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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Observations on moreFit Slim Fitness Tracker

After switching to Android late last year and subsequently giving Eliza my Apple Watch Series 3 I have been wanting a simple fitness tracker for playing basketball. In most activities in my life I can keep my phone on me but for basketball I always miss out on tracking those steps.

I wanted to purchase something inexpensive that, if it were to break playing street ball (which it inevitably will), I wouldn’t mind replacing it.

I found the moreFit Slim Fitness Tracker on Amazon. It is undeniably a knockoff of FitBit but that didn’t bother me at all. On the day I was researching these Amazon had a lightning deal on them for $17 so I jumped at getting one.

moreFit fitness tracker

Here are some random observations that I’ve had after using it for a few weeks:

  • It works better than I anticipated. At $17 I thought it wouldn’t work at all or would be a terrible experience but thus far it has exceeded my low expectations.
  • The software is where it lacks the most but for my use I just need the step count to be pushed into Google Fit. Google released an update to Fit that broke this functionality so for a few days I had to enter the information manually. Which wasn’t terrible. I was happy to have the data. Google has subsequently released an update that has restored this feature though.
  • The accuracy is on par with my Google Pixel 2 XL. The numbers are not exact but I cannot say the margin of error matters at all for my purposes.
  • The device also tracks my sleep – which is a side benefit that I didn’t anticipate – so I’ve been wearing it 24/7. It is comfortable. I don’t even notice I have it on.
  • The battery lasts longer than a week in my case. If I let it drain my guess would be two weeks. I use a similar approach to my Apple Watch battery strategy. So I’ve set a reminder for me to pop the band into my computer’s USB port (via a dongle because Apple) every Tuesday for 15 minutes.
  • Tracking my sleep has been interesting. It has caused me to desire a battery quality sleep. I’ll be interested to see if I can somehow improve my sleep quality.

For my use this little moreFit is working just fine. I can see myself wanting a higher quality software experience (and better waterproofing) in the future but for this outdoor basketball season I’ll be just fine.

Observations on Oculus Go

At work we picked up an Oculus Go for research and development purposes. But of course I commandeered the device first to put it through its paces and I think I have a good enough feel for it to write up a few observations.

These are, as always, in no particular order.

