Object Trackers – Two Approaches

Nokia announced, the Treasure Tag, new hardware to go with their Lumia phones sporting the latest update. The tag is a small piece of hardware that communicates with the phone via bluetooth and an app on the phone that monitors proximity, alerting you when the device falls out of bluetooth range from your phone. Until you turn it off (which you can do via the app) the connection between the phone and a paired Treasure Tag is constantly monitored. Nokia says a battery can keep the Tag running for up to six months.

Each phone can support up to four Treasure Tags. The idea is that you attach a tag to something you want to have close-by. Keys, purse, whatever.

The Nokia Treasure Tag app description mentions that you can use, “Audio alerts to find a tag, or a tag to find your phone” but I’m not clear on how a phone can activate the audio on a tag or visa versa if either is out of bluetooth range.

Nokia Treasure Tag

What would be cool is if the Treasure Tag could broadcast GPS coordinates much like an iPad or iPhone can when you activate the Find My iPhone feature on iCloud. Unfortunately, such functionality would be cost & power prohibitive on such a small device that retails for $30. As a work around, the Treasure Tile can put a pin on a map and show you where it last had a connection with it’s phone. Useful if you misplaced an object but useless if someone’s walked off with your purse.

Tile

The Tile is taking a different approach. Instead of looking for a paired device, the Tile can pair with any device running the Tile app. For example, if someone’s walked off with your bag and ends up at a party where someone else is running the Tile app, their app will send time and location of that occurrence from their phone to yours via their phone’s GPS. This is, of course, useless again if the thief discovers the Tile and throws it in the trash but the approach is innovative in its crowdsourced approach. There needs to be a critical mass of people running the Tile app for it to be truly effective but one can imagine the Tile being able to tie into the iOS Beacon sensors in every iPhone & iPad as a quick way to get to scale.

The Tile is also different is a couple of other ways. There is no replaceable battery. A tile lasts for a year, then you replace it. It also features a, “where you last saw it” function that pushes a pin into a map so you can figure out where to begin your search. There is also an audio signal that you can activate to find a Tile that might be hidden under your sofa cushions or in your laundry. Finally, there is an on-screen feature on the app that gives an indicator when you are getting closer or further away from an item when you’re within 150-50 feet of the item.

Tile Getting Warmer

I’m not sure which approach wins here. The goal is to sell a small accessory that you can attach to an object that lets you keep track of an locate it. Each has its own strengths but my gut tells me that form factor is pretty important. If the prime use case is attaching a sensor to your keys, wallet, (or, as my daughter said, television remote), size is pretty important. While the Tile wins on size, it’s unfortunate that you have to landfill the tag every year and would keep me from buying a set.

this yor folt

moerk

The Reply Allpocalypse is something everyone who has ever been on a large email list (NYU, Columbia). It’s an amateur mistake but it starts out with someone send an email to the entire list but is then compounded when people on the list (the larger the initial list, the more chances they’ll be some jokers in there that don’t understand how email works) start to reply and, instead of replying to the sender, decided that everyone on the list needs to see their response.

As the thread continues, everyone’s inbox starts to fill up with further replies of things like “unsubscribe” or “stop spamming me!!” that are also sent to the entire list. This can spiral out of control and bring a mail server to it’s knees and totally take out any mobile mail clients that are frantically trying to keep up.

At some point, people begin to realize that the list is a way for anyone to push a message to everyone at the entire company so you get and “open mike” situation where everyone who has had anything to stay will jump on the bandwagon with their own one-liner they just had to share.

The graphic above is from one such incident that happened while I was at Nokia. I don’t even remember the initial email but it was sent to a large list, could have been the entire company which I think is over 100k souls. As the Reply Alls started to pile on, everyone’s inbox was momentarily taken over and then someone helpfully decided to make an infographic of the type of responses that piled up.

Most famously was the “this yor folt” which came from someone in one of the Central European offices. English was obviously not his first language but his one-liner kicked off a whole new thread of people who started a new thread to poke fun at his butchering of the language as a representation of the folks who kept hitting Reply All to vent and complain,  not realizing that they were actually compounding the problem.

If you’re going to send out a mass email, the BCC is your friend.

UPDATE: Apparently shirts were made.

this-yor-folt

and mugs

folt-mug

Back to Base

Today is my last day at Nokia. The great mobile adventure is over. More accurately, the need to define a mobile web as something other than the internet at large has mostly vanished.

I left Yahoo for Nokia with a vision of building services to connect the social web to phones that knew more about you and the world around you than a desktop PC could ever hope to know. I built a few prototypes and white-boarded many more. The potential is rich and the rush of apps and services that are “location aware” is only the beginning of what we will see in the years to come. In many ways it feels like 1995 all over again and we’re all re-discovering developing for the web browser. All that’s missing is a “View Source” to bring in the masses.

