Why am I an entrepreneur? Because I see where systems break down, I visualize how they might look right and then create the steps needed to get from here to there.
The best part of this interview (in my opinion), is realizing how completely I’ve come full circle, working on revolutionizing the telephone interface that so fascinated me even as a preschooler. Phones interfaces have come a long way since 1975, but not yet far enough.
Note: I did not receive anything from the SweetPea Toy company, nor was I asked to write this review.
The SweetPea3 is an MP3 player designed for young children, 1 - 5 years. Essentially, it replaces the Fisher-Price record player of my youth and the Fisher-Price tape recorder of my 18-year old daughter’s youth with the modern equivalent. (Note: At the time I was ordering our two SweetPea3 players, Amazon.com was showing a product listing for a new Fisher-Price MP3 player due to launch in a couple of months. No product details were available at that time. The product image looks an awful lot like those kiddie tape recorders of yore, including the sing-along microphone… and the size.)
I bought two SweetPea3 players — one lavender, one blue — from the SweetPea3 website. (Also available from Amazon.com.) My main motivation was to give my two youngest children (ages 3 and 5) access to music without buying yet another tape recorder for our old collection of music cassettes.
At $49.95 each, the SweetPea3s were a substantial investment. I admit to spending some time wondering if I should just buy low-end “grown up” MP3 players, instead. Ultimately, I went with the SweetPeas, and was glad I did. Here’s why:
1. Speaker. The SweetPea3 is primarily designed to play over it’s (very decent sounding) speaker. While it can accommodate headphones (not included), they are not the intended playback method; something most parents will prefer for small children. Not only are headphones something I don’t want to give my little ones (a strangulation hazard, especially in bed), they interfere with communication and make it hard for me to monitor volume levels.
2. Size. Sometimes, bigger is better. The SweetPea3 is sized and shaped for small hands. About 8″ long, it’s large enough for them to carry comfortably, and large enough not to slide between the sofa cushions (you wouldn’t believe what slips between our sofa cushions…). In addition to being more comfortable for kids to use, the larger size is safe for children under 3 years, who could easily choke on, say, a Sansa Clip+ or an iPod Shuffle.
3. Design. The player has a nice circular handle just right for little hands. (The product is shaped sort of like a hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” sign, only smaller.) The handle/hole is also perfectly sized for attaching plastic links, so that you can attach the player to a stroller or crib.
4. Rubberized exterior. The players are reasonably cushioned against shocks… and tantrums. Being thrown on our stone floors hasn’t done the blue one in yet.
5. Age-appropriate controls. The SweetPea3’s controls are limited to three buttons: Play/Pause, Back, and Forward. Limited controls means limited opportunities for confusion and frustration. Wisely, there is no Delete function.
6. Parental controls. A parent-accessible menu (hold two buttons down for six seconds to activate the menu) allows for volume control, playlist selection, and a couple of other settings. (Some settings I didn’t understand the need for: “Show Song“? “Pause“? Why wouldn’t I want those features on?)
7. Long battery life. After a week of reasonable use, the battery indicators still show full.
Purchasing from the SweetPea site was easy – the website is nicely designed and simple to navigate. Delivery was prompt and timely. Each box contained the MP3 player, some product guides and ads, and a USB cable. Showing a fine understanding of the target audience, the players came charged and pre-loaded with several songs and stories (some stories are just snippets), making them ready-to-go right out of the box.
Transferring files to the players was odd but not hard — because I’d seen the helpful information one Amazon customer posted. The players have 2 GB of memory, which is plenty for audio content (the website claims over 32 hours).
(On a Mac, the trick is NOT to drag files directly from iTunes to the player, but rather to find the music files in the Finder, and from there, drag and drop to the player’s icon on the Desktop (just like you might copy files from the Finder to an external hard drive). Double-clicking the player’s icon will reveal three playlist folders, into which you sort the audio files. It seemed to me that Playlist 3 does not accept new files; even if it appears to, they won’t be accessible from the player.)
The SweetPea3 was a fabulously successful gift — my daughter and son are delighted with the music players, and a week later, are having a ball with them. They love the control and fun of having their own “iPods” (a marketing coup for Apple), and take them everywhere. And I feel like a great Mommy for buying them.