  • Let’s get a few things out of the way immediately: it is lightweight (I’m an adult 6′ male, I don’t know how children would feel), the controller is remarkably accurate and fun to use, battery life is fair, the sound without headphones is better than you can imagine, and the simple fact that this is a standalone device is awesome.
  • The Go is meant to be a consumption device. While the controller is very easy to “type” with, you won’t be doing much writing within this context. That said, I can see where art apps or perhaps audio editing apps may be really interesting. Oddly though, there aren’t any.
  • Facebook touts 1,000 apps but that isn’t true (at least to my eye). Unless they count movies or video-like experiences I do not see 1,000 apps. And the vast majority of the apps that are available are not optimized for Go.
  • Finding high-resolution 360-video isn’t easy. Most video you stumble across within the apps is not nearly the resolution I would expect to see. Even from National Geographic. Even if I had to allow the Go to download a buffer, I would prefer the 360 video content to be much higher resolution. At this point, I prefer 2D video. I love that it appears to be a 40′ screen.
  • Playing games is pretty fun. But I’m not much of a gamer these days (in my early 20s I wasted way too many hours playing games so I simply don’t do it anymore). So if you’re looking for a gaming review you’ll want to ask someone else.
  • AltSpaceVR has huge potential. I’m watching that closely.
  • This version of the Go reminds me of the original iPhone. Playing with the original iPhone in June 2007 felt like the beginning of something big. It was. This does too. Standalone VR devices should be a big hit. Esp. at this price point.
  • App updates are rolling in daily, sometimes multiple times per day and most of the bug fixes seem to be for the Go.
  • The Go needs a camera on the front with a quick way to turn it on/off. I should be able to pick up my phone, coffee, or move in the space I’m in without needing to remove the goggles. I’m sure the Oculus team tried this but I can’t imagine them not adding one in the near future.
  • As I said, this is a consumption device, but I found myself wanting to use this environment for work. I want to email, write documents, chat, etc.
  • There is no concept of multitasking within the Go. You can’t even play music anywhere in the background. I hope this changes even with a software update. I’d like to have multiple browser tabs and have sound coming from Spotify.
  • I’ve written about how I think VR is going to change software UIs. I believe that even more now. The “window-like” environment in most of these apps seems out of place. The skeuomorphic living rooms and theaters also feel weird. I’ve had the Go for a week and the Netflix “house” already feels old. The innovation in this area is going to be very, very fast as we collectively figure this out. But my bet is that we ditch the 3D house renderings pretty quickly. I also think we’d pick up resources by eliminating that fluff.
  • Web sites also need to be rethought for this. Just as we rethought them for mobile devices, tablets, etc. we will need to rethink web site layout, controls, navigation, etc. for VR. I’ve been giving this some thought and I have a few ideas.
  • Mobile web sites run pretty well on Go. I use YouTube (since there is no app), Instagram, Twitter, and others this way.
  • YouTube videos on Go are amazing. Completely immersive (even if not 360). It is my preferred way to watch YouTube. Navigating YouTube’s site isn’t great though since YouTube handles this device like a tablet.
  • Only once or twice have I felt a little sick from using Go. Once on the rollercoaster ride the first time and once when a YouTube video was super super sporadic and shaky.
  • My Google Pixel 2 XL comes with several panoramic and 3D photo taking options. I use them occasionally, but if I had an Oculus-like device around I’d use those features a lot more. It really feels like you’re in the photo. Some of my “Photo Sphere” shots from Longwood Gardens last weekend are just awesome in Go.
  • You can make your “home screen” be just one of a small set of photos. Oculus calls this your “environment”. The environment options are really lacking. There should be hundreds or thousands of ways to customize your home environment. Backgrounds, animations, colors, sound, etc. I hope they update this soon with tons of options.
  • Being in VR is not like using your phone or tablet in front of your friends or family. You are far less present. So I would expect to use a device like this when A) I’m alone or, B) when the others around me also have them. In fact, I really want to try watching movies or playing games with others in the same room.
  • Getting oil from your skin onto the lenses happens a lot. Keep the cloth they give you handy. I’m not a particularly oily person and I probably wipe the lenses 3 or 4 times each use.
  • The resolution of the display is fair but I can see this getting much, much better very quickly. It will have to.
  • It would be nice if Go could connect to my Beats via Bluetooth.
  • I think Go would be perfect for a plane ride if the flight has free Wifi, or if you already had the content you need downloaded to the device or your phone.

Many of my observations sound like complaints or feature requests. But I think that is normal when something is so new. The Oculus Go has left me wanting more. Much more. Better quality, more capability, more options, and to be able to use it for more tasks. I could see myself spending hours in VR doing the same things I do on my phone, iPad, or computer throughout the day. And I think this is evidence of how good Oculus Go already is.

If you are interested in VR and are looking for a completely standalone affordable solution; Oculus Go is your best buy right now.

Slow down and listen (audio)

Recorded October 1, 2017.

Slowing down and listening helps you to really soak in your surroundings. See also. And maybe this too.

Download.

Observations on using the iOS 11 Public Beta

The iOS 11 Public Beta is the first beta OS I’ve installed from Apple. I did so in part because I want to help improve the OS by providing feedback and analytic data, but also because I wanted to test my aforementioned app that I’m building, and lastly I’ve wanted driving mode since very early iOS days.

I waited until the second developer beta (which was the first public beta I believe) was released before I updated my iPad. And I waited until the next developer release (or, second public beta release) before I updated my iPhone. I waited in hopes that there would be a great enough improvement in these builds that I didn’t have to worry too much about my iPad or iPhone not working at all.

I thought I’d jot down some observations during my use:

  • So far the “biggest” problem I had was charging my iPad. During the first public beta the only way I was able to charge my iPad was by first plugging the lightning cable into the iPad first and then plugging that cable into a power outlet. Weird, I know. But the next public beta has seemingly fixed that.
  • While there are minor UI niggles that could be easily pointed out, I’m going to refrain since they seem to be cleaning up the loose ends very quickly. This last public beta build fixed a slew of issues.
  • Driving mode is beginning to work very, very well. I’ve had trouble starting a song via Siri via Apple Music after a podcast episode in Overcast is finished playing – but perhaps that will get fixed in an upcoming release. Overall, this feature is going to be a lifesaver.
  • The style and controls aesthetic are much better in my opinion. Previous releases of iOS attempted to be too “elegant” (unsure if this is the term I’m looking for) by being overly thin and translucent. This latest release of iOS brings some sanity to the UI. Also, as I get older I’m beginning to appreciate the larger text sizes throughout.
  • The new App Store should prove to be a huge improvement over the previous versions. It remains to be seen whether or not Apple’s team will keep up with the editorial (since they’ve yet to update any content in there) but I’m hoping they’ll do this part great when the time comes.
  • Though I use iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and other file sharing platforms I’ve not put the Files app to the test just yet. Perhaps I don’t see the need for it as much as others will. I’ll report back after I’ve used it more.
  • The Notes app is incredibly good at this point. I switched to it from Simplenote and I’m loving it.
  • iOS 11 shines on the iPad.
  • The new keyboard on the iPad is particularly cool. You essentially pull down slightly on a key as you type if you’d like the letter you’d usually get by holding down the shift key modifier. Great idea.
  • Oddly enough, the new multitasking capabilities on iPad don’t work as well yet for me as the old way. I’m sure I’ll figure it out and get used to it but the “dock” and dragging icons out of it, etc. does not work for me very well. It could also be that apps haven’t yet been released with support for that feature.
  • iOS 11 has “broken” a ton of my apps. Not beyond usability but I’m guessing that developers are scrambling to get new iOS 11 builds ready. Some of the oddities could be very difficult to fix.
  • coreML and ARKit are incredibly cool.

While I don’t yet recommend updating to iOS 11 Public Beta for most people – if you’re willing to deal with a few hiccups the driving mode feature may save your life. I can’t imagine going another day with out it. Apple can not get this version of iOS out soon enough in my opinion.

Observations on building my first iOS app in Swift

In early June I decided I wanted to learn iOS app development using Swift.

I’ve made a lot of progress over the last month, building two apps that I can use on my own phone, and one app that I’m now in beta testing via TestFlight with a few friends. Over the last month I’ve made some observations on the process of building an iOS app, the Swift programming language, Xcode, iOS frameworks, and the various other bits needed to make an app. I thought I’d take the time to jot those down.

These are in no particular order:

  • Swift is growing on me rather quickly. The idea behind Swift has always interested me, but I hadn’t really given it a try until now. Like any new language you need to work with it for a time before some of the things that you may not like about it, you end up seeing the wisdom in.
  • I’m very glad I waited until Swift 3 before trying it in earnest. The tutorials I’ve come across for earlier versions make it clear the language has matured in a short period of time.
  • Using Storyboards in Xcode is not intuitive whatsoever. I know many people avoid them altogether (from what I’ve seen on YouTube). Unless you watch someone build a Storyboard you’d likely never, ever just figure it out.
  • iOS frameworks are bulky. It is no wonder so many apps are so big. Just including one or two frameworks for my very simple first app ballooned the app to over 15Mb.
  • That being said, iOS frameworks are very useful. With just a few lines of code you can get something working quickly.
  • Playgrounds are very useful to learn Swift.
  • The Playgrounds compiler can become stuck rather easily. Especially if you paste in a bunch of code from your project to mess around with and get it to work. I’ve had to restart Xcode several times.
  • Xcode has crashed on me a few times over the last month. Crashes on macOS (and also most Apple apps) are very rare. So to be working on something so fragile seems out-of-character. Especially with how simple my apps are currently.
  • Auto Layout baffles me still. I have a working UI for one of my apps that works across multiple device screen sizes. But it is far from what I’d want to ship with. I’ve watched a lot of videos on how to use Auto Layout but I still can’t make heads or tails of it. I’m waiting for the moment it clicks.
  • The connection between labels and buttons and other UI elements in your Storyboard and your Controller class is far too fragile. You should be able to rename things, delete things, move them around without completely blowing everything up and starting over. Example: If I CNTRL+Drag a label onto my Controller and create an Reference Outlet for it… I should be able to rename that Outlet without needing to CNTRL+Drag again. I don’t know how, but somehow.
  • Did I mention that Auto Layout baffles me still?
  • Building and deploying an app to iTunes Connect in order to add to the App Store or Test Flight is an entirely un-Apple-like experience. There is no Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 type of workflow. Similar to Storyboards it is not something you can figure out – you must watch or read to learn. It feels like it was never designed by a Product person.
  • Building an app that resides on a device like the iPhone is an amazing experience. While I’ve always been able to load my web apps on a phone, and I’ve built some apps that use a WebView to deploy across multiple platforms, this is the first time I feel like I’m touching my app when I use it. There is nothing that comes close to native UI.
  • Also, building an app that requires no connection to the web has been really fun. It is so fast! I’d like to move forward by trying my best to keep HTTP request at zero or as low as possible.
  • The amount of information an iOS device knows at any given time is pretty amazing. It can know (with the user’s permission) where it is, what altitude it is at, which way it is pointing, how many times the person’s heartbeat that day, what it is looking at, etc. etc. Amazing to play with these features.
  • The Xcode IDE is really incredible to use. You may not remember a framework’s properties but you can just begin typing a reasonable word and expect that Xcode will figure out what you’re trying to accomplish. Also, if you happen to write older syntax because you’re following an out-of-date tutorial, it will automatically convert it to the most recent syntax.