It’s been an amazing experience highlighted by a two year assignment to Helsinki which gave me, my wife, two kids, and our little dog Mimi an experience of a lifetime. Nokia is a global brand and the multitude of languages and cultures that you bump into day-to-day in the hallways and canteen is mind-boggling. Helsinki is a global hub with many families moving in and out of Finland exposing us to a broad group of people from all over who became our friends. We hope to continue to keep in touch with as they move around the world. My Finnish colleagues too were gracious in taking in this relatively bombastic Californian, tolerating my bubbly “Good Morning!” greetings and gently instructing me in gentler, more subtle methods of salutation.

But now we’re back in California. While the new Nokia offices in Sunnyvale are beautiful, the commute is not. While I learned heaps from Nokia about the mobile phone business, particulars in mobile UI (design for the one-handed strap-hanger in Bangalore), as well as unique aspects of localization (make room for long German place names, right-to-left Arabic script, and currencies in Europe use a comma, not a decimal), the excitement for me is further up the stack with the applications.

I’ll take a few days off then start anew at GigaOm on Monday where I have accepted their invitation to be Product Manager of their premium subscription product, pro.gigaom.com. In many ways this is a return to my roots when I was a PM for Factiva.com – another premium news subscription service. Coming full circle from a time when content was screaming to be free, we are entering an age of content factories where well-edited media and curated content will be something worth paying for. Anyone can sit and read everything coming through on ReadWriteWeb, TechCrunch, and yes, GigaOm and branch out to regional tech sites such as Arctic Startup and Asiajin that do an excellent job of covering their region but who has the time to read it all? Algorithms are getting better (check out Summify) but social networks that mix up family, friends, and professional contacts are getting muddy as filters and we all run the risk of building filter bubbles around ourselves.

There is a market for summaries and curation and I want to build a platform that enables that. The internet has made infinite distribution available at little to no cost. The challenge (and opportunity) is for publishers to maximize revenues by offering ever greater premium upsells to their True Fans on a steep value curve so that everyone wins. The folks I’ve met at GigaOm totally get this and I’m psyched to get cracking on building out  features to meet the demand. This is going to be fun!

It’s not that bad

The inevitable layoffs announced today at Nokia (where I work) were not as bad as expected. The trick of how to keep the Symbian development teams churning away when you’ve already announced that you’ll be ramping it down was solved by shifting a block of 3,000 employees over to Accenture where they can continue to work or re-deploy their talents on to other Accenture projects.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop did an great job on Finnish TV this evening easing worries, popping conspiracy theory bubbles, and boosting confidence. The entire 20-minute interview is on the YLE site. YLE is the state-funded broadcast network, similar to Japan’s NHK or the BBC in the UK.

Addressing dead on the nagging concern Symbian engineers had about future employment is a brilliant tactical move. This takes the wind out of Finnish employees and press who were bracing for bad news or worse, something suspiciously too optimistic. This keeps the teams’ eye on the ball which is to ship 150 million devices, not look for work elsewhere.

Finns love to rally around stories of the bleakness and unfairness of life. This is something Jim Jarmusch nailed in his 1991 movie Night on Earth clipped below. I encourage you to watch both parts if you want to get an insight into Finnish culture.

Back in 1997, when Apple was $4 a share, the CEO at the time, Gil Amelio, left journalists unsatisfied with his half-answers to their burning questions.  It took Apple years to find it’s way again and only then, with the return of their iconic co-founder. Hopefully Mr. Elop’s transparency and directness will shortcut the process for Nokia’s return.

Driving around with lasers

I heard about this cool project from a Nokia colleague on the Maps team using some amazing hardware used by Navteq. I promised not to blog about it but I discovered today that it was shown off last year so I guess it’s OK to talk about what’s already been reported. Apparently this was all the buzz at CES 2010 but I was in Finland and Mapping isn’t really my field so I didn’t know it was public. Any excuse to blog about a car mounted with lasers!

The image above is the output from a specially equipped car that scans the road and surrounding buildings with an array of 60 lasers on it’s roof. Think of it as an über-version of the standard camera cars you see mapping the streets today. It’s insane. Here’s how it’s described in a post by CNet.

One big part is a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system that uses lasers to construct 3D maps of the world out of a sea of data points. The company boasts that its True system uses 64 rotating lidar lasers, captures 1.5 million 3D data points per second from features as far as 150 meters away and works even when the data collection vehicle is traveling at highway speeds.

There’s more that can be done with the hardware than what you see above but I better not go into that. Rest assured, it’s mind-blowing. I was joking with a colleague, combine the plane and landscape database from the Flight Simulator guys at Microsoft with the street view database from Navteq and you’ve got a hyper-realistic gaming environment.

If you want to learn more about LIDAR and the technology about it, there’s a talk by two folks from Navteq at the upcoming Where 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, CA in April.

Oulu Open Hack

I spent a couple days last week in Oulu (a city in Northern Finland) helping out on a hackfest. For more on the what, who and why, check out my previous post (Why we Hack). This post is to thank the sponsors and share how it went.