SweetPea boasts that their player won the 2009 Best Toy Award. That may be so, but the player’s interface — while adequate for a first product — does not live up to the rest of the design, and really requires an upgrade if this product is going to take off.
Here’s what needs to be updated:
1. Larger buttons. The existing buttons are all right for my 3- and 5-year olds, but would be frustrating for the under-two set, or children with below-average fine-motor skills.
2. Volume buttons. These can be on the side to distinguish them from navigation controls. I like the concept of full parental control over the volume via the hidden menu, but not every song is equalized at the same volume as every other song. I’d like my control to be over an absolute maximum decibel volume, and for my kids to be able to control the volume up to that point. Perhaps for the youngest children (up to age 2) this would be overkill, but for the 3-5 year old set, it would be preferable. After all, the volume buttons can always be inactivated via the Parental Control Menu.
4. Playlist selection. Currently, switching between playlists can only be done via the Parental Controls menu, which limits the kids’ ability to choose what to listen to. With 2 GB of memory, there are an awful lot of songs to scroll through to find a specific one. Perhaps the solution is to add an album-sorted list.
5. Color display showing album images in addition to song titles (for kids who can’t read).
6. Faster response time. I was startled by how slow the SweetPea3 is to respond to button presses. My kids have the patience for it, but many won’t and will find themselves pressing furiously to try and elicit a reaction, only to find they’ve overshot.
7. More color options. This isn’t an absolute requirement, of course, but it would be a bonus if there were more color choices. The blue and lavender colors are really nice (nicer than they look on the screen), but if I’d had two girls, which one would have to take the blue? (I know it’s sexist, but you’ll have to live with it.) With small kids, color is the main distinguishing factor; writing their names on the players would not only be useless for the pre-literate ones, it would deface a lovely product.
Overall: The SweetPea3 MP3 player lives up to its tagline, “The MP3 player Made for Kids”. It is a solid choice for young children (birth to 5 years, or older children with motor or developmental delays), but the product is ready for a design update. The SweetPea3 was a fabulously successful gift — my daughter and son are delighted with them. Kids love the control and fun of having their own “iPods” (a marketing coup for Apple), and take them everywhere. And I feel like a great Mommy for buying them.
With regard to my post on Tawkon, ima2seven asked my opinion about various smartphone options. She didn’t know what she was getting into! So instead of replying in the comments, I’ll post my response here:I love my iPod Touch as an iPod and mini-portable computer, BUT absolutely prefer my Blackberry as a smartphone (that’s why I have a Touch and not an iPhone). Blackberry is a much better fit for me, in terms of phone and email usability. For example, my biggest uses (no particular order) of my smartphone are: check new emails, phone functions, send myself notes via email to act upon when I get back to my desk, camera and calendar. I use (with less frequency) podcasting and music features, Google maps, Twitter, Facebook, alarm clock.It’s important to note that the Blackberry is MUCH less convenient for syncing to my Mac than the Nokia E71 it replaced. The E71 synced wirelessly and flawlessly via Bluetooth, keeping my computer and phone contacts and calendars up to date. The Blackberry will not sync to iCal (despite claims to do so), and is erratic and unpredictable about syncing with the contacts. It also requires a special USB cable to sync (none of my 100 other micro-USB cables fit the BB).[As an aside, whichever smartphone you decide to go with, you must first backup your contacts, email, calendars and bookmarks before attempting to sync it to your computer! This will save you a lot of grief if you manage to accidentally overwrite your computer with your empty smartphone instead of vice-versa.]The lack of calendar sync keeps me teetering on the verge of switching back to Nokia or iPhone, but the vastly better email and phone functions keep me with Blackberry. The speed of opening, composing and sending emails from Blackberry is unmatched, for now.I have no personal experience using an Android phone. But here’s a typical quote, tweeted just yesterday by a very tech-savvy colleague who works in the mobile industry, albeit not a programmer:
“almost destroyed my android phone today of rage, because of the time I lost trying to make it a great phone and realizing I won’t succeed. I will stick to my love-hate iPhone for now and patiently wait for WIN7 phones to show up. cannot wait to synchronize Outlook with my phone, and mirror my inbox etc. […] will always be a fun tool for application developers, a phone for geeks and Google adepts, but for a simply rooted guy like me using MS Outlook and few cloud apps, this is not going to work.”