Overall I’ve had a positive experience learning to build an iOS app on my own. Going from having an app in TestFlight to shipping an app feels like preparing to cross a desert on foot. But, I’m enjoying my experience so I’m going to trudge forward to do so.

I hope to ask for public beta testers of the app in a few weeks or a month.

Observations on Apple Music

I switched from a paid Spotify account to a paid Apple Music family plan earlier this month. Since doing so I’ve used the service nearly every single day via my Mac desktop, my iPhone, and my iPad. I’ve created playlists, downloaded tracks, loved and disliked albums, followed artists, used Siri’s built-in “What’s this song?” feature, and more. So I think I have had enough experience to jot down some observations of the service so far.

If you work at Apple and are reading this right now; first, thanks for listening to your customers. Second, you’ve doubled-down on Apple Music once in the past when you realized it wasn’t good enough. I hope you do so again because the service could be excellent.

Here are my observations in no particular order. They are mostly negative, not because I dislike Apple Music overall but because the things I make note of the most are the things I expect to work well that haven’t. And at the moment, I’d say that Spotify is “better” than Apple Music. That said, I see a lot of potential in Apple Music becoming incredibly good.

  • Apple Music via iTunes is incredibly slow, difficult to navigate, and feels like it is on the cusp of being replaced. Slow may not even be the right word, because there are times when choosing an artist in Apple Music’s search results in a blank screen in iTunes. It happens regularly. This leads me to believe that Apple will break apart the monstrosity that is iTunes sometime in the very near future and give us an Apple Music app.
  • Apple Music via iOS is quick, easy to use, and even fun to play with. I’d wager the vast majority (like, 95%) of Apple Music’s use is on iOS. If it were not, they already would have given us the standalone Apple Music Mac app.
  • Song history sometimes doesn’t sync between devices. I listened to a song that was suggested by Apple’s “For You” algorithms at work in iTunes on my Mac. Later that evening I wanted Eliza to hear it so I looked it up while I was at home on my iPhone and I couldn’t find the song. I know I listened to it. But the history didn’t have that song in it. I fired up iTunes, looked through my history, and sure enough it was there.
  • Music streaming overall is good quality and quick. Via iTunes songs can take a few seconds to begin but on iOS they seemingly start instantly.
  • Trying to watch my friend Gary’s new Apple Music show Planet of the Apps wasn’t very easy. I couldn’t stream it to my Apple TV from my iPad (unsure why) and looking for it on my Apple TV didn’t yield any results. I’m one generation behind on Apple TV and so I think this is Apple’s way of telling me that I need to spend more money. We ended up watching it on my iPad.
  • Connect, the feature that allows you to follow artists like you would on Facebook or Twitter, is a joke. I honestly do not know why Apple even tried again. (They used to have a similar feature in iTunes called Ping.) They should consider showing the artist’s most recent activity on other social media platforms, but creating Apple Music’s own network is worthless. It didn’t work before. It won’t work now. Most artists have only posted once or twice to Apple Music Connect. And most of the time the posts are the same as the ones they put on Facebook. Artists post to where most of their fans are. Some artists have tens-of-millions of followers on other networks. The Apple Music Connect feature should simply be replaced by the ability to “Love” an artist the same way you “Love” a song or album. This way it can still inform Apple’s algorithms for suggesting music to you. Other than that, show their most recent tweet and be done with it.
