter records when they raised $10 million. I’m seeing more and more Pebble’s around the place too: friend’s of friends, first, then a friend here, then several friends, then my brother…The watch has a few minor downsides, but it really nails what a smart watch should do. Big names, like Apple and Samsung, have been trying to get a piece of this pie, but they seem to have totally missed what it is that makes the Pebble so good. That is, not a replacement for your phone but simplifies your life. I love having my phone permanently on silent. I love being able to receive messages, and not having to pull out my phone if it doesn’t warrant a reply. I love not missing messages because of the loud ambience. So they’re doing it again. I’m not exactly sure WHY they need to Kickstarter again, but they’ve just dropped a new watch onto the crowd-funding site and raised $9 million in 24 hours breaking records (again.) The traffic took Kickstarter down…

Is the new watch worth it? Well, it certainly looks much nicer. Not quite as bright, but the thinner more ergonomic look is a big step up. The fancy new OS could be a hit or a miss, and the colour e-paper is nice but not necessary. It’s water resistant, but I can’t find out if it is rated as well as the original Pebble (a feature I’d be loath to lose.) It’s also a bit more expensive this time around. Look, if you ALREADY have a Pebble, I’m not sure you’d need to dive in again (having said that, if their last campaign is anything to go by and with the ridiculous popularity of the current one, your current watch may very well have expired by the time the new one is sent) but if you have not yet taken the plunge, I can STRONGLY recommend you get in on this new campaign.

Latest on the Oculus Rift

Things have been quiet. Between re-writing history in Crusader Kings

(In a minor battle with a rebelling duke, Morgan took a blow to the head and went into a coma. He died a few years later, and the succession did not go smoothly: His son did not have enough land to raise many personal levies, the English throne did not pass to him at all, and the rest of his dukes rose up in rebellions. There was no doubt he was going to be relegated to being a minor duke while someone else sat on the imperial throne (and several someone elses sat on the thrones of the various Kingdoms I’d united.) Ah. C’est la vie.

So either I load up the war with the Duke (leading an army with the Emperor was not something I intended to do) or that’s where my campaign ends)

I have been trying out Company of Heroes 2. I only picked it up the other day on special. It’s got some nice features, but it is very similar to the original – so I expect this flirtation to be fairly short-lived.

I got the same feeling when I played Batman: Arkham Origins. It was a good game – practically identical to the previous game… and I loved that game so it should have been all good. I loved it, but it didn’t have the staying power, because I’d done it all before.

Anyway. I’m a ways into this post and haven’t mentioned anything about the headline yet.

oculus-rift-crystal-cove

The OR has a 1080p version floating around, and, separately, a version that has positional tracking – dubbed Crystal Cove. So let’s tally a score, shall we?

Traditional VR problems:

  • Low field of view, giving “long-distance screen” problem – solved
  • High latency on head-movement – solved

Traditional VR problems, that the OR also had:

  • Poor resolution – solved
  • Low latency, not zero latency – solved (for all intents and purposes)
  • Motion blur – solved
  • Turn and yaw, but no X/Y movement (i.e. leaning) – solved
  • “Screen-door” effect – unresolved
  • Very high resolution – unresolved

That’s doesn’t leave many things left for the OR to solve. You’d want the screen-door fixed just so you can compete with monitors, and 1080p resolution is acceptable, but because our eyes are so close we really do need extremely high resolution to be able to comfortably read text etc. I have a sneaking suspicion they may try and work around it, though (e.g. UI’s that make use of the stereoscopic features to “float” it at a comfortable reading resolution.)

In any case. They could ship tomorrow with quite a successful product. If they can solve the screen-door effect, and combine all these features into one mass-produced device then I’d say they’re ready to go. And maybe they are

 

I’m ‘Eh’ on Steam’s Hardware, but the Controller Looks Interesting

I’m ‘Eh’ on Steam’s Hardware, but the Controller Looks Interesting

One of my biggest complaints about console gaming is that it has to be done in your living room. Apparently, a lot of people really like that. I guess I’m weird.

