Theory: Wearable tech (hardware) company is a software company

There has been an explosion of interest in wearable tech or hardware companies in general lately. From meetup groups to accelerators specializing in hardware to a playbook for wearable tech on TechCrunch, everyone is trying to figure out if this new trend is a big new opportunity or at the very least a fad to capitalize on.

I have the following theory:

Wearable tech (or hardware) is connected physical (usually plastic) user interfaces (input devices) to web based software or apps that try to be more a sticky (or natural) way to input useful data and/or interact with software on a mobile device (phone). Without advanced software, there is no value in the hardware.

Wearable Tech solves a problem with web based software — you have to use a mouse (or touchscreen) and keyboard to input data. Phones are better than laptops or desktops as they are more portable but essentially they aren’t ideal. Popular apps like Foursquare which can be incredibly useful to both marketers and customers have been limited because ‘checking in’ has a terrible workflow.

I have to pull out my phone, open an app, type or tap on stuff, then put it back in my pocket.

Why can’t my phone stay in my pocket? Enter Pebble. In the very early days Eric would insist that people really don’t want to pull out their phones every time they wanted to check why it was buzzing. A quick glance at a watch would be a huge improvement. A lot people agreed (I love my Pebble).

What Pebble (and other wearable tech) can do is create that sensor enabled connection and data collection/consumption that is a more natural or low cost interaction. It still requires software. In fact it should be built on software that adds value and the hardware is the sticky part people can’t live without.

Nike Fuel Band, Fitbit, etc.

Update April 21, 2014: There isn’t a lot of information yet but it appears Nike is at least scaling back its Fuel Band and focusing on software. Not sure that should be taken as failure but rather pointing towards the fact this class of wearable tech is experimental. The band wasn’t Nike’s core product but it has allowed them to understand how sensors, software, and their shoes can interact with customers.

Hardware companies that ignore the software and overall User Experience (UX) are in trouble

RIM (or Blackberry) is an easy example to pick on but if you think about it they gained popularity not because they had great hardware but the way Blackberry OS manages messages is arguably still ahead of everyone else. Apple focused the overall UX parts that RIM didn’t focus on: how the customer interacts with the brand, device appearance, apps, carrier billing, photos, and music. For managing messages iOS is still terrible. But the entire User Experience is important.

For upstart hardware companies the UX is super important and should not be ignored. Just because your hardware does something novel does not mean someone will buy it (and use it). Your hardware interacts with software and you need to think about how that happens, always.

Companies like Kiwi are offering products that will enable hardware companies to spend more time figuring out the UX than how to get working hardware prototypes. More useful tools are on the horizon.

There are a lot opportunities in wearable tech and the internet of things

The number of hardware companies that are in trouble because their software only runs on their hardware and isn’t networked is a lot. The opportunities created by having a very powerful and connected ‘brain’ in a phone changes the focus to the UX advantages you can design, the software to enhance that, and spend far less time on extremely complex (and costly) development of hardware that needs to do everything. The low hanging fruit in wearable tech and hardware is building the software that lets you use your phone as the brains behind an array of sensors.

Also, what is being missed in all this hype is that things like hearing aids are the original “wearable tech” and the technology built into them along with how they get to consumers is way ahead of everyone entering the space now. Highly advanced devices in the larger medical space are likely where the big wins are going to be. 

The first round of wearable tech was medical. Then the landscape changed with powerful mobile computing devices (phones). This next round is about people building highly advanced hardware that connects to software for something with more than an incremental improvement in User Experience.

Advances in connected devices brings us one step closer to ubiquitous computing. Exciting times!

10 years of blogging: coder to dad to entreprenuer

In April 2004 I started blogging. When it started, I wrote about things that I would have posted on uw.general (the wild west of amazing backchannel at U of Waterloo once upon a time) – status updates on the main web page, standards, and other interesting things. That evolved into an interesting timeline of life events over the years. In looking back I can see my transition from a coder working away at web stuff to a dad and entrepreneur. What I learned going back over my blog’s 10 years:

  • Writing more means I have become a better writer or expect more from my writing which means I blog less.
  • Going through my old posts reminded me that startups need community more than anything – that is what gave me the confidence to build one.
  • It is fun to build things. I don’t want to ever stop doing that.
  • I need to shift back to a balance of sharing life events and writing about things I am passionate about.

This is my current top 10 in the last 10 years.

  1. Back then I was really excited about web development, this is when I first started thinking about Ruby on Rails in January 2005.
  2. It wasn’t until the summer of 2006 when I really got excited about development — that summer was a big with the development of some interesting things on rails.
  3. January 2007 my first son was born (and it was mentioned in the Daily Bulletin at the bottom!) – I posted about the next 3 kids but this one was the first.
  4. January 2007 started the mobile project that became VeloCity. As part of that project we built a twitter clone, UW Chatter. It didn’t go anywhere but it was cool.
  5. I started a new job in with the Special Projects Group and I was President of the University of Waterloo Staff Association – that work inspired TribeHR for me.
  6. StartupCampWaterloo was launched. It was small. In early 2008 we hosted the second one at it was big, over 100 people attended including the infamous David Crow and future CDL G7 member Jevon MacDonald. Then in the fall of 2008 we got really excited about the Startup Community in Waterloo at StartupCampWaterloo3 even though the economy was falling apart.
  7. TribeHR was unveiled at DemoCampGuelph – that demo had a bad connection to the projector, lots of laughing, and 4 years later it was acquired by Netsuite.
  8. IgniteWaterloo started and I did the opening presentation as a last minute stand in!
  9. The moment I truly felt VeloCity was successful and the startup community in Waterloo is heading to an awesome place with the amazing 7cubedproject.
  10. I learned how important things like fishing with kids are.