What always amazes me with these type of self-organizing events is the quality of the output. There were only four people volunteering in our spare time to put this together but we managed to pull it off. All the entries were good quality and I’m pretty sure everyone had fun.

Things kicked off with Kristian and I giving a brief overview of the ground rules and history of hack. We then stepped away to give the floor to Ivan Kuznetsov from HeiaHeia who came in on a night train from down south to join us and help get people inspired about their API. HeiaHeia is a cool concept. Kind of like a Foursquare for health where you check-in your workouts and receive praise (or jeers) from your friends.

Next, the UBI-Oulu guys showed us their platform which connects to 40+ interactive monitors around town. Each monitor has a bluetooth and gps sensor as well as a camera and they all talk to the UBI Platform which can read data from the web. With two huge projectors also running all night (nights are long during the Winter too) throwing images up on the side of the opera house in Oulu Harbor, you can let your imagination run wild on what you can build. If you think you have a good idea, I’d encourage you to submit it to their challenge by the end of November because the folks at UBI are granting 7000 – 10,000 EUR to the winning proposal.

Things hummed along and teams quickly settled into their groove. The one thing, in retrospect that I regret, is that we skipped over a round of introductions to get some cross team communication going. People did eventually chat with each other but, as a chatty American, I sometimes forget that it’s helpful to break the ice a bit to get things going.

The one highlight of the night (for me at least) was when I stepped outside to get some fresh air to wake me up a bit. I had an electronic key for the front door that I had been using all day but, unbeknown to me, this key no longer worked past midnight. All the people for whom I had a phone number had left so when I discovered that my key no longer worked, I tried to figure out what I could do. I tweeted using the #ouluopenhack hashtag to see if I could get the attention of anyone upstairs but, of course, they were all busy hacking.

So let me paint the picture. Oulu is North of Iceland, North of Fairbanks, Alaska, basically way the hell up there. In November it’s getting dark at around 3pm. By midnight, the time I’m standing there figuring out what I’m going to do, it’s pitch dark and very, very cold. It wasn’t quite life or death, I was dressed for the weather and I could have called a cab back to the hotel but I’m sure everyone upstairs would have been like, “What the hell happened to Kennedy?” so I resolved to figure out how to get back in but time was ticking.

Snow was on the ground but I luckily found one pebble and took at look up at the windows up on the second floor, the only ones lit, and and tried to imagine the room layout. I picked the one 2 feet x 2 feet window that I remember was next to a table with some guys working and threw the pebble, my single chance to get some attention. I lucked out and hit the window and two scruffy guys peered into the darkness to see me waving frantically and shortly afterwards padded down in their socks to pop open the door.

All the world’s technology at my disposal and I had to resort to communication technology made famous by Shakespere’s Romeo. Those that know what I’ve been working on at Nokia now know that my prototype now has a real-life use case!

I went back to playing with some Nokia APIs before moving on and fiddling around with the Twilio API to make a hack that, would allow someone to leave a message that would get transcribed by Google Voice and emailed to the Oulu Open Hack mailing list (just in case I got locked out again). I think I finally finished up and headed back to my hotel around 2am.

Prizes, we had three

One for the best app using Qt or QML, one for the best UBI hack, and the overall favorite by popular vote.

Alexander Savin won the Nokia C7 with a cool QML app which connected to HeiaHeia to visualize your workouts and automatically upload them to the service.

Ville Alatalo and Jyrki Laurila won the UBI hack prize with their 4squbi app that used the Foursquare API to show you tips from around each UBI screen and who was checked in nearby.

Jason Brower won the overall with his very ambitious hack which sensed the rhythm you shook your phone to a playing song and played it back to you via the phones vibration engine. The final application is so that people could share vibration-enhanced ringtones.

All the hacks along with videos are listed on the Oulu Open Hack wiki.

Shout Outs

Kristian Luoma (CasCard) managed to score a high-quality venue with free bandwidth and good lighting (and a zen rock garden to boot!) from the University of Oulu’s Center for Internet Excellence. I can’t think of a better place to host a hackfest and we all thank them for bearing with our 24-hours of streaming random tunes from our Spotify channel and the use of their staff kitchen refrigerator where we chilled our cans of energy drink.

Thanks go to Jyrki’s company Codemate who paid for the t-shirts and very professional badges and lanyards for everyone.

Also, thank you Forum Nokia for paying for the pizza and drinks (I’ll be sending you my receipts!) and tossing in a C7 phone as the prize for the best QML hack.

Ville did an amazing job on the designs for the shirts, website, and posters. I think in all Kristian, Jyrki, Ville, and I put no more than 10-15 hours total work towards organizing the hackfest but it was due to Ville’s artwork that we managed to look more professional than we actually were! Ville also captured the video on a hacked up N8 and spliced up all the demo videos and created a highlight reel below.