So as much as I love Steam, the idea of a “Steam Machine” (basically Steam in the living room) and a “Steam OS” (basically Linux – how many games are there on Linux, again?) does not really excite me. At all. *yawn*

The controller they’re talking about though… I’m interested if for no other reason than it is innovative and different. Ooohhh! I sometimes even use a controller! How interesting.

Pebble Watch. Long Wait. Worthwhile Smart-Accessory.

I missed out on backing the Pebble Watch’s 10-million dollar kickstarter. They were the record-holder and poster-child for kickstarter for quite some time.

It’s delivery, though, was not without hiccups. It was nearly a full year for some backers between backing and receiving their watch. This is after the Pebble team promised it within 6 months. I did get in an early pre-order, though, and although it was about 8 months for mine to arrive (including 4 weeks between it shipping and it arriving at my door) now it is finally here, it has lived up to my expectations (phew!)

It is a little disingenuous, I think, to call the Pebble Watch a “smart-watch.” By itself, it only tells the time: not too smart. It’s more like a “pager for your phone.” Basically it connects to your phone via bluetooth and calls and messages that come in pop up on your watch. Out of the box it’s just SMS, Calls, E-mails, and Facebook.

All I wanted the pebble to do is to flash up notifications so I could quickly absorb the information and then move on without having to pull my phone out. Sure, if it’s something I need to action, then I’ll fumble with my phone, but a good percentage of my phone’s bleeps and bloops throughout the day are merely informational. My second goal was to leave my phone on silent. The Pebble vibrates with incoming notifications, so it makes nary a peep, but there’s no way I’d miss one. With all messages coming directly to my wrist, there is little need to have my phone make any sound at all. I had quite cool Tasker profiles set up to change my volume depending on where I was – and it would still sometimes be too loud, or I’d miss a call. Neither of those should be an issue any more.

Well, now it has arrived – does it live up to my requirements? Yes. Absolutely. Not straight out of the box… but it only took downloading one little app called “Pebble Notifier” which pipes all of your notifications to your wrist (with customisation possible to exclude ones you really don’t need.) It never misses a beat; it is subtle and effective.

I’ve been downstairs, having left my phone upstairs, and seen a call coming in on my wrist with enough time to dash up and catch it. I can receive e-mails in the shower (the watch is water-proof rated to 5 ATM.) I can get those quick little notifications and e-mails without having to pull out my phone. Facebook updates: A quick glance tells me “Not immediate, I’ll see it next time I log on.” Or, alternatively: “Oh, I am interested in that! Time to pull out my phone!”

It’s the little things, I suppose, but it’s working a treat.

 

Here’s some other, less-interesting, facts about the Pebble Watch:

  • It works with iOS as well, but I don’t know how well. I know it does the basics fine, but I believe it struggles with things that have been brought to the Android platform with Pebble Notifier.
  • It comes in 5 colours.
  • You can change the watch face to suit your need. There’s quite a lot to choose from at http://www.mypebblefaces.com/ or you can generate your own.
  • Although the phone is not that smart, you can install apps to it. These tend to be watch-centric apps such as a stopwatch, a new alarm system, a new music controller, etc. The Pebble App on your phone painlessly pushes these apps and watchfaces to your wrist in seconds.
  • Oh, yes, did I mention you can control your music from your wrist? You can see what’s playing too.
  • Thanks to the e-paper display, the battery lasts about a week (I haven’t had it a full week yet, but it’s gone 3 days so far without charge and pretty heavy use.)

So. Not much to complain about, except how long it takes to get the damn thing. If you live in America, you can pick one up from BestBuy (you bastards.) Everyone else is looking at a couple months wait.

This is actually a reminder: “OK Google, remind me to blog in 2 hours.”

How does it look? Well. Not great. It’s not the worst looking timepiece in the world but it looks and feels pretty cheap. The funny thing is, the thing that originally caught my eye about the Pebble was the flashy photo up top. When I read the specifications I had to have one (most notably the e-paper display. Tangent: although there is a bunch of new smart-watches on the horizon – such as iWatch, and possibly a Google offering – no-one has yet stolen the e-paper display idea, which is the Pebble’s killer feature.)

