Adventures in managing failure (Omate, Sony)
I'm sitting here in bed recovering from a minor surgical procedure (seriously minor, so don't get distracted) and decided to spend some quality time with the TrueSmart in conjunction with my Sony Xperia Z1s. Like many of you, I waited 6+ months for my device (apologies to those *still* waiting - I feel your pain). What I'm *not* certain of, is how many people here were looking at the TrueSmart as a serious training watch. For me, that was as or *more* important than the propeller-head functions of being a real Android device. There *were* some things related to safety and long-range excursions (such as traveling out of range of cell towers and running a BT-connected satellite communication device) but that was more of the nice-to-have variety, as I do that kind of adventure travel once or twice per year. My main use case is regular weekly training on the bike, in the gym and in the pool. The TrueSmart seemed perfectly suited to this, while being an "all-day wearer" and much more versatile than task-specific training watches.
Then it happened - you all know the drama around the IPx7 rating. Omate went from showing demo videos of Laurent stepping out of the pool with his device and later posting that the watch is "IP67+" - indicating higher resiliency versus the standard -- to abandoning the water resistant aspect of the device completely. This is more than an academic/marketing issue for me. This is a major design goal failure in my view, and it's pretty much a deal-breaker for my central use case for this device.
So it is with some trepidation that I put any more effort into this device than it takes to update the firmware and post it for sale on eBay/Amazon/whatever.
What kept me interested? ...the work of Lokifish Mars, Daniel Ortiz, Kurt Huwig, Dee's Troy, Cyril Preiss and others... including some serious discussion in this forum about improving the water resistance of the device. That's all pretty heartening stuff. But at the end of the day it comes down to how it's suited to *my* use - even if the goals change, so I set about to put both Lokifish's and Dee's ROMs on my TrueSmart and try them out. I started with Runkeeper and Ride with GPS, and found both to be beyond acceptable - nearly exceptional. I had brought my bike into my bedroom before my surgery (set up on a trainer from my days when I was recovering from knee surgery last year) and was already beginning to fit the TS onto the handlebars in a way that I could use the camera "facing forward" with Ride with GPS - to be able to grab snapshots as I go along my route. Pretty. Freaking. Cool. I expected the Runkeeper app to look/perform well - but RWGPS was a pleasant surprise. And even though the screen is small, it's much brighter/more readable than the screen of my Sony Zperia Z1s in daylight. This encourages me greatly.
Then I started to look into Cyril Preiss's "SWApps" suite, and things got REALLY interesting. I grok the concept of a companion device versus a standalone device that plays well with others at arm's length. I've done quite a bit of work in mobile tech, and even have an inkling of how things work "on the metal". Both approaches have their uses, but I always thought of *my* use case as being in the standalone-without-a-SIM variety, since I was generally looking for capture of training data with occasional Wi-Fi tethering/sync of that data back to the web apps. So the "tell me why my pocket is buzzing" aspect of companion usage never really felt that compelling to me. That has somewhat to do with the fact that unless I'm expecting contact I just let chatter go to voice mail/inbox/whatever and clear it later.
With all of that said, Cyril seems to have done something I never thought anyone would bother to do - split the difference between the two functional core cases for wearables, and perhaps create a super-set of those roles while doing so in a fairly elegant manner. It makes a really strong case for the TrueSmart - at least in *my* mind. Because of this, I started to seriously re-think my purpose for the TS, from focusing on it as a glorified training watch to something that really covered many more bases.
[cue Taiko drums]
When I made the switch from the iPhone 4S, it was to the Sony Xperia Z. I really liked it. In fact I *loved* it. One of the things I really enjoyed about the device (other than it was a fairly well-executed Android platform) was the water-resistance that allowed me to keep it by the edge of the pool. "Why?" you ask? Good question. Right now I swim with a Polar FT1 armband and coded HRM strap (their GymLink protocol transmits/receives at 5kHz which goes through water). Every few laps I pause to take a picture of the FT1. Later I go through the images and record the timing/heart rate measurements to create a graph of my performance. Yup - OLD SCHOOL DATA COLLECTION. It actually took a bit of work to get the phone to STAY THE F*CK ON and leave the device running, so I could just pick it up, take a snap and get back to paddling. But yeah - I'm nerdy about data like that. Some people collect baseball cards. Whatever. So I upgraded to the Z1s essentially for Android 4.3 and BTLE. This allowed me to capture cycling data from the cadence meter by Topeak (Panobike - highly recommended) and HRM data while in the gym using the Polar HR7 (also highly recommended). Awesome, right? Well, I'm getting tired of spending more time processing the data from my swims that the actual amount of time I spend in the pool (this is partly because I'm really not that strong of a swimmer yet, but I digress). So I really, really want to be able to get seamless data into *a* device that can just record/correlate the data and I can get on with my day. Is that too much to ask?