  • Apple Music’s “For You” playlists are OK but nowhere near as good as Spotify’s. I remember when Spotify released their Discover Weekly Monday playlist feature. Each week you’d get a curated playlist (presumably curated by bots) based on what you’ve listened to recently. It was incredibly good. I constantly read tweets where people were surprised at how good this was. Almost every week I felt as if someone created a mixtape for me. I’ve never had that same reaction to Apple Music’s playlists. In fact, just writing this makes me want to switch back to Spotify.
  • Speaking of playlists. Spotify has huge collections of playlists based on mood, or if you’re exercising, or genre, or just random crazy things. Apple Music doesn’t have anything like this at all. It might suggest a “90s playlist” or a “new music” playlist. Other than that, the selections are thin. When a catalog of songs is as large as Spotify’s or Apple’s… the only way to surface new stuff to customers is to slice that information 1000 different ways and keep putting it in front of people.
  • Many of the artist’s pages on Apple Music seem lacking attention. I’m sure their creative team is working hard on making sure that every single artist has an excellent looking page. I think every artist, from old to new, deserves an amazing artist page with images, bio, etc. I hope they have a ton of people assigned to this. It is worth giving people the experience that every artist is important to Apple.
  • Creating a playlist in Apple Music in iTunes is very, very odd. I think it is due to the fact that Playlists end up in your Library – which, to me, feels like the old days of having your own collection of MP3s. Perhaps a younger crowd doesn’t even see this as an issue because they’ve never purchased, ripped, or downloaded MP3s. On Spotify this issue doesn’t exist because “Your Music” is just a collection you’ve created. Again, if iTunes is disbanded it would alleviate this weirdness I think.
  • Beats Radio is fun to pop into now and then but it hasn’t been something that I listen to regularly. I don’t have any specific suggestions for how this could change other than to say that I wish the best segments from these programs somehow popped up from time-to-time so that I’d see them.
  • Using Siri’s “What’s this song?” feature is fun. It makes it easy to find a song that you’ve heard, add it to your library for later, and be able to listen to it again.
  • However, Siri in general to interact with Apple Music is less than good. Siri, in general, as I’ve said before, is just bad at this point. So as Siri improves so will its ability to interact with Apple Music.
  • One last comparison to Spotify; Spotify has an “easter egg” that if you’re playing a Star Wars album the progress bar turns into a lightsaber. Silly? Yes. But it shows that they put time and effort into making the experience fun. I’m sure there are other similar features that I simply haven’t stumbled across. I don’t see any of that whimsy in Apple Music yet. Perhaps because they are still playing catch-up but I’d love to see some “fun” thrown into the app itself.

I believe Spotify is winning on many fronts right now save one; integration. Apple will always hold all of the keys to iOS and macOS. As a result they’ll always be tightly integrated with Siri, the devices and hardware, etc. But even at that disadvantage Spotify proves itself to love music, to have found many interesting ways to surface music you will like, and is easy to use. But I do believe that Apple Music still has a chance to catch up.

Whether you use Apple Music or Spotify you’re in for a treat. You can pay just a few dollars per month (far less than a single album used to cost) and play any song you want at any time. Or, have music constantly playing while you cook, clean, shower, drive, etc. There is no limit on usage. If you like music, subscribing to one of these makes so much economical sense.

 

Observations on Mastodon

I’ve been fiddling with Mastodon (to the tune of over 500 toots). I’ve also been reading up on the history of the service a lot over the last few weeks. Here are some general observations that I’ve made along with a few helpful links.

