Home automation, the integrated house, control at your fingertips. In any modern house, you will find a plethora of ‘things’ that can be turned on and off, adjusted, set to a timer or other setting, or even to simulate a pattern. The first and second generation families of these concepts – from early 80’s kit to modern 00’s stuff – worked standalone, detached from any sort of computer network, with it’s own unique way of working, instruction set and operational syntax.
Modern Family had a great take on this, with the family Dunphy struggling with Phil’s desire for swish kit, culminating in the TV being almost inaccessible without it’s own Modern Family Remote Control.
Amazon, Google, Apple, and a range of smaller players have all been working on the Home Automation concept for some years, trying to build a framework and ecosystem for manufacturers to hook into and use, in an effort to sell more stuff. If you’re in the USA, the range and integration is becoming wide, but in the rest of the world development is still…. fragmented. In recent years, the concept of the universal control panel that users can tap away at on a screen is evolving into a voice-driven interface, with the big 3 all offering or developing voice gateways. Amazon Alexa leads in the voice control space, while Apple is only starting to approach using SIRI to offer something even remotely competitive by promising to open up their voice service with the launch of iOS12 in September this year.
It’s fair to say Apple has lagged way behind in the area of Home Automation, taking a very long time to even enter the market. It was first made available in iOS8 – 2014 – but struggled with adoption by vendors for several years, and only really started to hit it’s stride with iOS11 in 2017. The framework – a specification of how to connect, communicate, offer controls to users, move between profiles devices in a family and so on – has slowly grown in capability, and promised (as Apple always does) to simplify the use of gadgets with a common control set, in the background security, and their famous ‘it just works’ style of design.
For some part anyway. Indeed as of writing (8 hours ago), Apple appears to have dropped support for the current range of electronic doorbell/cams, notably the Ring range, which is a shame:
Last year, I was given the change to use and play with the D-Link OMNA 180, a homekit compatible security camera that promised to make things easy for the end user…. mainly because of my affinity for Apple kit (D-Link added Android support in September).
Homekit can operate standalone from your mobile, and connects to your kit when it’s on your local network. The OMNA connects to your home wifi network, and setup is via the OMNA app which also deposits it into your HOME app profile.
Within Apple’s Home app, you can get a live feed of what camera can see – it has a fish-eye lens that works really well with adequate light (ie Dawn to dusk is pretty good), and can save short 30-second clips to a micro-SD card (720p @ 15fps). Motion detection triggers recording, and it’s it possible to set a retrigger delay of up to 5 mins. A 4x4 grid allows you to fine-tune the trigger points in the camera’s view. You can also turn the LED off so the camera is not that visible at night, and night vision sends infrafred illumination to better record in dark, although I found this mode to be very hit and miss (supposedly up to 5m impact range). The device gets hot in continuous operation, with the top of the unit (the case is metal) acting as passive heat transfer.
The unit survived being in the window in the Wellington 2017/18 heatwave, so I’m quite impressed.
Ok, so the reason for being – integration with Apple’s framework. Manually checking settings while you’re in the house is one thing, the real flexibility is when you are out of the house and want to stay in touch with ‘the house’.
For this, you need a hub of some sort that can act both as gateway and gatekeeper – and in Apples case, the device called in to service is a 4th and 5th generation Apple TV (or, an iPad capable of running iOS11). Using Apple TV is clever – it’s another device sale for Apple, but it’s also a unit that can do other things than just acting as a gateway consuming internet and power. Key for enabling this chain to ‘just work’ together is using the same iCloud account to register… two-factor authentication must also be enabled, which is good security practise but can also be a bit of work to activate and get going.
Once this is setup, you are able to use the Apple Home app to log in to the device… which allows for live view, live listen and if you’re that way wired, live voice (imagine being able to yell down the phone and have it broadcast via the Camera’s internal speaker). The microphone is very sensitive, and the speaker has punch for such a small device.
I can confirm I’ve been able to access the device while out of the house from a range of locations, so this aspect definetly works.
Of course, one person accessing a device is one thing, but what about the more common scenario of a family? This is where the wider framework slots in with Apple’s “Family Sharing” structure… up to 6 iCloud identities can be part of a Family structure (one family group, not multiple). If the members are part of your family, then it’s possible to invite them to access the Home group. It works very well, but is definetly a very Apple way of doing things.
