Articles in the ‘Off-topic’ Category

A weekend with Android Wear

I’ve been really interested in wearables since I saw the first press shots of the Moto 360. When wearables first appeared (the Pebble, Galaxy Gear) they were the equivalent of a calculator watch – quite useful for adding things together, but awful at telling the time and even worse for your sex life. They were blocky, had incredibly poor battery life and not something you’d even consider wearing on a night out. The Moto 360 made me take notice – a well-designed and, importantly, watch-like appearance gives it the credibility that it deserves. So, when I got the chance to try one for a weekend, I couldn’t pass it up.

My regular watch and the Moto 360

My regular watch and the Moto 360

Setup

The Moto 360 was a lot different to my regular watch. All dressed in black with a thin leather strap, it’s a far cry from my tiny, battered metal Swatch timepiece. At first I was pleasantly surprised by its feel – very comfortable to wear and lightweight, I hardly noticed it was there. It’s certainly a lot larger than my normal watch but I quickly got used to the differences, and got on with my day.

Initial setup was ok, it took two goes to connect over Bluetooth, but it was mostly painless. Then the notifications started raining in – Google Now bombarding me with reminders, weather updates, emails, Twitter, Facebook Messenger and more. At first it was overwhelming, and I wasn’t used to the swipe-to-dismiss, or scroll on to ignore motions. With a bit too much going on the watch also regularly janked and slowed down, not reacting to my input, which was far more frustrating.

The first day

As a watch, it’s really pretty poor

I spent most of the Friday in the office working at my computer. I’d be getting notifications on my phone and on the watch and on my laptop – it was all a bit much. I’d also put my normal watch back in my bag, so telling the time got quite hard. As a watch, it’s really pretty poor. Telling the time it the one thing that watches are supposed to be good at and every time I turned to look at my wrist I’d see a black screen, then about a second later, finally, I’d see the time. Frankly, that’s unacceptable and is one of the real issues that I struggled with during the first day.

I also played quite a lot of music on that day, and controlling that with the watch sounded like a good idea. In practice, I pressed the pause button on my headphones – much faster and far more convenient. It’s another example of a problem that the watch solves that has already been solved in better ways.

In the evening I had a play and found a whole host of useful settings that made the rest of the weekend far more pleasant:

  • Smart unlock – phone is unlocked when near the watch, no more typing in your passcode
  • Ambient clock – the watch is always a watch telling you the time
  • Only show notifications on the watch – no double/triple notifications
  • Silent mode – no noise, just a light vibration on your wrist when something happens

Saturday

During the party the watch went pretty-much unnoticed… It was just a normal watch that people paid no attention to.

This was a big day in the Workman household, we were throwing a party and I was on BBQ duty. We were running around getting things ready, so without time to check our phones regularly, it was nice to have messages popping up on my wrist. Trying to send a message back to someone with my voice was a case of hit-and-miss, so after a few tries I gave up and returned to my phone. It was just a bit too noisy for my watch and it couldn’t understand me properly – at this point the “Open on phone” action came in handy and the watch fell back to being a secondary screen.

I played with a few apps today, and some worked, most didn’t:

  • First-party apps such as Google Keep, Play Music and Maps were great
  • The heart rate monitor only gave a reading a few times, never really changed.
  • Google Fit was interesting, but my Fitbit was more accurate (I believe)
  • PlayerFM (podcast app) was the only third-party app that worked really well
  • Wunderlist only showed me the inbox, did nothing else, crashed a lot
  • TripAdvisor showed me items in my area (after a lot of waiting). That’s not what I use TripAdvisor for, I go looking for things in other places, so that one was useless as well
  • Amazon’s wear app only works in the USA

During the party the watch went pretty-much unnoticed. It was nice to see who was at the door by who was calling me (and the dog announcing their arrival), but it was only in the small hours of the morning that someone said “is that one of those smart-watches”. To me, the watch passed a very big test that day – acceptance. It was just a normal watch that people paid no attention to. A piece of technology that is so obvious on your body but that doesn’t garner a reaction is what I wanted. It’s not a big thing, it’s just a watch.

The watch’s battery lasted the whole party, which is more than can be said for my phone (Moto X 2nd gen). It passes that test for me.

Sunday

That ability for it to blend into the background is something that I didn’t really appreciate before, but really welcome.

The morning after, a little worse for wear, the watch was starting to feel more natural. I didn’t get many notifications, and I felt a lot more relaxed with it. I started weighing up whether I would buy one or not.

We went for a bike ride along the river in the afternoon and the watch stayed out of the way. I could have used it to track my heart-rate, or my journey, but I wasn’t interested in that at all, I just wanted to go for a bike ride, and the watch stayed out of the way – it became just another watch again. That ability for it to blend into the background is something that I didn’t really appreciate before, but really welcome.