As time went by, though, I became less-impressed with the look. Now it is here, I find it errs on the side of kinda-ugly. It’s extremely light, especially since I replaced a metal watch for it, which makes it feel flimsy. It also looks like it’s made from plastic… which, to be fair, it totally is. The wristband is also a stiff plastic-looking rubber (but is extremely comfortable.) I think the whole look could be greatly improved by swapping the wristband.

Look, I’m not embarrassed to wear it, but I’m also not going out of my way to show it off. Considering what a cool little package it is, it takes some effort to convince people to check it out, because at first glance you might be forgiven for thinking it was a $7 watch I grabbed at a service station.

I expect the Pebble Watch is not for everyone. Afterall, I know lots of people who resisted getting a smart phone for the longest time. These sorts of people will seriously baulk at the idea of being even more connected to your phone (although I’d argue the “get information at a glance” feature actually frees you from your phone somewhat.) Having said that, I’ve found it absolutely worth it’s value in the numerous, small ways in which it’s changed my daily routine. “A++, would wear again.”

Thoughts on the Leap Motion

Well my Leap Motion finally arrived today, and my girlfriend and I had a bit of fun with it.

When I ordered the Leap Motion, I thought it looked unbelievable. Possibly a revolutionary new way to interact with our computers. As the waiting stretched out, however, I watched more videos – tech demos and the like – to keep myself occupied while I waited. That’s when I first started to see the cracks. Fingers couldn’t be registered unless close to parallel to the device, slight delay on movements, and “misses” when using the interface.

So by the time it arrived, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. It delivered on that. I know quite a few people are very disappointed: https://forums.leapmotion.com/showthread.php?2703-Unimpressed-is-an-understatement, but I’m not. My hopes just weren’t as high as they originally were.

Don’t get me wrong. The Leap is miles ahead of the Kinect or Move. The originals, certainly, but I’d also wager the new ones coming with the PS4 and XBone will be nearly as useless as the originals. The apps that are designed to use the Leap (basically the little games and things in the Airspace store) all work quite well. It takes a little getting used to.

So – although the hardware of Leap is a smidge less than I’d hoped for, I think with the right software it could do a lot of really interesting things. We might be looking at a over-hype backlash, which would hurt the chances of seeing that software, though. If the Leap Motion can struggle through the initial, rocky, days we might get some talented developers churning out some really useful apps. On the ideas forums, for example, I see an idea for “a boxing game” and gestures for a media controller (i.e. circle forward for fast-forward.)

My ideas basically revolve around cleaning up the interactions. At the moment they seem too wielded to an “invisible touch screen” floating between you and your monitor. It’s pretty annoying and inaccurate to try and break this plane with just the tip of your finger to get the “click” to work. I’d much prefer to see more intuitive ideas implemented. A whole new interface is one common suggestion (i.e. something more like Windows Metro interface) but I think you could, with clever programming, get the Leap working in Windows 7 too. For example a pinching or fist gesture to “grab” a window, so you can move it around. Some ray-casting so you can point at what you want to click, rather than having to “hover” your finger over it. A real “click” gesture, rather than the crude “jab”. Or at least, base the “click” off the acceleration of the finger, not whether it is breaking an invisible plane. And don’t give me any of this malarky about the Leap being unable to recognise a fist. Natively, perhaps. It seems to look for “sticks” and a “thicker stick” for fingers and a hand. But if the fingers curl up and disappear, and you’re left with just your original, shorter, stick — surely the user just made a fist? Besides. It’s just an infrared camera. Unless some of the latency trickery is built directly into the Leap hardware, can’t we have it recognise a fist along with fingers and arm?

My point is – these problems are fixable with clever software. Whether that is Leap Motion improving their Leap drivers, or 3rd party devs making customised recognizing algorithms, I think it’s doable. It will take a few months or maybe even a year or two, to really iron out.

Of course, the main reason to get a Leap, is so you have an interface for the Oculus Rift.