Evidently so... but I'll stay with the Sony saga for a bit longer.
So I'm working with Lokifish's ROM, connected to the Z1s via Wi-Fi tethering. SWApps is cool - like - really cool. I'm beginning to think this is going to work... until it doesn't. Bear in mind, I don't know what the Z1s "thinks" is data as in "oh, you need the Internet through me? Let me get that for you..." versus device-to-device chatter via Wi-Fi that doesn't require outside connection - but the Z1s seems to think that it can shut down its HotSpot tethering functionality completely when it thinks there's no traffic for ten minutes. I mean, I get it - this is a strategy to save the battery, but when you turn that 'feature' off you run head-long into a battery drain issue. I happen to believe this is lazy/sloppy programming in T-mobile's Wi-Fi management stack, but that's based more on my experience with T-mobile than knowledge of the Sony Xperia line.
And to be honest I'd like to have the watch *just run* for a few days in this mode when needed. I don't mind heavy (or nearly complete) drain of the device while it's doing data capture during training. But when it's just a watch - why turn it into a focus/distraction by burning down the power source so far you're spending more time plugging and unplugging it from the charger than clearing notifications? So, what to do? Why, try Bluetooth tethering of course. Seems logical, right? Run the watch in "airplaine" mode, so so need for (relatively) battery-draining Wi-Fi, and the bandwidth limitations of Bluetooth is not so much of an issue in this case. This is device comms, not Netflix, right? So, easy-peazy-lemon-squeezy I put Dees_Troy's BT ROM on the device and set about to tether it to my Z1s...
"What's that? I can't do that? But I just read on a web page that all I have to do is go to the HotSpot management page and enable the Bluetooth tethering option, right? I'm sorry, what? As of Android 4.3 Sony has disabled Bluetooth tethering for anything but their own devices?"
Seriously. This is "classic" Sony, and by that I mean the Sony *I* knew when I first started working for them back in 2003. The Sony *I* knew refused to put a product they owned (Sonic Foundry's Vegas, probably the best video editor on the Windows platform) in lieu of a product they did *not* own (Pinnacle software, a company that doesn't exist any more - which tells you all you need to know). This is the same Sony that told Steve Jobs to go screw himself when he suggested they might do well to put his OS on Sony machines (doh!). This is the same Sony that decided to create a horribly designed music service years after iTunes, when they had multiple chances to jump in before Jobs created the market - and now that application/platform doesn't exist any more (which again is all you really need to know about that). I could go on - BUT - when I took a look at the Xperia line, I saw a Sony mobile device group that was interested in participating in open-source, showed an inclination to respond positively to notes from outside developers, and generally was more open and participatory in nature. I thought "well, they must have finally grown up"...
Then today I see the same old Sony, closing down their features to only be available on other Sony products. (cue the sad trombone) What I guess happened, and I'm pretty certain of this, is that some empty-shirt exec saw the spike in sales of the Xperia phone line, and then saw that the tablet sales were flat and said "Hmmm, I bet if we do 'tighter integration' with our phones and tablets that we'd sell more to our phone users" and promptly ordered the lock-down of BT tethering on their phones. I'm not a conspiracy nut - I've actually been in meetings where Sony execs have intentionally knee-capped their own products in order to look like they're "doing something" without actually doing anything. Adding by taking away is the kind of failure at basic math
that only a huge company like Sony can manage for so many years. I'm sure that same person is being considered for CEO of the company some day.
