The Pebble Watch: A Pleasant Surprise

This is an old draft I had lying around - Pebble has updated the watch software recently, and much functionality is improved. However, my opinion is similar - I like it best as a watch with a few added features.

I’ve had my Pebble watch for a while now - and I think what surprises me the most is the fact that I am still using it. Why is this a big deal? Since somewhere around 2010, I stopped wearing watches. The main reason was that I got a new age smartphone (being the Samsung Galaxy S) and that sort of replaced the need for a watch. I was taking out my phone all the time to check for messages and e-mail anyway, so I was getting the time from there - who needs a watch?

The Pebble is one of the bigger Kickstarter success stories - blowing their own expectations and then proceeded to have to delay deliveries just because they had to scale up production to match their pre-orders alone. It’s now available for USD150 at their site.

One of the more fascinating things is that I’m not wearing them for the notifications or the apps, I’m actually wearing it as a plain old watch. I tried having notifications for nearly everything at first, which led to my wrist being shaken a lot - so that experiment ended quickly. Granted, it’s not like I don’t use the notifications at all, but now I’ve limited them to SMS and the more obscure notifications like Twitter mentions or retweets (oh the woe of not being popular.) We get way too many e-mails nowadays for e-mail notifications to be useful, really.

So far, the only possibly useful app I’ve had for it is weather. The problem is that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this is work reliably. An even bigger problem is how wrong and outdated the weather data tends to get in Australia - so really, it’s not a great solution if you want weather on your watch. I’m really not sure what else you’d use it for, really. You could get stopwatches and games, but if you have your smartphone, these are probably things you don’t need to do on your wearable all that often.

Let’s get back to what I think it is. I think it’s an excellent watch with the great feature of being able to get notifications as well. I think the best part is that if you get bored of the current watch face, you can change it - I think this is why I’m still using the watch, but I can’t say for sure.

The fact is: USD150 is still a lot for a watch - and it is a cool watch, but don’t buy it based on the promises that it will be more than a watch. You should buy it as a watch first and then be pleasantly surprised if it exceeds that simple expectation.

The Movie Ticket Benchmark

Whenever people try to compare the differences in costs between types of entertainment, the most pervasive benchmark appears to be to compare the cost to going to a movie. I'm not entirely sure what the reason for this is, but I'm guessing it is probably the de facto "most expensive" type of entertainment that most people can relate to and have access to on a regular basis. Going to a movie near where I live costs around AUD9.50 per person. Considering a movie typically provides around 2 hours of entertainment, going to a movie is a cost of roughly AUD4.75 per hour per person - this gives us our benchmark number. So, how does it compare to other forms of entertainment? (It'll become apparent why I'm going into per hour as well as per person soon enough.) One common source of entertainment is reading. So let's say, a typical book like The Da Vinci Code is about AUD9 on Amazon. Measuring reading time is a little tricky, especially since everyone has different reading speeds, but I'd say, typically, you'd probably be able to finish a book in 6-8 hours. I'm going to assume you're not going to read it again, but maybe someone else might read your copy - but let's just keep things simple - most people read their own books; so that puts a book at roughly AUD1.50 per hour per person.

What other pieces of entertainment might you have? What about public television? Youtube? Those things are free to the user, discounting the fact that you might buy things from the ads. However, you might buy DVDs of your favourite television show. In Australia, this tends to come up to around AUD1 per episode. This comes up to around AUD3 per hour per person for a 20 minute show.

There's also video games. I'd say the typical game probably provides anywhere between 6 to 60 hours of single player content. Since it's easier to talk about single player games in terms of cost, perhaps a typical game like Bioshock would suffice. Bioshock is about 20 hours, and would probably cost you AUD60 new. That comes up to around AUD3 per hour too.

Then we have board games. Board games get extremely complicated because there's a very good chance you are playing the game multiple times and with multiple people. As a result, this usually ends up being retrospective analysis after you've played the game. For example, I bought Arkham Horror for AUD80. I've spent 12 hours playing it solo, and probably around 6 hours playing it with two players - so this puts me at around AUD3.33 per hour per person, which sounds pretty decent still.

However, the benchmark is really only useful when you are comparing to make a decision - this is usually a purchase decision, which means weighing up a lot of uncertain options. A movie is usually a fixed amount of entertainment, which may or may not be good, but chances are, you are going to be sitting there the whole two hours. You did after all fork out AUD4.75 per hour already - making it AUD9 per half hour doesn't sound like a great proposition. You might think this line of reasoning doesn't make sense, but you probably do it too, although it's a sunk cost.

Since the time investment isn't as great, it is quite likely that you will just sit out the additional hour or so it costs you. To say the same thing about books, entire seasons of TV shows, video games and board games isn't quite so simple. I don't anyone fancies struggling through 5-20 hours of entertainment they dislike, even if they feel like they need to make up for their sunk costs. It feels like this can be a viable explanation for why $0.99 apps sell so well on the App Store. The sunk cost is only a dollar - slightly over a tenth of the cost of a movie ticket for me - for me to match the movie ticket value for money, I only need to play the game for 12 minutes. For most games, that could be the entire tutorial and set of first stages. There's also the fact that throwing apps away (i.e. deleting them) doesn't produce any visible waste, so you don't feel guilty for buying extras just to try them out.