I expect it’s just a little too early for most people to move to Android, unless you are either a programmer, or someone who keeps most of your data in Google’s cloud, anyway (GMail, GMail contacts, Google Calendars, Google Reader, etc.).The upshot: Choosing a smartphone depends on how you really behave when you are mobile. Your real smartphone choices are a QWERTY-keyboard Blackberry (if email and calling is a big part of your day); iPhone (if you mostly want a great iPod and a phone rolled into one, or you’re on a Mac and desire seamless syncing with your computer and MobileMe); and Nokia enterprise phones (if you value great calling functions and sound quality above all else, and don’t want to sacrifice any other features, even if they take a few more keytaps to reach. Nokia phones are fabulously hardy, and gorgeous, too.).Good luck, ima2seven, and I hope you’re happy with your new smartphone!
Favorite books on decision-making:
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) by Robert Cialdini
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses by Lawrence Rosenblum
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Fear No Evil by Natan Sharansky
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
(Note: I recommend reading the first half of this book; after that, it gets pretty repetitious.)
Received in a child’s school prize today:
PRODUCT EXPLAIN:The product for voice,light,elecericity.incorporate.the material adopt all wooland a yard wide .excellent maked and have speciality of defiant,stimalate recreational.it be propitious to children touch and mind enhanceing.atthe same time adult as well as sportful fine toys.
GAME RULE:From jumping–off pointalong pathe end 100cent the pontil go ahead on the way not blow and reach astandard.good luck !
Got it? Good.
*Actually, The Power of Babel is the title of one of my favorite books on language.
Product Reviewed: Tawkon (www.tawkon.com) version 1.0.1 tested on a BlackBerry 9700 (Onyx).
The upshot: While documentation and online help for purchasing and troubleshooting are still sketchy, Tawkon is a remarkable application, and comes as close as I’ve ever seen to achieving the Holy Grail of “Set It and Forget It” as any application out there. Tawkon should be considered a vital utility for every mobile phone.
Tawkon describes itself as “a mobile phone application that gives users information and tools to avoid mobile phone radiation as much as possible, with minimal disruption to normal phone usage.”
Go back and read that sentence again. There are an awful lot of promises packed into that claim:
 a software application for your mobile phone (not a hardware measuring gadget);  delivery of information about your phone’s radiation emissions from its various radios;  tools to help you minimize exposure to cell radiation; and  a usable interface that lets you get on with your calls.
Does Tawkon deliver?
[Disclaimer: After some initial difficulties purchasing and activating the application, Tawkon provided me with the application and asked me to test and review it.]
I’ve been using Tawkon for a week on a BlackBerry 9700 (Onyx). Navigating to the Tawkon website [http://www.tawkon.com/m] on my phone’s web browser, I clicked the big green PayPal button. This took a leap of faith, actually, since no price was noted (Tawkon costs $9.99) and I associate big buttons like that with “one-click” purchases. I clicked anyway. Much to my surprise, I was taken to BlackBerry’s AppWorld and the message “This application is not available on your device or for your carrier.” Hm.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just closed the browser and gave up.
Within hours, and much to my surprise, I received a classy email from Tawkon, thanking me for my interest and asking about my experience downloading and using the application. This was a first for me, and tipped me off to the fact that the Tawkon team is serious — really serious — about getting the user experience absolutely right, every step of the way.
Who could resist a letter starting, “As a young start up, we’re eager for constructive feedback…”? I wrote back: “Today I finally got my AT&T Blackberry 9700 working with my Orange (Israel) SIM. Tried to download Tawkon, and got a message that it’s not compatible with my phone or my operator. Don’t know which. So, I’m disappointed.”
Four hours later, I got a personal email reply from a real person — one of the company’s founders. After some troubleshooting, he explained that the problem was that I had chosen to purchase via PayPal, which meant purchasing through BlackBerry’s App World store, which is not supported in Israel (who knew?). Instead, I needed to click the other green button, and opt to pay using my credit card via the Mobihand store. Purchasing via Mobihand was indeed quick and easy.