In the clouds
In September, as part of adding Android support, D-Link added the ability to use an email address to connect to the device and via it ‘from the cloud’ if youre out and about… which kinda renders the above Homekit approach a little moot but also smells big time of the old ‘lash and dash’ approach to service. Registering an email address as the sole connection point and tunnelling back up the connection to provide Homekit-like function sounds like a classic poor security example of what many such devices used in the last few years. In that time we’ve seen large scale mass hacks, credentials stolen, peoples machines pwned… the list goes on.
Of course there is no discussion on the d-link website about android security, or the overall security of the above approach. It definetly works, but I have no confidence at all that my home network is safe at all, and above all that is the most critical piece all the big boys are chasing – CONFIDENCE. “TRUST US” say the facebooks and amazons of this world, and the simple point is I certainly don’t.
So… Homekit and the camera. The OMNA180 is an interesting first start, but I would not have paid $395 for it when it first came out (it’s now down to $249, and I still wouldn’t buy it). Homekit looks promising, especially once Siri is better integrated and opened to the developer community, but from here it’s Apple’s ability to court manufacturers in the way Amazon has with Alexa to build skill or instruction sets for their kit to use. I like the concept of smart technology that uses the WIFI network to hook everything together back to one point that also can do other useful things… less boxes, less powerplugs and less cabling all round.
But above all, what I look for is the confidence that whoever is selling me their vision appears to be genuinely looking out for the security of my home, my network and me. That means TRUST & CONFIDENCE… which only Apple is at least pointing in the right direction.
I had the privilege of being introduced to Samsung’s new QLED range of Televisions a few days ago. These are due in the NZ market in May 2017 and continue the evolution of LED-LCD display technology, with colours and pictures that are strong, vibrant, bright and a joy to view. The current technology buzz in the TV display world is OLED, which is an early lifecycle technology that emits light (to assemble a display pictures) in a different fashion to the more mainstream LCD TV's.
While it’s fascinating to see the evolution of technology and the promises these improvements bring, I tend to focus on how these compare to the here and now. Television is a well penetrated product into most people’s lives, and you’ll find one in most homes and places of work around NZ and the world, and they continue to function day in and out without too much fuss. The switch from the older tube technology to Plasma and subsequently LCD came with the usual hallmarks of new methods; the old technology had better colours, was more fluid and better saturation (so pictures looked more natural and so on), while manufacturing quality of early technology often meant the lifespan of a TV was adjusted from 25 years down to 10, and even 5 for some types until common sense (and sales trends) kicked in.
In the range below, the Samsung panels are an evolution of LED technology and not OLED. While that’s interesting, how these panels perform and what they offer is more valuable than what's under the metal/plastic.
Declaration: I have 3 Samsung TV’s, acquired between 2007-10. A 27” that had it’s screen die 1 day before the end of the warranty (on boxing day no less), but which Noel Leeming had repaired and is still going strong 10 years later (disappointingly, when you see so many flash new models these days). A 37” with a bezel (the plastic edging around the screen) that has cracked from several house moves), and a little 22” doing duty in the bedroom. All the TV's operate fine, and for me (and I expect a great many people) they will only be replaced when they stop working… meaning the market for Samsung’s new models as always is somebody seeking a replacement for various reasons. The highpoint of features and functions for me is equipment that’s 7-10 years old, meaning anything new will certainly be appealing. I am a researcher and make considered purchases, meaning features, form, function and most importantly for such a major appliance, ability to elegantly mount and position in the house.
65” glory – Q8C $7,999 75” of curve and style – Q8C $13,999 55” of Smart Viewing – Q7F $5,199
In the pictures above are the mainstream models being shown, on a gloomy day in Te Papa in Wellington. I deliberately took photo’s of the TV’s against their bright background, so the performance of the display can be somewhat thought about. On display is a variation of flat-to-wall, and curved screen models. Retail pricing by model is typical of this type of new product, and I expect market pricing will differ somewhat by the end of the year (In the model distinction, F means Flat and C means Curved):
75” - $12,499
65" - $7,199
55" - $5,199
75" – $13,999
65" – $7,999
55" – $5,999
88" - $34,999
75" – $17,999
65" - $9,999
All panels are 4K displays with nearly no bezel at the edges, have superb clarity and brightness, downward firing speakers, beefed up user interface for control (with some good executions of control), a remote control that doesn’t have 200 buttons and some good thoughts for wall mounting. The control software is based on Tizen, a linux alternative with it’s roots in smartphone land, and has been driven by Samsung/Intel as an alternative to Android. A quick search of the web indicates it’s had an ignominious introduction, which you’d expect of anything new taking on established players, but on the TV's at least it functions smoothly and quickly.