  • Mastodon isn’t a single service. It is an open source app that runs on multiple “instances” but are optionally connected together. So an Admin can run an instance for his soccer team to track their weekly progress but, optionally, connect it to other soccer team instances or even all public instances. Instances can also be completely private. Imagine having Twitter for just your family. With Mastodon that is possible.
  • Think of Mastodon like email + microblog + Twitter. Just like you can have email addresses on multiple domains (like Gmail or work email)  you can, but are not required to, have multiple accounts across different instances of Mastodon. It is a good microblogging solution due to its slightly longer character count restrictions. And, it is like Twitter because most of the lessons that platform has learned have been absorbed into Mastodon such as mentions, hashtags, etc.
  • On Twitter my username is @cdevroe. On Mastodon my username is @cdevroe@mastodon.cloud (update August 2018: I’m now on a new instance) – So my username includes the instance I’m on. If I were on more instances (I’m not, currently) I’d have other usernames. This is similar to email. My personal email is colin@cdevroe.com and my work email is colin@condronmedia.com
  • Mastodon isn’t an overnight success. In fact, the seed was planted over 10 years ago. Mastodon is an app (built using Ruby on Rails for the geeks) that uses the OStatus protocols to create a federated, or shared, timeline across instances. In other words, users on one instance can see the posts of users on other instances via a shared timeline.
  • Mastodon’s success is not contingent on mass popularity. Those calling for it to “fail” don’t realize it has already won. The web community is so used to seeing platforms reach hundreds of millions of users and die as a result of running out of money or traction whereas Mastodon needs neither (relative to something like Snapchat or Twitter) to be considered a massive success. As it stands Mastodon has dozens of instances (if not hundreds) that are fully funded by their respective communities and over 200,000 people have signed up to them. (Though, the above link mentions 1.3M users. I think that count is wrong.) Only a few thousand will stick around but that is more than enough for it to continue long into the future. Also, private instances may well live on for a very, very long time.
  • It will never replace Twitter for most people that use Twitter. However, it could bring more people into using a Twitter-like experience than Twitter itself would have. Because instances can be spun up by anyone, a company could use Mastodon internally or a community (like a soccer team) could use it as well. It allows different instances to own their community. In this way it could also be used like Slack is being used by small communities.
  • Mastodon, like Twitter, has terms for the things within it. Toot instead of Tweet, etc. Qina Liu wrote a great piece on Medium describing all of them.
  • There are several very good mobile clients for both iOS and Android. And, I’ve seen both Mac apps and VR apps in the works.

I hope to keep playing with Mastodon for a while. I’ve already contributed to the instance I’m on, the apps I use, and the overall project itself to help make that happen. If you end up playing around with Mastodon I suggest you do the same.

Observations on the computer-mediated reality landscape

Me wearing stupid looking VR goggles

The future won’t look this stupid. I promise.

For the past several months I’ve been doing research on computer-mediated reality (CMR) – that is, when what’s real is somehow changed, interrupted, distorted, or otherwise effected by a wearable computer.

This “ability” isn’t new and it is a nuanced superset of many different types including mixed reality (MR) (which I’m most interested in currently), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and diminished reality (VR). These subsets, in turn, include many more subsets such as transreality (TRG), simulated reality (SR), and many more.

The more I have dug into this industry the more I’ve found how incredibly far reaching it is already and how much further it has to grow. Many of the applications in current use haven’t even hit the consumer market and others are hiding in plain sight – such as Pokemon Go, Foursquare, or even Google Maps. I’m willing to bet if you line 10 people up on the street and ask them if they use AR on a daily basis they’d say they didn’t think so. But if you inspect further I’m willing to bet they are and don’t even know it.

Here are some rather random observations I’ve made. Note that I’m mostly using the word “application” to mean how the technology is applied to a problem or situation rather than the typical use today as an “app” on your phone.