In 2013 and 2014 so far my posts have almost been entirely focused on the work I am doing. The last 2 years have seen a big shift in my focus to family but that doesn’t come out in my blog at all. I will work on that.

The next 10 years are going to be fun!

The Daily Bulletin Editor that changed the University of Waterloo web

On Tuesday November 8th, 2011, Chris Redmond let everyone know (at the bottom) he is no longer the editor of the University of Waterloo’s daily news publication — the Daily Bulletin. He covers some the history of the Bulletin:

I have been editing the Daily Bulletin through more than 4,500 issues now since it was created in the spring of 1993. Originally the Daily Bulletin was distributed by “gopher”. In the spring of 1995 the first Web versions of the Daily Bulletin were tried out. In 1998, the “Link of the Day” was introduced; in 1999, the use of photos became a regular occurrence. The “When and Where” events listings began in 2003, and the present graphic design dates mostly from 2006.

What he leaves out is the role that he, along with Roger Watt and Carol Vogt, played with getting “UWinfo” online and to the staff, students, and faculty at the University of Waterloo.

When I started at the University of Waterloo in 2001, hired as the campus’ first Web Developer, I was interviewed in Chris’s office atop Needles Hall. That was the first time I actually met him. I heard about this UWinfo group that was two techies and a writer that learned HTML. That writer provided the content that grew into a very rich University of Waterloo web space.

Every business day Chris published an editorial on what is happening on campus. It was easily one of the first blogs in the world, never mind campus. The difference was that before there were commenting systems the uw.general newsgroup is where the ‘discussions’ happened about stories in the Bulletin. This engaged people in the publication at an early time. This is long before they were called blogs and sure comments never found their way into the Bulletin but I don’t think that is a negative thing.

Chris’s work on the Bulletin and what became the University of Waterloo ‘home page’ (something he “edited” daily until sometime after 2007) gave the University of Waterloo a template of content rich web pages. I believe everyone emulated his content focus in the early days and still influences how the web presence will evolve in the future. He saw the value of the web early and worked to use it for good to the best of his ability.

With Carol Vogt retiring a few years back (and sadly passed away shortly thereafter), Roger Watt retiring, the last of Waterloo’s web content pioneers has left his publication that defines the university web space for so many. It’s a big deal in my mind. Yes there are a few other folks that shaped those early days still around but to me the “UWinfo” group was the web… and if I missed anyone that deserves credit for that, sorry. I can update the post.

Good luck in retirement Chris (which isn’t for a few months at least), I look forward to all the content you have yet to create!

Edit: Hat tip to @garywill — almost forgot about Simon the troll

Moved over to WordPress but I broke stuff

I am spending my Sunday moving my blog out of a broken and out dated Rails app (Simplelog – but I had fun with it) over to WordPress. I thought about going back to Textpattern (where it all started in 2004) but I don’t want to think a lot about my blog and I am pretty familiar with WordPress thanks to all the other places I use it. Of course changing database set ups means breaking things, at least for a bit. What I know is broken is a short list though…

Permalinks are really broken

Permalinks have changed even though WordPress imported the link from the RSS it grabs its permalink from “postname” in the db. The old URL’s are in the “guid” column but WordPress doesn’t honor them.

Wordpress tears

I can’t easily map that shorter link from my other db because the post ID’s numbers, post dates, etc are different. For example this screen shot above is post ID# 6 in the WP db called “post_name” but in my simplelog db it is post ID# 448 and the info is in “permalink.” It should be easy if I match the 448 to 6, replace post_name with permalink, and go to the next one by counting down one from simplelog and up one on the wp table. But this is where being an associate director gets you… I can’t seem to figure it out where it doesn’t make a mess somewhere along the way.  I will fix though, maybe.


Simple actually… the old RSS link maps to RSS 0.92 in wordpress, for RSS 2.0 you need to change your feed link to and it should be fine.

No comments carried over

I lost them, need to insert them again if I can map the ids reliably.

Analytics and PostRank out the window

Has a look at my PostRank stuff and wow, all the past info is gone. Same with the google analytics stuff as most of the post links are different now and the old ones don’t work. Sad in a lot of ways but it shows you how delicate this stuff is. Hopefully as I fix the data it will come back.

Overall I like it

As I push ahead with my Project52 commitment I think the switch will make that easier. I am wanting to get my head back into coding though and that has started but I am pretty sure I won’t want to play with Rails again for anything I want to rely on, like say my blog with 400+ posts since 2004.