“You should eat more soy beans to help your corn harvest”
I’ve been thinking about how internet connected devices like the Pivot Power Genius (PPG) might find an every-day utility in the home. After two weeks of living with the PPG, I’ve found little utility for it other than parlor tricks and initial ‘oooooh’ factor. In Exhibit A below, I was able to remotely annoy my girlfriend by repeatedly turning the lamp in our living room on and off.
I think part of the trouble is this: the internet affords us the capability to universally access content, agnostic of our physical location. As long as our device has a connection to a router with a public IP address, it can do things; access content, post content, etc. This goes to say, what’s typically of value with the internet is virtual accessibility and public.
However, when it comes to the home environment, almost everything is designed to be within reach (dependent on location), visible, physically reconfigurable, and private. To me this highlights a mismatch in the affordances of the two environments: the home environment and the internet at large.
Because of this mismatch, I’ve struggled to find utility for the PPG. It largely serves as a remote control for the things in my apartment that are pretty easily accessible anyways – except for a couple of ceiling mounted light fixtures and the damned smoke detector but those run on hardwired or battery powered circuits.
This week, I’ve taken a different approach to using the PPG; as a tool to manage the electrical loads of my apartment. Here’s a list of all the things in my home that are persistently powered from 120v AC outlets: refrigerator, microwave, router, cable modem, (3) alarm clocks, mac pro tower and its display. Of these devices, persistent power is necessary in the fridge, the router and modem (otherwise I wouldn’t be able to use the PPG! ), and the alarm clocks (only because setting the time everyday would be supremely annoying).
So that leaves me three options, my microwave, which I assume has very low current draw while not in operation and the mac pro tower with its display, which may actually have some current draw throughout the day even though the hard drive is sleeping. Since I only have two outlets, I decided first to manage the mac pro tower and the display through the PPG.
So far this has been a pretty successful endeavor. The tower and display are mostly used for movies which I sometimes forget to turn it off when I go to bed at night or leave for school in the morning. Having the ability to remotely control AC power to either gives me the peace of mind that I’m conserving power … although I’d be curious to do a cost-benefit analysis of using the PPG to manage power versus not using it at all. It’s not entirely clear to me how much draw the PPG is using throughout the day, which may be difficult to analyze given the variable rates of power usage in my apartment. I’m also not sure how great of an idea it is to instantaneously cut power to the machine … but hey!
I feel like this utilization of the PPG makes much more sense in the context of the home as it balances the affordances of both the internet and of things. I will continue exploring other implementations of for internet controlled power management over the next week, but I think I’m going to have to get more creative!
Today I got up and running with [Quirky + GE] Pivot Power Genius.
In short, the process was simple and surprisingly enjoyable – the novelty of the light based WIFI pairing is a clever solution. However there are some details I’ve noticed with the use of the device that may present challenges to mass-market adoption. At the end of the day, the Genius is a tool in search of an application, which relies heavily upon the end user finding novel uses for it.
I’ll go through my experience of interacting with the Product in-depth.
1 – Packaging
The packaging of the Genius uses color saturation and contrast to communicate what’s in the box. The side of the packaging depicts simple drawings and diagrams (the kind you would see on a white board at ITP) of how the project works and potential applications. The aesthetic of these drawings strikes a balance between simple and content rich, probably to attract users that may be otherwise intimidated or too busy to deal with setting up another ‘smart object’. Another notable feature of the packaging is the headshot of the product’s inventor. My guess is that the inclusion of the headshot is a condition of Quirky’s partnership with GE, but it also serves another purpose, that of appealing to the indie-market (for lack of a better term) or in other words a consumer demographic that is weary of the corporate production and consumption model. In this sense, showing a dude, from Milwaukee might present a sense of comfort and relate-ability that consumers don’t associate with faceless organizations such as GE.
Opening up the package, I found a molded plastic form, a card-stock insert, and the Genius in a plastic bag. The volume of the box seems a bit extravagant given the form factor of the product and the content of the packaging, but most of its contents can be recycled (don’t worry, I’ll be returning everything), I believe the exception is the foam padding adhered to the top of the inside of the box.