  • The common refrain today is VR vs. AR but upon inspection the industry is far, far more nuanced than that
  • MR is a hybrid of reality and VR which, to me, seems to have the largest number of applications for both businesses and consumers that has me interested the most
  • Pure VR applications will big a huge, huge market (esp in entertainment or recreational uses) but, to me, doesn’t have the broader applications that MR does
  • The industry supports a huge array of hardware and software to create the products that we see today and will see in the future. This means huge amounts of jobs. Think: Caves, HUDs (such as your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator,  your car’s windshield), head-mounted displays (such as glasses, goggles, phone holders, etc), tablets, phones, computers and hardware we haven’t even seen yet.
  • The way information is displayed is going to dramatically change within MR applications. How should a Wikipedia page on the honey bee be shown to a child wearing MR glasses while they are touring an apiary? Certainly this new wave of information layout should not be constrained to the resizable “windows” that we see in current demos but that we will see a rich set of layout and display tools that will make mundane information that the web currently hosts to come alive.
  • The pushback that Google Glass saw due to the possible “creepy” ways in which the technology could be used will disappear very quickly. Yes, I could have glasses on that could search for your LinkedIn profile while I’m looking at you. But, I could have done that later with an image on my phone too.
  • Speaking of which, facial recognition (and other machine learning algorithms that can find patterns and objects) are going to play an enormous role in the MR space. Expect many acquisitions in this space in the next 24 months.
  • As with any new platform the only way it will ever reach critical mass is if the applications (meaning, the apps, integrations, services that are supported) are plentiful. iOS’s biggest tentpole is the App Store. Mixed Reality applications for any platform (such as Hololens) need to be myriad before a business or consumer can truly invest in the platform. Microsoft claims, just one year in, that they have 150 apps. Depending on how they count the internal apps that companies like Japan Airlines have built exclusively for themselves, this could be an excellent day one offering.
  • MR could kill the computer display industry for businesses. (Though, this will take a very long time.)
  • Untethered devices, such as Hololens, will need to be affordable and have great battery life before the consumer market explodes. Likely something that will happen in 2018 or 2019.
  • Tethered devices, such as Oculus (though, this is VR not MR), will be valuable in gaming and enterprise contexts because it can rely on much more computing power coming from the connected hardware.
  • Think of tethered as “Pro” and untethered as “consumer” or “lite” for the most part.
  • The same way that tablet and mobile computers have revolutionized mobile computing (think: professionals on-the-go like visiting nurses, gas pipeline inspectors) and information transfer (think: pilots that used to have 100 books in the cockpit and now just have an iPad), MR will revolutionize contextual search and on-the-job training.
  • One of the complaints of MR is that you need to have a controller or move your hands all over the place to interact with the objects in your view. However, if you combine MR with what Elon Musk’s Neuralink (more here) will be making we’ll leapfrog how Tom Cruise used MR in Minority Report and move swiftly into the incredible territory of controlling virtual objects with our minds. Too future thinking? We’ll see.

This isn’t all that I’ve learned but are just some of the things I’m currently thinking about in this space. I’ll try to collect more tidbits under the CMR tag here on my blog.

I’m looking forward to following this industry as it matures and also supporting some at Condron Media. If you’re working on anything in this space please reach out to me.

Observations about flying a DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Maria Langer, professional helicopter pilot, blogger and Twitter friend, got her DJI Mavic Pro on nearly the same day as I got my DJI Phantom 4 Pro. She’s taken the time to write down her thoughts on the experience and so I thought I’d quote her post since she and I agree on our first few flight missions. We also purchased a professional drone for the same reason:

And that’s a big part of what this drone is to me: it’s a tool for making photos and videos. While some people buy drones for the flying aspect of them and actually race them around obstacles, etc., I have no intention of doing that.

Ditto.

Here is a good tip about landing and taking off from the ground:

And if there’s dust, that dust is going to fly on landing and take off (just like with a helicopter) and possibly get into rotor heads or gimbal parts. I had the foresight to order a foldable landing pad to operate from — this helps ensure a safe, clean environment for operations.

As often as possible I take off and land from a small foldable table that I keep in my Jeep for this very reason. I don’t want to land in snow or in wet grass or, as Maria points out, in a dusty area. And, although I’ve seen others do this, I do not want to (nor should you) catch my drone.

She also notes something I had trouble with too:

The only real complaint I have about the design is related to the plastic clamp that holds the gimbal immobile during transport: I have a heck of a time getting that damn thing on. I assume I’ll better at it one of these days; I sure hope it’s soon.

I agree with her on this. But, gimbals are fussy things. They are free moving and so very hard to get into the right position to get this clamp in place. However, her assumptions are correct, the more I’ve done it the better I’m getting at it.

Maria regarding the app and controller:

There is a lot to learn about the controller and the DJI Go app. Yes, you can pick it up and fly it almost immediately with just a few pointers from a friend or a quick glance through the manual, but you will never master either flying or photography — which really do need to be considered separately — without reading the manual and trying various features until you learn what works for you.

The app is incredible. It has many features for controlling the drone, the camera, for programming the drone to do actions autonomously, and more. I’m super, super impressed with the app and I know it will be months before I feel comfortable with every feature. On the other hand, the app is terrible at transferring files. I recommend getting a card reader as soon as you can for this.

Be sure to read the rest of her post as her experience is based on the Mavic Pro.