I came into this experiment wanting this very watch, and I come out the other side thinking that I still want one, but not that one, and probably not the next one either. The problem isn’t so much the watch – it could be prettier, smaller, more like a watch, but it’s the software. It’s still unintuitive and the apps on there aren’t really apps. It’s a glorified notification reader, with a few really nice features. It’s really bad at telling the time, but that’s not its primary function. I almost feel that I need a watch and then need an Android watch. Third party apps really jank the watch and are so hard to find that it took me a few hours to really start exploring the watch’s capabilities. Android Wear needs more testing – the watches need more CPU/memory power, and developers need to test it out in the real world more. It has to come up with a better solution for “being a watch” which was just unacceptable.

Handing it back

I handed the watch back this morning and now have my watch back on my wrist. It’s heavier than I remember, but I can look down and know what the time is instantly. It serves its purpose.

I don’t miss the Moto 360. I still want one. I don’t want that one. I wish I wanted one more, but I don’t. It has so much promise, but right now, I’m happy to give it back.

I’m Hiring a Graduate UI Developer at Yell

Update – this position has now been filled. You can look at all of the jobs available in Digital on the careers website

I’m looking for a talented junior/graduate developer to come and join my team at Yell. We work exclusively on the Yell.com search engine, dealing with over 20 million users a month. I’ve got some fantastic senior developers working for me, and we need a junior developer in the team.

Here is the job description on the Yell Careers site

I’m looking for a person who is adaptable and are willing to learn new technology quickly. I’m after a developer who will do the right thing for the long-term, over fixing a problem quickly. I want developers who are familiar with new technology, and how it can be applied to get the absolute best performance out of the web browser, and importantly, I need someone who can appreciate the differences in browsers and know how to get the best out of them, no matter how big or small the screen size is.

In return, you will get freedom to implement features as you see fit, and access to the tools that you need to do your job. The role is based in central Reading, just by the mainline train station (25 minutes from London Paddington). The office itself is large and spacious, with some of the best views over the city, and pretty decent coffee throughout the rest of the building. There’s a whole host of other benefits (including competitive salaries, naturally) that you’ll be told about if you join us.

If you want to apply, or know more information, contact me, tweet me, or just apply. Please note, you have to be eligible to work in the UK or hold a valid work visa to get either of these roles.

If UI development isn’t your thing, Yell.com engineering is hiring for the following roles:

I’ll do my best to strike these positions out when they’re filled, and apologies in advance if I’m not fast enough.

Good luck!

I’m Hiring, Come and Work with Me

Update 4th Feb 2017: I’m looking for a new front-end developer. If you think this could be you, have a look at the front-end developer job description
Update 4th Feb 2014: I’ve successfully recruited two new developers to fill these roles, thank you to everyone who has applied. I will update this page as roles become available.
Update 13th August 2014: I’m looking for another front-end developer, and we’re also looking for a Java developer. If you want to apply, or know anyone who would suit, get in touch

I’m looking for two very talented developers to come and join me at Yell to work on yell.com. With over 22 million users a month, Yell.com holds a prominent position in the UK’s online industries. Over the coming months, we are looking to push the boundaries of our user interface to maintain and improve our usage and user satisfaction. As part of the Technology team, with your help we will use the latest technologies to design exciting new interactions for desktop and mobile browsers. It’s a tough challenge, and to do it, I need some great people to join my team.

Here are the two job descriptions: Front End Developer and UI Developer

I’m looking for people who are adaptable and are willing to learn new technology quickly. I’m after developers who will do the right thing for the long-term, over fixing a problem quickly. I want developers who are familiar with new technology, and how it can be applied to get the absolute best performance out of the web browser, and importantly, I need someone who can appreciate the differences in browsers and know how to get the best out of them, no matter how big or small the screen size is.

In return, you will get freedom to implement features as you see fit, and access to the tools that you need to do your job. The role is based in central Reading, just by the mainline train station (25 minutes from London Paddington). The office itself is large and spacious, with a great restaurant/cafeteria on the 10th floor with some of the best views over the city, and pretty decent coffee throughout the rest of the building. There’s a whole host of other benefits (including competitive salaries, naturally) that you’ll be told about if you join us.

If you want to apply, or know more information, contact me, tweet me, or just apply. Please note, you have to be eligible to work in the UK or hold a valid work visa to get either of these roles.

Time for a change of scenery

It’s official, from the end of November I’m going to be working for hibu as the UI Tech Lead for yell.com

I’ve had a great start to my career – over my 6 years at PA I’ve worked for the biggest employer in Europe (twice), the world’s biggest medical charity, oil giants, financial regulators, one-man-bands, governments, utility companies, major pharmas and worldwide hotel chains. I’ve gotta say, there’s no feeling like you’re making a difference in a company, and I’ve had some great results over the year;.  I’ve even managed to carry 15 iPads in my hand luggage through Istanbul airport. With all of that comes trade-offs, and a pretty long commute, and it’s time to leave that behind.

So, I’m really looking forward to be able to focus on this product and make it great. I’m going to continue to be an organiser for London Web Standards so I’m not abandoning the city completely, but you’ll also see me at Reading events like Breaking Borders, Reading Geek Night and Berkshire Digital.

Here’s to the next step.