Obviously, this gateway to purchase is confusing and difficult to use, and Tawkon will have to make sure that customers see only relevant buying options, or they will lose many bewildered customers along the way…
…which would be a pity. Because once the aches and pains of getting to the right web page to purchase Tawkon were over, and once the application was installed (important — and undocumented — note: you need to restart your BlackBerry after installation in order for Tawkon to launch properly! You can tell if it’s working by checking for the Tawkon mini-icon in the top margin of the BlackBerry home screen), everything went as smooth as silk.Tawkon has done this application right. They have obviously put a lot of thought into making the application function seamlessly, so much so that it’s hard to believe this is just a first release. Once they cross a few T’s and dot a few I’s, you’ll never guess this is a start-up. Tawkon feels like a mature mobile app from an experienced first-tier company.
I launched Tawkon from the Downloads folder on my BlackBerry, and was taken directly to a Tawkon Prediction screen that scanned my system and reassured me that my phone’s radiation levels were low. The Real-Time Radiation Indication Bar is liquid mercury; it’s so sensuous and fluid you’ll want to walk around mapping your radiation environment just for the pleasure of making the colors flow.
Keeping that screen open, I placed a call from my cell phone to my landline and took a tour of my home. (When you’re not on a call, Tawkon scans using a “Prediction Mode”. When you’re on a call, Tawkon goes into “Call Monitoring Mode”.) The results? My home and office are in good shape, although I won’t be making any calls from the bathroom. It’s just as well.
In fact, you don’t even have to open the Tawkon application to see your phone’s emission status. That little mini-icon on the home screen changes color from green to yellow to red to cue you in, say, before you even make a phone call.
Where Tawkon really shines is when you’re on the move. Most of the time, I never even noticed that Tawkon was there, running automatically in the background. But when I answered a call sitting in a mall café — bzzz. I walked into an elevator while deep in discussion — bzzz. My phone vibrated and a message appeared on the screen, an alert from Tawkon that my phone was emitting high levels of radiation. I switched to a bluetooth headset or the built-in speakerphone and was pleased to see that Tawkon registered the change and let me know that it was helping. Tawkon also records the emission patterns during calls, letting you go back to review your call history to see how much you were exposed to — or avoided exposure to.
How the heck does Tawkon work? Tawkon says it monitors and analyzes your mobile phone radiation as a function of three key parameters: your phone’s specific absorption rate (SAR) – different for each phone model; environmental conditions – rural versus urban area, mobility, and distance from a cellular base station, terrain, etc.; and personal phone usage – the way the user holds the phone, distance from the user’s head or body, etc.
How reliable is Tawkon’s feedback? I’ll have to leave it to someone with a lab equipped to independently check Tawkon’s results against their own measurements. (Tawkon claims to have tested its results in collaboration with In4Tel, a strategic partner.) What I can say is that the feedback makes sense. Tawkon buzzed me in places where my phone would be expected to boost its power to get a signal — in elevators, enclosed stairwells and basements.
What is the impact on battery life? I don’t know how to gauge that, but I would expect it to be minimal, since Tawkon is a software solution. I spent a day at a convention and used my BlackBerry heavily all day for email, some long calls, Bluetooth radio on (WiFi was off), taking pictures of slides and constant Twittering during panels and sessions, and still had plenty of battery life left at the end of the day even though Tawkon was running in the background.
How does Tawkon know what it knows? Beats me, but I feel a lot better with Tawkon installed. You can read up on WHO’s most recent findings regarding cell phone emission risks here. I set out to purchase Tawkon because I wanted to feel some sense of control over my mobile risk:reward ratio.
The upshot: While documentation and online help for purchasing and troubleshooting are still sketchy, Tawkon is a remarkable application, and comes as close as I’ve ever seen to achieving the Holy Grail of “Set It and Forget It” as any application out there. With the risks of cell phone emissions still unclear, Tawkon should be considered a vital utility for every mobile phone.
Tawkon is a keeper. It’s earned a home on my phone.
- “Set it and forget it” convenience
- Gorgeous interface
- Responsive, helpful customer service straight from the development team.
- Provides valuable information about what’s going on in your hand and near your head.
- Instructions are not part of the application (you can find information in videos posted at Tawkon.com and on YouTube here and here, but it’s up to you to find them).
- Purchasing process become confusing if you’re outside the BlackBerry App World zone. (I guess it’s an “App Region”, not an “App World”, yet.)
