Archive for 'Gadgets'

Dec 02

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Your Baby is Ugly. Deal With It.

If your friend or family member had an ugly baby, would you tell them? Would you go out of your way to say something like, “Man, that is one of the oddest looking kids I’ve ever seen- is it even human?”

Not only cute, but he also codes in C++ and Ruby!

Of course not. Because that ugly baby is part of your family now. And even if it is the ugliest, weirdest looking kid on the block, the only thing you can do when you meet it is smile and say, “Congratulations.”

What is true for parents and unfortunate looking children is also true for websites, mobile apps, and consumer electronics devices.

Many times friends and family members are introduced to a terrible product by an entrepreneur within their social circle. And even if it is the ugliest, most difficult to use contraption ever conceived, people will smile – and lie – and say what a great site/app/gadget it is.  They’ll never, ever, use it, but they’ll praise it, ask how it’s going, and even buy presents for its birthday (note: we prefer charitable donations).

Societal norms demand we all lie to one another in order to not hurt people’s feelings. And we understand the power of white lies at cocktail parties and play dates.  We’re not anthropologists, but we’d wager these kind of friendly support systems help build the fabric of human society (part of why there’s a like button, but no “dislike” button – which we’d love, but that’s another story).

To all product managers, entrepreneurs, tech upstarts and parents-of-ugly-babies: we hope you have great friends and family in your life to support you and say you’re doing a great job. May they applaud you and expound on how wonderful you are and beautiful your baby is. These people are your cheerleaders. If you want to hire cheerleaders to tell you what a great business you are building, you can. Some people do.

We are not cheerleaders. We call it like it is. We shoot straight. If we like your product, we’ll tell you.  And if we don’t, we’ll tell you that too.  Why?  Because you need to hear it.  Because it helps.  We’d take a little wager that there’s nobody at team Apple that praises products for the wrong reasons.  Neither do we.  We believe that consumers should only experience the best of technology, and it should make things fun, easy, and a pleasure to use.   Part of building great consumer tech is destroying mediocre tech. That’s what we do every day.  With sledgehammers.

We are Stage Two. We don’t mind saying your baby is ugly.  It’s probably why we don’t get invited to many parties, but that’s okay with us.

Dec 02

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Smart TV, Social Media, Stage Two

Social Remote Control Ties Twitter to TV

We found this great Fast Company Design article that profiles a twitter powered remote control from KDDI R&D Labs. Quoting from the piece:

KDDI’s basic insight — put apps on the remote, not the TV screen itself — zigs where Boxee, Roku, and everyone else has zagged.

But the real smarts in KDDI’s social remote comes from its Twitter integration. Using hashtags, profile data, and tweet content, the app mines Twitter for intel about what’s on, what’s worth watching, and who’s doing the watching. You can slice and dice this realtime feedback in a variety of ways to zero in on something you like. Then (according to KDDI) you just tap it and poof: the content cues up on your TV. As shown below, the app also offers voting and rating features so that you can feed the hivemind yourself.

The video below shows more of the action.

Expect more second screen innovation as digital living rooms continue to evolve.

Nov 05

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Gadgets, Marketing, Stage Two

Why Your Product Needs a Name

The CNET Crave blog has a great article today that illustrates why great products need memorable names. The post reviews the new Sony RDP-XF100iP which is actually a pretty good portable speaker system. But the “name of the Sony RDP-XF100iP actually conveys nothing about the product.”

Image via: CNET

Great consumer tech must connect with people on an emotional level. It is impossible to feel anything for a product whose name reads like a serial number. For more on this topic, check out this excellent article entitled “How Bad Product Names Kill Good Devices” on Consumer Evangelists.

For full disclosure, Jeremy Toeman blogs at the CNET Crave blog.

Oct 06

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Gadgets, UI/UX

What the Sony/Google TV Remote Coulda Shoulda Been

Hello readers.  Look at this remote.  Now at your hands.  Now back to the remote.  Now back to your hands.

Maybe it’s a joke.  Maybe it’s a clever ruse.  Maybe it’s a prototype.  Maybe it’s clever CGI like they used for Gollum.  I have no idea.  But the picture here (sourced from Engadget) is supposedly the remote control shipping with Sony’s TVs that have Google TV integrated inside.  It is, in a word, a monstrosity (my friend MG said it best, “My God, it’s full of buttons!”).