As usual, the downward firing speakers have limited ability to shift air meaning all the TV’s would benefit from a separate speaker system just to have adequate sound; it’s a shame all manufacturers have gone this way on premium models, as it feels just a little cheaty to expect all consumers to have a ready made home theatre setup to support a beautiful panel: I can’t stand box speakers and their wires being on display just to support watching TV.
A significant point of interest for me was the connections on the back, and the very real questions around how to mount the TV nicely on a wall, connect the huge plethora of other devices one would reasonably expect to it, and keep it all nice and tidy. Samsung’s answer, first introduced in some premium models last year, is the control box. This unit connects to the TV via a bundled 5m fibre cable (the white cable above), and has connections for HDMI x4, USB2 x3, Gigabit Ethernet x1, Optical out x1. 1x UHF tuner (with F-Connector). The control box is the brains of the whole package, and the fibre cable allows for an elegant way of mounting the telly and hiding the wires. A 15M cable option will be available, circa RRP$400.
In the second picture, you can see a panel that pops off – on the whole range, this is where Samsung’s mounting bracket is installed, and allows the TV to be mounted flush to the wall (curved or flat TVs). The bracket cost is up to $300 for the 55/65” range, and $350 for the 75”. The third picture gives an indication of the panel.
Finally, the remote control is a neat little affair that is channeling other simplified silver remote controls, and operates on both Bluetooth and IR. The unit has voice control (hence the need for Bluetooth) as well as standard TV functions (IR), which is interesting… I would have thought going for full Bluetooth the more elegant step but there you go. It works fine and has a decent range and function. There are also the Samsung Smart View apps for Android and iOS, which act as soft remote controls, and can also be used as alternatives to an Apple TV or Chromecast to transmitting from your phone to the screen (I didn’t have a chance to try this out though, so not sure how well it works). Samsung also support Steamlink, meaning a PC can be connected over the home’s LAN with gaming happening on the TVs, something which sounds quite promising and no doubt has a few details in its setup.
The screens perform beautifully, display and function is very good (as you would expect at this price range), sound is ok, there has been some decent thinking into wall mounting and addressing the explosion connecting different devices brings to the modern viewing experience.
The interesting comment from me was on the evolution of apps; Netflix, Lightbox, Neon, Hulu, Amazon all had apps available. Notable absence was TV3 and TVNZ, to which the response was that these folks weren’t developing for Smart TV anymore, focusing instead in channeling their effort into Freeview Plus and making their content available that way (which is a shrewd move: Having witnessed first-hand the level of work required to directly support Smart TV’s with a media app, the investment in human power vs benefit is horrendously skewed. Far more productive to focus on one source). The Smart interface had some genuinely neat tricks around source handling (elegant swapping between an Xbox, Blu-ray player, streaming content from a connected USB stick and so on), and performance never felt like the unit was chugging along or working hard.
I’ve never been a fan of Smart TV’s, historically because of the commitment of the manufacturers to keeping the OS supported, enhanced and feature rich, and I hope the launch of this range is a commitment from Samsung to keep supporting what they build for the reasonable life of the TV; after all, I expect my next TV to last another 10 years, and I would be disappointed with any brand that dropped support of its software quickly for the next big thing.
I’m keen to see where this range is at around October/November in the market, pricing and performance wise. Samsung have a real opportunity here to make some inroads, and judging by the Boxing Day sales in Dec 2016 have absolutely cleared the warehouses to support this new range.
I had the good fortune to be allowed to attend Webstock 2017 this year, held in Wellington New Zealand from 13-17 February.
This quirky event is growing in popularity and attendance, and this year featured a whole host of presenters covering many topics, from the origin of Emoji’s to empathetic design for the elderly. Nearly all the presenters were from the US, and there were two overwhelming themes that kept repeating and being referenced throughout the event:
1. “We are sorry about what is happening is US Politics. This isn’t who we are”
2. “We need to think of everyone – old, young, able bodied, disabled, sight and mobility impaired, rich and poor – when creating for people
Resonating in the back of my mind was the phrase ‘He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata’. It is the people, It is the people, It is the people. I may not be using the phrase in it’s correct setting, but it speaks to what I heard repeatedly throughout the days – by the people, about the people, and for the people.
