Not Ready for Prime Time: New Hardware Review

by Francine on August 1, 2013

After the last few months of buying and testing Google Glass, the Pebble Watch, the PrintrBot LC2 3-D printer, the LeapMotion Controller and Chromecast, I’ve had enough of new gadgets for a while. Why? Because none of these products is ready for prime time, and it takes up MY time to learn them, try to make them work as promised, and find out if they are useful. I feel like I am singlehandedly finding the value proposition and the product-market fit for hardware makers who haven’t got a consumer product yet but are selling it anyway.

This is not the same thing as beta testing software, which doesn’t cost money the way hardware does.

Some quick reflections on each of these new devices:

1)Google Glass. Orders of magnitude better than the rest of them, if only because when you put it on, you can see the future, but you can even do something now. Also, the Glass Explorers program has something all new technologies need: willing and effective tech support. When I had trouble setting up Glass because I didn’t pick mine up at a Google office, I was able to email and call and get a response within hours. Also, the web site’s good, and it has a community that speaks normal language rather than technobabble. On balance, I’m happy I invested in Glass. It also has human interest because Google has supported it with a massive PR campaign, and when I walk into the dentist’s office, strangers ask me if that’s Google Glass and how I like it. Whatever the product’s shortcomings, I feel supported by Google.

2) Not so Printrbot. I met Brooke Drumm at MakerFaire, he told me his product was the best, he told me why, and I ordered one several months later. 3-D printing is still a relatively rarified technology, and even though Amazon is selling printers and filament, the Amazon reviews are scant. So when I had trouble with setup, I went to the Printrbot forums. There I found a ton of threads either above my head or unanswered. The best thing about PrintrBot’s support is its Getting Started Guide. But if you have a question outside the guide, you’re stuck with the forums, which have an interface worthy of the 1990s — the kind of thing geeks don’t mind but normal humans can’t easily navigate. What’s the matter with using a tool like Get Satisfaction or User Voice, Brooke, so your users can support each other if you can’t support them?

This is the first time I’ve met the founder of a company, gotten on board early, and not had support or feedback from that founder. It’s almost as if he doesn’t care. I’ve printed several things so far, and none of them have come out right. I actually need to TALK TO SOMEONE to find out what I’m doing wrong. Posting to the forums is like spitting in the wind. I’ll figure it out, but this is not a product ready for prime time. A real product is supported by the company.

3) Pebble is better, but I’m confused by its limitations. For example, I have no clue how to download apps to it, although I’ve heard there are some that are not featured on the site’s home page. I guess I have to know the app developer or know a coder to find out. I’ve set all the notifications, but the bluetooth regularly disconnects especially if my phone is in the next room, and it doesn’t seem to reconnect itself automatically. So some days I get alerts and messages, and some days I don’t. I’m always getting notices on my phone that Pebble wants to connect for a software update, but I never see its results.

4) And about, Chromecast. Google should know better. Wildly trying to overcome the failure of GoogleTV and the silly round Q, catch up to Airplay and AppleTV, and aim for the ordinary man at the same time, Chromecast is another not ready for prime time product. It hardly does anything other than stream Netflix and YouTube, so why do I need it? I already have XBox and AppleTV, which do the same thing. Yes, they don’t cost $35.00, but I will pay for increased functionality. Just don’t sell me the product before it’s ready.

5) Last, the LeapMotion Controller, another product with no real utility. After trying for a day, I finally re-calibrated the software to get it to recognize my hand gestures, and I got to see molecules rotate. Not enough of a payoff, and it, too announces to me  regularly that it is disconnected and I have to re-start. Ugh. Tell me when I can use hand gestures to open and close apps, and point to things like I can on a touch screen. Again, I have the XBox Kinect, so I know what these controllers can and should to. But this one is a toy, not a tool.

Okay, I’m venting. I spend so much time trying to decipher these devices, whose manuals are incomplete or non-existent and whose interfaces are often non-intuitive. It’s my own damned fault, but I feel like lately I’ve paid an unusually heavy early adopter penalty.

If you disagree and think I’m just too grumpy, please let me know. Oh, and if you want to help, especially with making my Printrbot layer its filament more uniformly so I get an object I can use, let me know.

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