I’ll add a few things; first, the speed of the Phantom 4 Pro. Even though I’m using this as a camera it is fun to get some wind under the props now and then. Sport mode is essentially what I was used to with my other, inexpensive, featureless UAV in that it turns off all obstacle avoidance and goes all out. I’ve flown my drone over 50MPH according to the app. At that speed it is really moving. It is impressive.

The engineering that has gone into this device is pretty staggering. The app has features for following objects, orbiting points of interest, you can draw on the screen where you want the drone to fly and it does it. There are also preferences for nearly every single setting. And, I’ve found, for the most part this thing is impossible to crash. I’m afraid to write that sentence but I do believe that if I crash this drone it will be my fault and not the fault of the drone.

If I could just warn others that the ease of flight can cause complacence. Flying a drone is a serious responsibility. Not only are you flying a device that likely set you back a few thousand dollars but you’re more than likely flying over some property that may not belong to you. And as Maria has pointed out in the past, you’re also flying in shared airspace. This drone can fly itself but I’d still recommend you create your own pre-flight checklist. Here is mine that I’m continuously adding to.

I’m only a few missions into having this new drone but I can say that I’m very happy with my investment so far. I’ll report back as I learn more.

 

Tips for new drone owners

After a few weeks of trial and error, (lots, and lots of error) video tutorial binging, manual devouring, and literally swimming for and losing my first UAV, I thought it might be good to jot down some tips for new drone owners.

Drone on ground

So here they are, in no order, but all worth considering:

  • Fly over shallow water – If you are going to fly over water, fly over shallow enough water that you’ll be able to rescue your UAV should it take a dip. I was able to rescue my drone in 8 feet of water, but I wasn’t able to rescue it in 30 feet of water. Or, buy something like this.
  • Keep and read the manual that comes with your craft – You may not understand the lingo the first time you read it. But after a few weeks you’ll know what yaw, headless mode, pitch, m/s, and many other terms mean and this way you’ll understand the manual more each time you review it.
  • Search for your model on YouTube and watch other people fly – Some people have taken the time to record great tutorials on flying your particular model and you’ll be very glad they did. You’ll learn a lot by watching other people fly.
  • Fly in a huge, huge open area if you can find it – The bigger and flatter the area the more you can safely explore and make mistakes. You can make two, three, four or more flight corrections in a large area and you won’t hurt yourself, your craft, or any property.
  • Practice, practice, practice – Do the same exact maneuver over and over and over. When it comes time to use that skill your brain will just do it. Here is an example… watch this video. It is boring. Practice can be boring.  It is OK. It is worth the effort.
  • Immediately buy more flight time – If you’ve recently purchased a craft and only have access to the battery that comes with it… find some batteries for your craft on Amazon or eBay and buy them right now.
  • Buy replacement parts before you need them – If your craft didn’t come with replacement blades, legs, etc. just go on eBay right now and buy some. You may never need them but they are so inexpensive it is worth having them around. And you’ll want them to be handy when you need them.
  • Controllers need power too – Don’t forget to keep back up controller batteries with you at all times. Nothing worse than a full craft battery and drained controller batteries.
  • Flying in the morning is easier – Wind is generally down in the early morning hours. So if you want to fly over a body of water for the first time, morning is the best time to do it.
  • If there is a steady wind, fly into it, not with it – By flying into the wind you can safely return your craft by simply guiding it rather than fighting it. Also good when your battery is getting low.

I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list over time. If I do, I’ll make a note of the newer tips.

While I have you reading this, here are some general tips for shooting video with your UAV if you’re into that sort of thing.

  • High flying videos are cool, but so are low flying ones – Don’t concentrate solely on getting the highest footage that you can. Low and slow can be just as dramatic.
  • Use the sun to your advantage – Magic hour is great for video too. Face away from the sun to have the best naturally lit subjects… face into the sun to get that JJ Abrams lens flare.
  • Fly the same route more than once – Trying to capture a scene? Do the same route more than once to ensure you got the shot you want.
  • Record a bit more than you need – Don’t try to “edit in the camera”. You can edit the footage later. Bookend what you think you need with 10 seconds of padding.
  • Slow, smooth – It is very rare that you need really fast video. Slow and smooth wins the day. So keep the corrections to a minimum.
  • It isn’t just about the gear – Photography has a saying “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Same goes for video. Gear is important, but it isn’t as important as your creativity and diligence to get what you want.

Happy flying!