I observed an audience of old and young, multiple races and all genders, and was enthused by the sheer size and participation. This thing is big. REALLY BIG. And it continues to get bigger, which is great for Wellington and great for the design sector in New Zealand.
So what were my takeaways from the time?
Knowing your audience and being present to what they want to here is crucially important. I heard a few jokes fall flat, and some that were absolutely wrong to be used – a quick websearch if you are interested will reveal my abstract reference. A highlight was Marcin Wichary, a polish chap from Google, who covered topics from charles babbage to the work he did creating the Google Doodle that was Pacman in 2010, and the journey of discovery he went on to recreate this classic game. Warm, enthusiastic about his topic and a genuinely engaging fellow, he touched on a couple of rueful points about never assuming and not bothering to question ‘why’ – as well as not being satisfied until he was, and not giving up until the task was done.
It’s a small item, but seeing through any commitment to completion in the modern world takes focus, and I often see failure because people just gave up or lost interest… because they just did.
Significant reference was made to Apple’s design aesthetics and their efforts in designing for humans, by many of the presenters. Love or loathe that company, they have made their mark on the western world and continue to set a tone for modern digital experiences that we all live with and don’t appreciate we are.
I met with Janine Gianfredi on Thursday night after the show, and caught her presentation on the Friday, about designing US Government services from a startup with the Executive (The White House under President Obama), and taking things to market. Born out of the chaos that was the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Janine referred to the ‘mission’ of getting healthcare for people who historically could’nt. The Federal government set up the national exchange, but required insurance companies in every state to cooperate in creating products and offering to customers – not trivial, and a service that was born from a big government project (many contractors, little focus on end to end experience, and a desire to just ship software even if it sucked) had to be refactored by a smaller team who thought about the users, what they had to do, and how they could improve services.
Again. It is the people. The presentation resonated with me, and in a separate session run earlier in the week, was well attended by representatives from our government agencies like Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and other folks looking to transform how things work today. Looking for ideas on how to be more effective in their roles, to make things ‘easier’ for people that need to be using them.
So far, so very boring right? nobody wakes up in the morning and decides ‘today I’m going to build a diabolical service and really piss people off!’, although I’m sure anyone who uses some government services must think that is what happens.
Just today, a colleague outlined a problem he just had with Inland Revenue. This month IRD made a lot of noise about their updated ‘MyGST’ capability, designed to make GST payments easier for those that self manage. My colleague had the money ready to go, he emailed ird – Via the MyIRD secure messaging service – and was told he would receive a message explaining more. Nothing. Eventually he got a note saying he had been fined for not paying his GST… and after much work, he discovered that the MyGST secure messaging service is in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM linked to the MyIRD secure messaging service… which has been in wide use for a while.
Guess where the emails had been going?
So someone sat down and created this sequence, and didn’t think of the users or the learned behaviour of people. Or they did, and the above setup was deployed for time money and convenience, no doubt meeting a project milestone. Hurrah! who cares about the user?
So, Webstock has become a tech industry ‘thing’. It is up there with the air of ‘gotta be there’ like Microsoft’s tech-ed shows used to be, before they became not so interesting anymore. I don’t get the feel Webstock is there yet, and that says something given it’s current long run. The organisers Mike and Natasha did an awesome job with running the show, the venue, the food, facilities and overall execution. There were some parts that need and are getting attention, but this is a good show. Consider it for next year if you haven’t gone. Conversations are had that get people to think. It’s an event where people are open to meeting, greeting, freeforming and just being, and that is so important in a world that is currently being turned upside down by the return of fear, hate and despicable attitudes.
- AK, 2017
I've used iPhones in my line of work for the last few years as my primary device, and androids only as secondary units. The battery life on Apple phones is enough to drive you to despair at times, and as these things get bigger and pack more in, I can't the situation improving much.
I'm not a fan of the bigger screen devices like the 6 and 7 - I think Apple hit the mark perfectly with the iPhone 5 screen size - but you have to use what is reasonably available, and for me that is an iPhone 6.
Over the last year or so, the battery life on this device has become steadily more atrocious, but when I asked ServicePlus to have a look (Apple's agent in NZ), the diagnostics were that things were.... ok.... but perhaps remove the facebook app, which is a notorious hog. I did but that didn't really help..... and my experience continued to reflect that my battery must be munted.
