Sunday, April 20, 2014

Quirky's Spotter

I have been ogling this device for a while, and I finally picked up one, as well as a Pivot Power Genius and Porkfolio, during Think Geek's recent clearance event. I'm glad I didn't pay full retail for it, but it's still an interesting device, despite its severe limitations.

Given my experiences thus far with the other products, I'm surprised at just how bad this one device is. Although, the included instructions with all of them need work. (The master power button on the PPG could be better labeled, and I still haven't taken the time to find out how to change the batteries on the Porkfolio.)

I have a major investment in X10 based controllers, so I'm used to having to deal with a certain amount of eccentricity and peculiar limitations in gadgets. (Imagine having loud clunks sound whenever you want to turn a light on or off just so you can have CFLs, or having to map the electrical wiring in your apartment and pulling drop cords behind furniture just so you can make sure all of your controlled devices are on the same phase.) In any case, the lack of any kind of meaningful logging, control over sensitivity, or immediate display of status in the app is really disappointing.

The simplest of these issues to resolve would be the in-app display. Whenever I launch the app, on iOS or Android, it shows my Porkfolio, and I have yet to find a way to change order of devices. As much as I like being reminded that I have money, it's not really what I'm looking for. Then, once the Spotter is selected, I get pretty but essentially useless menu. It would be easy to include the last temperature measurement and the light and vibration sensor state on that screen at least. If I want to configure triggers, then I can tap through to another menu. It would also be nice to be able to see and configure all of the possible triggers from one screen, instead of separately for every sensor. If I had more than one Spotter, I would probably give up before I had them doing anything useful.

Sensitivity adjustment… I understand the desire for simplicity, but that's what hidden menus are for. Make me have to jiggle the device three times, point my phone to the North, set a trigger with a magic word for the name, and draw the secret sigil upon my touch screen before you give me the extra dials and switches, but put them in there for those of us who are willing to do the calibration to suit our environments.

As far as logging and graphs over time are concerned, my bathroom scale does a better job as a temperature monitor, while running on batteries and connected to wi-fi. It was also somewhat easier to get connected to my wireless network. (For those of you wondering, it's the WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer from Withings.) It even has a website, so I'm not limited to just the mobile device platforms supported by the manufacturer for viewing the information it's collecting. (N.B. I would still need one for the initial configuration, but if it came down to it, I could likely borrow one from a friend for a few minutes, if I did not have one myself.)

These really need a full-featured, openly-documented API to make them useful for integration with other services and devices. It would also be amazing, if there were a way to poll them locally. I don't expect Quirky to disappear overnight, but I'm not spending hundreds of dollars on devices that depend entirely on a third-party to continue providing basic functions. (If the Withings devices didn't function at least as well as non-connected versions without the web-services component, I wouldn't have purchased them either.)

I look forward to seeing what happens as things continue to evolve, and I will probably buy more products from Quirky — the Egg Minder is what I have my eye on now. However, I'm not picking up any more Spotters until the situation improves, nor will I be recommending them to anyone I like in the foreseeable future.