I was using Wite-Out® today for the first time in years. As I painted out type, I thought for a moment what it might have been like to be a Wite-Out product manager 10 years ago. Imagine asking the user experience question: What bothers Wite-Out users about Wite-Out? What can we improve? The immediate replies that came to mind:
- Waiting for the Wite-Out to dry
- Clumpy application of the correction fluid after the first use; the fluid dries and sticks to the brush and the neck of the bottle
- Having to paint over the same words two or three times because they show through even after the first application
- The smell (some people like it, some hate it)
What jumps out here is that improvement in any one of the first three areas will have a negative impact on one or two of the others. If Wite-Out dried faster, it would dry (and clump up) on the bottle and brush applicator faster. If it clumped less, it would take more time to dry; it would also be a thinner fluid that would be less opaque once the liquid evaporated.It’s a no-win scenario, which is probably why there were no major changes in Wite-Out technology over the first 20 years of my life: the product designers had found the best balance — or perhaps the least-bad compromise — between drying quickly and maintaining wetness (smoothness), and were sticking to it. But it must have been frustrating if you were trying to make a better product and increase market share.I popped over to Bic’s Wite-Out site to have a look. Guess what? As of 1994, there are four different formulations of fluid Wite-Out: Quick Dry, Super Smooth, Extra Coverage and Water Base (low odor). Hm.I suppose a cynic might say that there are four different packages for the same product, and the formulation label just panders to the public’s varying degrees of Wite-Out insecurity. In fact, the proliferation of Wite-Out recipes reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s classic statement from Howard Moskowitz that “There is no perfect spaghetti sauce. There are only perfect spaghetti sauces.” In The Ketchup Conundrum, Gladwell expresses it thus:
The answer appeared almost immediately: a specific recipe that, according to Moskowitz’s data, produced a score of 78 from the people in Segment 1. But that same formulation didn’t do nearly as well with those in Segment 2 and Segment 3. They scored it 67 and 57, respectively. Moskowitz started again, this time asking the computer to optimize for Segment 2. This time the ratings came in at 82, but now Segment 1 had fallen ten points, to 68. “See what happens?” he said. ”If I make one group happier, I piss off another group. We did this for coffee with General Foods, and we found that if you create only one product the best you can get across all the segments is a 60—if you’re lucky. That’s if you were to treat everybody as one big happy family. But if I do the sensory segmentation, I can get 70, 71, 72. Is that big? Ahhh. It’s a very big difference. In coffee, a 71 is something you’ll die for.”
I’m guessing that a similar process went on at Bic: if you can’t actually improve a product’s features without making some other problem even more annoying, then instead of finding a compromise balance (as was done historically), optimize for each problem separately. Voila! Four kinds of Wite-Out.Of course, you can then go ask Barry Schwartz why having four correction fluid options won’t make your life happier…P.S.: I just realized that Wite-Out also now has a sponge-wedge tip instead of that inconvenient shaggy bristle tip. Nice!
Poka-yoke (ポカヨケ) (IPA: [poka joke]) is a Japanese term that means “fail-safing” or “mistake-proofing”. A poka-yoke is any mechanism in a Lean manufacturing process that helps an equipment operator avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka). Its purpose is to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur. The concept was formalised, and the term adopted, by Shigeo Shingo as part of the Toyota Production System. [Wikipedia]
Peter Abilla offers a great new example of design that accommodates human frailty: Embeda, a newly FDA-approved pain-killer with
…an interesting property: If you take the medication as prescribed, it works fine; if you abuse the medication, it ceases to work.
…EMBEDA(TM) contains extended-release morphine pellets, each with an inner core of naltrexone hydrochloride, an opioid receptor antagonist. If taken as directed, the morphine relieves pain while the sequestered naltrexone hydrochloride passes through the body with no intended clinical effect. If EMBEDA(TM) is crushed or chewed, the naltrexone is released and absorbed with the morphine, reversing the morphine’s subjective and analgesic effects.
After all, if pain killers can’t relate to human weakness, what can?
- Of, relating to, or of the nature of an illation.
- Expressing or preceding an inference. Used of a word.
- Of, relating to, or being a grammatical case indicating motion toward or into in some languages, as in Finnish Helsinkiin, ”to Helsinki.”
“Yet the immediate effect of these speeches [of Churchill’s] on the British people was limited. Their effect was cumulative (or, to use Cardinal Newman’s favorite adjective, illative).”
It’s an interesting use, since in this context, illative implies a significant effect produced by a prior accumulation of insignificant impacts, whereas the dictionary definition suggests a subtler manipulation.