For the most part, it feels like just some massive rationalisation so that you don't feel bad about making a bad decision; just staving off the feeling of buyer's remorse. It's still going to feel like a shame when you buy Arkham Horror only to play it once. Can you really justify spending AUD80 on 4 hours of poor entertainment for 4 people over spending it to have a home movie marathon with food?

For Me

So, this morning I woke up to read both Paul Stamatiou's post and Marco Arment's post about what I've thought about for a very long time. I own both an iPhone 5 and a Nexus 4. I've made two attempts so far to switch to the Nexus 4. I haven't succeeded. The first time was when I first got the Nexus 4. As with every switch to a new platform, there is a long period of searching for apps. One fascinating fact is that it took me a longer time for me to find apps which suited me on Android than it did when I first switched to iOS from Android. At first, I went back to what I used to use; and then I found that now that I was using lists on Twitter, I needed to find a new one. After going through around five different Twitter clients, I finally settled on Plume. I proceeded to do the same thing for Reddit, e-mail, podcasts, Google Reader and music players. So far, after my second attempt, I haven't found a Reddit or e-mail client to settle on. I find Doggcatcher to be great, but still not my cup of tea. I was still deciding between Press and gReader for Google Reader, and I'm finding that trying to manage music on Android is a slight annoyance when you listen to podcasts too.

People underestimate the truth behind the "for me" qualifier. My first attempt to switch to the Nexus 4 lasted 3 days. After those 3 days, I switched back to the iPhone 5. chewxy knows well of my attempts and my whining during that time. Maybe I'm just bad at looking for applications to download for my phones; but during the first attempt: I was frustrated at how I couldn't get a unified inbox application. That's fine, surely I could try to get by with my 6 e-mail inboxes over several different services - and then it came to light that Google cares more about their Gmail app than their Email app. Why the behaviour in the Email app isn't the same as in the Gmail app, I'll never understand, but hey, I guess I could live with a few extra clicks in a day, after all, it was saving me the effort of syncing my Reeder app every day before I left Wi-Fi.

The real backbreaker was actually Bluetooth. Bluetooth on the Nexus 4 was unstable. Unpredictable. I know my use case isn't particularly common, but when you listen to podcasts on the way to work and back, it becomes kind of important. I'm not sure if Android's audio was a mess or Bluetooth was a mess or both, but hell it was annoying. Every other day, it was either my Bluetooth headphones or the Nexus 4's bluetooth stack that would crash. This mean I was spending around 10 minutes every day in silence because I was trying to reboot either my headphones or my phone in an attempt to get them working together again. To add insult to injury, the way Android's multitasking worked meant that sometimes, the remote control functions would not actually behave deterministically. This meant hilarious situations where trying to pause a podcast would fail or even worse, another music player would start playing.

And that's how I gave up after only 3 days using it as my main phone. A few months later, I got a second attempt. My iPhone 5's ear speaker failed - so since I couldn't use it as my phone, and I thought the Nexus 4 was somewhat tolerable, I switched phones again (and this time, for a full week!) This time was a lot smoother because I had a Pebble and Google had recently pushed an update which fixed some of my gripes. I had also learned how to work around the Bluetooth failings and behaviour by performing certain actions to ensure the right audio player was getting the remote control instructions. I hear Android 4.3 has a new Bluetooth stack, so maybe it won't be such a problem anymore.

Enough of my ranting - there's a reason why the "for me" qualifier is important. In our HipChat, we have 4 people in it. As it turns out, I'm the only one who uses an iPhone as his daily driver. As far as I know, one uses a Nexus S, one uses a Galaxy Note II and another uses a Nexus 4. My use case for my phone turned out to be quite far removed from theirs - they couldn't help me much with my problems and gripes because they didn't need to do these things.

So, why do I not find gripes with my iPhone? Simple - I use it differently. I'm not a Gmail power user. My use of Google for things other than e-mail tends to come down to more of a widely supported sync service. Google Now is great, but it's crippled by the fact that I live in Australia. I've never seen a need to change my default web browser, e-mail client or music player. (The fact that I tried to do some of these things on Android is probably more telling on the difference in quality of the default apps rather than the platform as a whole.)

However, it doesn't mean I don't understand why someone else would want to do it. It's very easy to think that what someone else says means that what you think is wrong, but often, this isn't the case.

(P.S. No, I haven't found a great Android substitute for Alien Blue, Downcast, Reeder or Tweetbot. I'm still looking.)