2. Plugging it in
It’s a power strip. I’ve plugged in power strips before. I’ll just plug it into the wall, then push the switch on the bar that lights up red and will give current to the outlets. Ok, I plugged it into the wall. Where is that switch? Is it the house-icon? Nope. Is it one of these buttons on the side? Nope. Maybe it just works, and there’s no main power switch? (Plugs in lamp) Nope. Hmmmm … I then see a giant round button on the main wall socket plug. I press it … voila – Something happened! An LED on the main wall socket now glows blue, and the house icon on the power bar flashes red. I assume red means not connected. I look through the box for some instructions on what to do next, but don’t see any (maybe they existed at one point, maybe not). I make an assumption that I am going to have to download an app to interact with this thing since there’s an App Store icon on the front of the packaging. While this process took all of one minute to troubleshoot, one criticism I can conjure for the product is the break with tradition it makes from most power bars, for better or worse. I associate certain products with certain habits, and when those habits don’t produce the results I’m accustomed to, temporary confusion can result. In this case, I’m used to main power switch being located on the bar and didn’t immediately think to check the wall plug for the switch. More than anything it shows that I am just a simple creature of habit.
Next, I download the Wink app, open it, create a user account, and navigate through a scrolling list of appliance icons to find the Power category. I’m greeted by a pop-up window that has an embedded video that walks me through the setup process. I then navigate through a series of instruction screens. The best part of the whole thing, is the process of connecting the device to the wireless network, mostly because of it’s novelty. The final step before getting up and running with the device is entering the home wifi network and password, and beginning a countdown. During the countdown you are supposed flip your phone’s screen to face the home icon on the bar and when the countdown reaches ’0′ a sequence of rapidly flashing white light is emitted from the phone’s screen in a fashion that could induce epileptic seizure. A light sensor in the bar interprets the light patterns and translates it to a string that it can use to connect to the router. Pretty rad.
All of this of course, relies on the user owning an android or ios device, which of course is becoming fairly ubiquitous. And the device is seemingly marketed to the indie-minded consumer, which is largely comprised of young consumers that have come of age with the internet.
3. User Experience
The in-app experience is really straight forward and well designed. A background graphic of the product corresponds with the buttons to toggle outlets on and off. There is definitely a >1 second delay in device activation, but this is something I can personally tolerate.
There are a few things I’ve encountered with the device that seem a little buggy.
The first thing I noticed is that there’s no feedback in the app when the main switch is turned off. I can unplug the strip or manually de-power one of the outlets and the change isn’t reflected in the app. Changes to the physical world aren’t accurately reflected in the virtual world.
The device also lost network connectivity at one point (I think), and turned off both devices that were web controlled – a lamp and my laptop charger. For this reason, I wouldn’t rely on these outlets for devices that require persistent power like a refrigerator, but that almost goes without saying.
An encouraging aspect of the Wink platform (what Genius runs on) is that it has an open RESTful API. While this means little for the consumer directly, it means that developers and product designers might tap into the device from the outside.
I think the biggest challenge for the Pivot Power Genius is providing utility beyond novelty. What I mean by this is that the product relies on users to creatively find applications for the device. As Claire Rowland mentions in her book “Designing Connected Products” most people use the connected power strip to control lamps and struggle to use it for anything else. I think this is a broader challenge facing connected products in general that has to do with the affordances of the internet. We oftentimes repurpose existing products with internet connectivity and use them in the same capacity, but the internet obliterates the constraints of space. How can we take advantage of this to provide new value and generate novel products for the consumer sphere instead of simply repurposed ones?
A haptic collar piece that receives directional instructions via bluetooth. The collar has seven motors embedded that are actuated in various sequences depending on the received direction:
‘forward’ – two motors on the front of the collar alternate vibration
‘upcoming left’ – three motors on the left side of the collar vibrate in sequence
‘turn left now’ – three motors on the left side of the collar vibrate simultaneously
‘upcoming right’ - three motors on the right side of the collar vibrate in sequence
‘turn right now’ - three motors on the right side of the collar vibrate simultaneously
‘turn around’ – three motors on the back of the collar vibrate in three short pulses
‘stop ahead’ – all seven motors vibrate in three short pulses
‘stop now’ – all seven motors vibrate for 2 seconds