Believe it or not, it even gets better, or worse depending on your perspective. I'm pulling Dee's ROM and the connection keeps failing. Mind you, I tether via WiFi through my phone because I get really solid 4GLTE data rates to/from the device because I'm basically line-of-site with the tower nearest me. That, and the other 'dedicated' Internet services are pretty weak, and it's a no-brainer for most situations. However the ROM download is at 143MB and I look down at my phone to see the "SONY" logo on the front screen - it was restarting. I picked up the device and it was hot, and I mean HOT. Not so much that I needed to drop it but enough that I wondered if I had placed it somewhere it had picked up ambient heat from an outside source. Nope. This is all Sony's doing. So I try a few more times, each with progressively more aggressive temperature management. I put the phone in the freezer for a minute (yup, you read that right) and then brought it back out, set up the HotSpot and started to download the ROM again. And again the Z1s reset itself (with no warning) as the ROM got to about 180MB. Damn.
I put my hand under the Z1s and found that a spot above the NFC chip on he back panel as just as hot as it was before. The rest of the phone felt cool as a cucumber. So I did the freezer again, this time for a few minutes - and brought with it a gel pack that had been sitting behind a pack of ice cubes since I recovered from my knee surgery. I used that as a 'pillow' for the Z1s, and started the process once more. And the phone failed yet again, with little or no residual heat near the NFC chip. So now I'm starting to get really frustrated - because this is a major hardware issue that's not related to the environment. I've done file up/downloads before with fairly sizable assets - video and audio files for projects (my latest was the "Incredibly Fit" video series for FerrignoFIT - you can find demos on YouTube and Vimeo) and this *never* happened to me before. And then it dawned on me - I was using Wi-Fi both directions
. On my large studio computer I always connect via USB tether, because that machine is never online unless I'm moving a file (or doing an update, etc). I thought to myself "nah - this can't be true" so I connected the phone to the laptop via USB without chilling it down, set everything up and started the the file download once again.
BOOM! Downloaded it without a hitch.
So here we have what I consider to be a major design flaw - one device making one connection to the Internet and moving a file a few hundred MB in size - causing the device to restart without warning. The mobile hotspot functionality is supposed to handle up to ten devices. I have a hard time believing that either Sony and/or T-Mobile didn't test this to the point of seeing that failure that occurs early and often. It's kind of astonishing, really. I can understand a fledgling company like OMate dropping the ball (to a point) but two large companies like Sony and T-Mobile missing something like this? What's the point of T-Mobile holding back updates for six months if their device/infrastructure is going to crash their devices at the first sign of solid throughput? Sony made a bad design choice, and T-Mobile was lazy and stupid for allowing it on the market with such fragile capability. But at least the Z1s actually water-proof.
I don't want to look like I'm giving OMate a pass on their other failures with the TrueSmart
. It's easy to point to their most glaring failure - to live up to their specs, as they spent a great deal of time prancing around about how design is more than a department. Well, I have news for Laurent Le Pen, supply chain is more than making sure the paperwork is signed. Maybe some of the glaring deficiencies in the casing/hardware will get sorted, but you still have to deal with Mediatek
. That failure is probably the most problematic for me when looking at Omate. Given that Laurant Le Pen's background is supposed to be in supply chain, his failure to properly evaluate and actively manage a partner is a cardinal sin. There may have been Herculean efforts to correct that, but the results have left everyone wanting - especially those here who have thrown so much "good money after bad" in trying to compensate for those failures. Maybe this isn't the end of that story and they pull a rabbit out of a hat with this device. Maybe it all gets corrected with the *next* TrueSmart, whatever that might be. But one thing I know for sure, I'll never put money in one of these projects again, and Kickstarter/Indiegogo can thank Laurent Le pen for that. They're welcome to "fail forward" as much as they can afford, but it won't be with any more of my money.
As for whether I'll continue to manage the failure of the TrueSmart with my time, that remains to be seen. I see a LOT of talent here - and see certain folks pulling back while others are still pouring it on. I wish I could be more optimistic. But even with that, I may keep the TrueSmart and continue to use it as a high-consumption Wi-Fi tethered device, and who knows - maybe I'll throw a SIM in it and leverage more of the SWApps features. If the aftermarket waterproofing effort comes to fruition I may actually get back to my core use case. But then again, as I've said nearly every place I've decided to enter the conversation, I'm much more likely to just go to the real pros in this arena - Polar or Garmin, and just make the move to a wearable that won't remind me of its status as an unwelcome distraction.
The one thing I'm *certainly* going to do is take this Z1s back to T-Mobile and get either an HTC One M8 or Samsung S5. That's one failure that can be handled with relative ease.