Wading back into familiar waters.

I’ve been playing video games since I was about five. For the majority of my life, games have been a hobby, an obsession, a field of study, a diversion, and everything in between. For the past few years, I’ve been far less active in gaming culture, and that’s due to a variety of changing conditions in my life. Helping to grow our company, buying a home, and having a child have all in some way played a role in leaving less time to think about gaming. I’ve also chosen to spend my free hours in other pursuits as well, so that’s not a condemnation, but rather just an acknowledgment of the change in my situation. I could go into the depths of my previous video game depravity here, but that’s probably for another post.

Thanks in part to the exceptional new podcast Directional, with Myke Hurley and Federico Viticci, I’m now once more really thinking about gaming. The time I can devote to games is still at a premium, as there’s many things that legitimately require my attention, but I think having been out of the current scene for so long, I’m ready to slowly make my way back in and I’ve chosen handhelds as my entry point.

I love all platforms and have never held allegiance to any one over another. I always felt a true lover of gaming wouldn’t limit him/herself that way. As such, I am faced with a choice between the 3DS/3DS XL and the PS Vita. As luck would have it, Myke and Federico touch on this very same topic in this week’s show in response to some listener mail, and they made some terrific points. But I’m also asking anyone else who’ll listen for their thoughts. While I could probably buy both, I think I just need to start somewhere. To help solicit good feedback, I’ve put together my basic criteria.

  • I’d like to play some games that have a more forgiving difficulty curve, since I won’t be able to spend long stretches figuring things out. I may have frequent short opportunities to play, but extended play sessions may be tougher to come by, and I’d like to feel like I’m getting somewhere.
  • My love for classic games has never wavered, and I’d love to be able to play older titles as well. That could be NES stuff or perhaps PSX-era, or anything else in there. Open to all suggestions.
  • I have iOS and Android devices already, so this will truly be a dedicated piece of gaming hardware. I don’t care about checking email, Skype calls, Twitter, etc. I want a gaming machine first and foremost.
  • I know I’m getting in well into the life cycles of these handheld consoles, so what’s coming up on the horizon is something I can take into account as well. If a new Nintendo handheld is right around the corner, let me know. (As I said, I’m really out of the loop on so much, it’s truly saddening… but I’m turning that around!)
  • Finally, all features, bells, whistles, and stuff aside: which is more fun? Super subjective, I know, but I’d love to hear about what you all think.

Those are my starting points. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, so I’m ready to get started, but I really would appreciate any feedback you’d have to offer. My history is deep and storied in the world of gaming, but I’m re-entering it now with somewhat fresh eyes. Share your thoughts on App.net and Twitter. All suggestions are welcome, and thanks in advance.

Fitbit fatigue.

I listened to this week’s Back to Work which focused heavily on self-quantization, or simply put, keeping tabs on your activity and measuring what you’re doing. I’ve been a Fitbit user for over a year, during which time I’ve collected all the data the little thing could provide me with. It helped motivate me and showed me definitively what I was doing and how I was spending my active time. I agree with everything Merlin says in the show–it’s tremendously helpful to have this kind of insight about yourself. I began a personal campaign to become healthier a few years ago and using the Fitbit became a part of that. I was excited to have a little companion noting all my data for me. Numbers! Graphs! Yay!

But over time, something occurred to me and only recently became extremely salient: I don’t need to use it anymore, and more importantly, its use had become something that was a subtle stressor for me. It seems dumb, but I’ll explain.

As I explained in that earlier post, I began a new lifestyle in which I was very aware of my routines and habits and got very hard on myself to achieve some goals. Adding a Fitbit to the mix was a way to make doing those things a little more fun, and I was really into it for a while. My wife bought me a One for Christmas, which I promptly lost on a business trip and replaced. So I was into the idea enough to buy a second device. For a solid year it never left my side, unless I forgot it (rare), and then I was nearly inconsolable (all those lost steps!). Over time, something changed though; I was more concerned with collecting the data and having it than actually using it. It became a weird anxiety-provoking moment (pat pocket-ok it’s there-whew) that I experienced a few times a day.

As such, I was thinking about it recently and decided to check my data. What I discovered was exactly what I had suspected. My data was almost unvaried across the board. My sleep wasn’t so great in the beginning of last year, but a new infant will do that. Nowadays, I sleep 7-8 hours a night, with almost no disturbances. My sleep quality is something like 96% on average. My steps vary, but we’ve been saddled with some positively oppressive cold weather, so they’ve been a little low; that said, walking is always on my mind, and I’m still doing it as much and as often as possible. Water intake? Terrific. 64-96 ounces a day. Diet? Solid.