When To Spend More

Buying things seems to get more complicated every year. This increased complexity can include opportunity costs, the choices and sometimes, even the price. Then at some point in your life, you get a job and now you have more disposable income to spend. It's a lot easier to make a decision when you have a small budget. Good things at low prices generally don't come in huge varieties – take headphones for example. There is the Koss KSC75 at $15 - and then a huge gaping chasm in quality until you can afford at least a pair of Grado SR60s, which come in at around $80. When you have more to spend, you have a lot more choice. At the $100 - $150 price range, you have an abundance of excellent choices. In fact, you can now choose based on other criteria, like comfort, open or closed, size and portability. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true – there are also few choices at the high end of the market. If you are in the market for a new car that costs more than $2 million dollars, you have little choice besides a Bugatti Veyron Super Sports.

Needless to say, this leaves us with a conundrum most of the time. When should you splurge for the better product? There are probably a couple of factors to consider, some more obvious than others.

Is the more expensive product better? This could be an objective scale or a subjective scale. Sometimes, the comparison is simple: 3-ply toilet paper is strictly better than 1-ply toilet paper (maybe, in the case where you aren't using for its intended purpose, you could make an argument otherwise). Other times, like choosing between the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III, you can have read countless comparisons and reviews and not come to a good conclusion.

Can you tell the difference? Don't just read what you can find on the Internet and take it as gospel. Sure, a 24k gold plated HDMI cable from Monster Cable is probably strictly better than a $2 cable from Monoprice; but you won't be able to tell the difference. After all, the signals are digital and the cable is going to be hidden behind your television. Nobody (except, perhaps you) would ever care how much you spent on your damn cable.

Are you buying it because of the brand? A lot of geeks and nerds look down on this pattern of buying. Why? This behaviour means that you might be buying a product (and paying more) based simply on marketing – not its actual merit. A good example of this are Beats headphones; they aren't actually bad, but they sure are expensive. Most Beats headphones have excellent Sennheiser alternatives for less than half the price - so if you own Beats headphones, it's pretty clear your intention sways more towards flaunting your purchasing power rather proving than your audiophile cred.

Now, I'm giving pretty specific examples with clear cut differences. Really, the product you can comparing can come with numerous differences that have their tradeoffs – and this can include things like after sales service, included accessories, aesthetics and even seemingly tiny items like a special hinge on a laptop or an additional button on a mouse.

So when should you spend more? It's really all up to you. Buy what's best for you. Who cares what angry people on the Internet think?

Being Evil or Just Following Incentives?

Anyone who has studied economics has heard of this word many times: ‘incentives’. It is what shapes our behaviours. It can explain pretty much why any of us do what do we do. The difference is merely that some of us have lines we do not cross. (You could say, we have an incentive to not cross that line chasing another more selfish incentive.)

In the past couple of weeks, we have watched the true nature of many companies come to light or fruition. Twitter announced a change to their API. This was seen by the first of many unwanted changes to come – and they’re probably right. The first casualty of the new API changes was the Tweetbot alpha. They couldn’t get enough tokens under the new token limit and Twitter refused to give them more. While Tapbots are reassuring us that the full Mac version will not be affected, one can’t help but be skeptical of the whole debacle.

If you look at the way the announcement was worded, and how Twitter has been behaving over the past couple of months (not just the recent announcement), you’d know that these changes were probably a matter of time. There’s somewhat of a huge uproar on the Internet over how Twitter has become another massive overlord, wielding its power over the Internet. All that has really happened is that Twitter is now focused on making money. People forget really quickly what a free service is really selling. In this case, Twitter really, is selling access to you.

We’ve seen this happen everywhere. We love free things – but economists will tell you that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. This dissonance will always occur whenever the value of the service to the business does not correspond to the value of the service to the customer. The business will always respond to its incentives: it needs to make money. The lines they aren’t willing to cross are the ones which will lose them most of their customers. They are more than happy to cross lines which will make them lose a small number of them. It’s been made clear that Twitter owns the dominant mobile clients.

Are developers being shafted? Perhaps they are. Many of them have been building clients for a while now. Twitter’s iOS client was originally a third party client. But times have changed – and if it hasn’t become clear by now, any time you build off someone else’s platform for free, you can certainly expect to run into issues. There will always be the systemic risk that that platform will be yanked from under your feet.

Maybe your client is growing so large, that it is a risk to the platform owner’s business. You may not have thought about this, but if the most popular Twitter client wasn’t controlled by Twitter, that would make Twitter be at risk of the client going rogue. Can you imagine the problems it would cause if the Twitter client used a different link shortener? A different picture service? Twitter also has to sell ads – imagine if this rogue client refused to comply and doesn’t display ads correctly. Heck, this rogue client might even work with and start moving Twitter users there! The horror!

That’s the other thing – always think about what value you are offering the platform owner. If all you are offering is spending their money using their servers to further your own goal, you can expect that one day, that free lunch will be over. Sometimes, the incentives might align. The iOS App Store, for example, really has no obligation to developers. Their obligation is to their customers, the people who buy apps. However, their incentives align with developers. Why? The App Store takes a cut. You sell more apps, both you and Apple make more money.

Is that going to last forever? Probably not. Things change – and one day, the incentives you took for granted to be everlasting and unchanging are going to mutate, and when it does, it might stab you in the face.

Edit: Here's a fun analogy that I think is worth a read: Why Are People So Upset With Twitter? Let’s Grab a Bite