In the weekend I read an article in Forbes, and the author opined that users should skip the iPhone 7 and just replace the battery in their existing iPhones, waiting for 2018 when the iPhone 8 is released (2017 will bring the iPhone 7S). Forbes article
The application Battery Life was mentioned... so I downloaded it and what an interesting app to use. Even though IOS9/10 locked out many of the statistics about the battery that could be read, some elements are still discoverable. Here's what says about my phone tonight:
When new, the phone had a battery capacity of 1750Mah. All rechargeable batteries degrade over time, but what is interesting is where mine is at - maximum capacity is now 1100Mah, 37% less than as new.
Of course, the iPhone battery meter tells me how much charge is remaining - OF THE DECREASED CAPACITY - meaning the more I use this phone, the faster it appears my battery is draining, when in fact it has degraded seriously to the point of being nearly unusable.
I double checked these readings using a Mac app called CoconutBattery, and it's reports are consistent with the above display. The battery has lost a lot of capacity.
Technically the iPhone battery reading is correct - 396/1100 = 36% charge. But without an app on the iPhone telling me "your battery is screwed bro", I am left wondering. I don't think it should have degraded this rapidly - I used my other devices which are older, and they havent got anywhere near this level of degradation, some of them are 6 years old and constantly being used. I don't know if it's better to be told I only have 396/1750, given I can never recharge the battery back up to 1750.... but it would have been nice to know.
The device is 2 years old. Arguing over reasonable life of a battery under CGA feels quite the uphill battle. I do wish Apple did make better tools available that acknowledge the limits of technology and help better manage - although if they did, I expect they would a truckload coming back at the 12 month mark as 'not fit'.
Battery Life. CoconutBattery.
You wouldn't think batteries are that interesting.... but it's amazing what you can discover.
Serviceplus replaced the battery for me under warranty, as a precaution against imminent fail. Great outcome in the end, and excellent service from the wonderful Hilary!
In many ways Wellington was lucky with this event - and I'm confident it's not over - and one of those was that it was a sunday evening (5.09pm to be precise) and most people were at home. I was cooking dinner in the kitchen.
Of course, 5.09pm on a weekday would have been quite a different story - the streets would be full of people either scurrying to the railway station for a train or bus home, if not waiting on Lambton Quay for a bus.
In this event - and if you rewatch footage of the Christchurch events - building facades broke off and windows shattered and fell. A friend of mine was caught on TV video jogging through CHCH just as a facade collapsed and barely missed him (thinking of you Dave....)
The Governments 'Get Through' website - Get Through - contains really good, genuine information on preparation and what to do but is really heavy on the presumption you will be at home when something big happens (as it did on Sunday). But there is next to nothing on what to do if you happen to be in a metro area surrounded by tall buildings, except for the line 'drop/cover/hold' with pictures indicating you get under a table.
I walk to work frequently, which is one of the major benefits of Wellington, but occasionally do have to drive in and park because of weather or sheer time boundaries in the morning or evening. It's just the way it is.
I also frequently walk along The Terrace, Bolton Street, Aurora Terrace, Lambton Quay and the 'Golden Mile' up to Manners Street. All area's which will turn into one epic zone of death from debris and glass in the event of a really strong shake.
What exactly, is the suggested plan for people to do, if they happen to be caught out on the street? There is a distinct absence of handy tables on the street for one to duck under, and no real ideas I can find from an hour of googling on what to do. It's just so unexpected.
The state described above is a uniquely Wellington problem with description to match. But Christchurch is being rebuilt with a new CBD and a permanent membership to the Earthquake club... and we all know New Zealand is on a number of active tectonic plates (meaning nowhere is free of earthquake risk - I'm looking at you Auckland)... given so many people work in the city and around so much risk potential, surely there must be good guidance on how to protect yourself, somewhere.
People do need to know this, more than ever now as so many of us are acutely tuned to what just happened.
Drop Cover Hold sounds great on a website and is really, really unhelpful if you happen to be in the street.
I expect the suggestions will be just as unsatisfying and very much along the lines of 'well.... there's not that much...', but my daughters sprang into action at home on Sunday as they had been trained. My youngest suggested I become a turtle in the middle of the street - and looking at The Terrace that filled me with utter dread.
This is not a complaint. It is a call for more information... because I'm certainly blinkin listening...!