I found that my good habits were already in place, and the Fitbit wasn’t doing anything to change that. It was another thing I was carrying, and worrying about losing/syncing/monitoring, and I just don’t think I need it. I still think I’m going to fire it up for stuff like WWDC, just to see how many steps I’ve taken, but it’s not providing a level of insight I really need on a daily basis. I’ve created good habits and sustained them for a long enough period of time that I’m still doing those things without the added gadget. I turned it off earlier this week and placed it in a drawer and deleted the app from my phone. It feels strange, because I’ve been so focused on it for so long, but it’s also oddly freeing. I’m curious to know if I’m alone in this boat.

I’m probably a crazy person, but that’s also something I already knew from the data.

Apple’s wearable differentiator.

The more I think about the eventuality of an Apple wearable device (ugh I’m already sick of hearing the word), the more I think about what’s going to set it apart from the current crop of trackers, monitors, and smartwatches. Aside from the UI, one thing keeps coming up in my mind: battery life.

It seems obvious if you think about it. Apple’s entire device line in the past few years has–as it’s evolved–kept battery life increases front and center. The company knows that this is the one technology that isn’t increasing in the leaps and bounds it would like and continues to limit its vision for products. Between the MacBook line and iOS devices, huge advances are being made in extending the daily use of our devices, but we collectively keep running up against that wall.

The difference with a wearable device is that due to its diminutive size and proximity to the body, different methods can be applied to extending its useful daily life. I’ve got two thoughts on this, and I think they work in tandem. I’m not saying this is what’s coming, but it’s starting to make more sense to me. Obviously, I am not a battery technician of any kind, nor an electrical engineer. I’m just trying to figure out a differentiating factor, which is often a selling point when Apple enters a market.

Let’s think about it in terms of a watch-type device: since it would be attached to a person’s body similar to a current wristwatch, it would have the benefit of constantly being moved around; kinetic energy might be a factor here. The natural movement of a person’s body could be channeled into keeping a wearable device supplied with trickle power. Kinetic watches are already on the market, but have not seen true penetration, and re a smaller percentage of the devices out there; so far, fits the Apple formula–take something that already exists and do it better. I also have a few G-Shock watches that are part of Casio’s Tough Solar line. The watchfaces contain tiny solar cells that require minimal exposure to light to continue to power the watch. They work exceptionally well, and I never have to change a battery.

Kinetic and solar power. Individually, I doubt they’d be enough to power a device like the one people are expecting on their own. But together, it starts to seem feasible. Ok, now what would make those low-power technologies not viable?

Radios: this device is going to need to communicate, probably with a nearby iOS device or a Mac. However, Bluetooth LE is starting to show up in more places and appears to be extremely flexible. I’ve seen some very cool applications of this lately, and it feels like a shoe-in for a device like this. Wi-fi, I’m not so sure about; may or may not be necessary depending on the feature set of the device, and that’ll surely suck power. Cellular/wireless broadband? Forget it. No way.

Screen: certainly this device will have a gorgeous screen to match the other ones Apple offers. It’ll be small though, and I’d be shocked to see Apple use the same high-drain tech that exists in the current Retina LED panels for a device like this. Just doesn’t seem likely. I don’t know what they have cooking, but it won’t be e-ink (not pretty enough) and it won’t be exactly what you have in your phone (battery destroyers at high brightness values, which people would totally need to see this device outside in the sun, like any normal watch).

Using this math, it starts to form a picture of what’s going to set it apart. All the other devices that people use right now need to be charged every few days. If Apple could offer a device that effectively never needed to be plugged in, that factor alone would be a huge selling point. And I can absolutely hear the keynote already:

“We all have other devices we use for this sort of thing already. But what’s are the problems with those devices? Small, ugly screens–if they have screens at all. Limited communication and functionality with our iPhones and iPads. And they have to be charged all the time! Some last a few days, some longer, but they all need to be taken off of you and plugged in. We think we can do this better…

…A beautiful, low power screen that is extremely readable in bright sunlight. Bluetooth LE for complex interconnection with tons of different apps. And forget a week of battery life; it never needs to be plugged in–ever.”

Now: we know Apple doesn’t fight on specs, so all this hardware talk is merely prelude to what it affords the user to do, which is where Apple excels. The device quietly becomes a part of your life, providing information and enrichment without a net cost of annoyance. You start to wonder how you lived without it. The commercial writes itself; people from every age demographic, every walk of life, all finding a different, perfect personal use for a tiny always-attached device. You never charge it, and it’s always there, working for you. Your iPhone’s tiny companion.

It’s a lot more believable than trying to get a date on a ski lift.