Here are all the things wrong with it, in a nutshell:

  • Big and ugly – the current era of product design is about sleekness, not low quality plastic.  Even the Xbox controller looks like it’s better made.
  • Requires two hands to operate at all times - should be one, with the option to go to two when necessary.  You should never go full handed, always stay half handed.
  • All keyboard buttons appear the same size - this thing has to be usable in the dark, which means physical cues are needed.  The “tab” button is where the “Q” should’ve been, so the user can anchor themselves around the keyboard without looking, every time.
  • All control buttons appear the same size – volume and channel change are the same, as are all playback buttons.  Buttons which are used most frequently should be physically differentiated.
  • Two identical joysticks – while I’ll go out on a limb and assume the extra joystick is actually useful/functional, it should be mildly different to the user’s touch.
  • Too many buttons – just like notes, there is such a thing as too many buttons.  And this has too many.

Now, since it’s so easy to complain, I’ll take this a step further with the XX things I’d have done with this remote:

  • Combo buttons + touchscreen – the 2nd gen Sonos controller is a simple version of a hybrid remote, I think this is a perfect time for it.  The physical buttons should control the basic navigation, especially playback controls, and volume.  The touchscreen could do the keyboard, advanced options, setup options, etc.  Even if it’d end up the same physical size as the one pictured here, it would be slicker and better received.
  • Glowing buttons - for advanced products that are going to work in a dark room, back-lit, glowing, light-up, etc buttons are a must-have.
  • Single handed operation – without a doubt I’d have the basic configuration work in a single hand, held in a traditional manner.  If the user has to tilt it to make the screen work, or some other kind of touchscreen is needed to make this happen, it’s worth it.
  • High quality materials - this is supposed to be la creme de la creme of TV products.  Whether it’s a single piece of aluminium or carbon fiber or any other “really nice” materials, I’d spare no expense on the first generation remote.
  • OR… dual remote + phone interfaces - first and foremost, I am *not* a fan of the vision that the smartphone makes a great remote control – it doesn’t.  BUT, if you could ship a really nice, simple, easy to use, high quality remote that offers 80-90% of the functionality, then let the user go to their phone for more advanced features when they want to, I’d call that a viable option.  Remember, you could do keyboard input with a 10-key, it’s worked on feature phones for years.

I’m still in the “shock and awe” phase of watching everything related to Google TV roll out the way it is.  Our post on “taste” applies quite a bit here, as I’ve yet to see an ounce of it related to these products, strategies, or efforts.  And I’m disappointed – this is exactly how we burn consumers on technology.  Too hard, not elegant, etc.

Sep 17

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, UI/UX

The 10 Essentials Of Making a Great Boxee Box App

Yesterday Stage Two blogged about Google TV and how developers can best deliver quality interactive content to the living room. Today we continue that theme by examining potential best practices for developing a killer Boxee Box by D-Link App (full disclosure: Stage Two has a professional relationship with Boxee/D-Link). Our goal is to help developers deliver exceptional content that performs flawlessly in the home theater setting, and when it comes to the Boxee Box, the rules are slightly different than they are for the Boxee app on a PC.  This post is to help developers see some of the different nuances involved as the Boxee Box has a remote (no mouse), no PC involve, and will likely be used in a different manner than the computer-based version. Google has a great list of guidelines for smarTV developers and we think all “ten foot experience” developers should embrace their suggestions as a jumping off point.  We’re adding beyond that, hope these help.

10 – Avoid Input Fields At All Costs

The Boxee Box comes with a clever remote that includes a full QWERTY keyboard on its reverse. That is awesome. Scratch that, it’s super-awesome. Hopefully you only use it when you should – specifically when you are searching for something, logging into something, or some other highly meaningful purpose. Content for the interactive television is not the same as content for a computer or mobile device. Smart couch surfing should feel like analogue couch surfing- not in the content delivered, but in the manner in which it is accessed. If your App asks the user to “type” every 2 minutes, you might as well be thinking of a computer experience, not a TV one.

9 – Create Consistent Remote Interaction

Even though Boxee’s glorious 2-sided remote is…well, glorious, do not build your App in such a way that the user is asked to use the front, then the back, then the front again, now flip it just once more…ok, now watch your TV. We got tired just writing that, so don’t ask a user to do it.  Design interactions that are conscientious of how the user will interact, and make it as congruous as possible with the way they are holding that remote.

8 – There is no Back Button

Boxee’s remote operates (primarily) via directional arrows, a menu key and a play/pause button. From the start, developers should anticipate that users will use the left arrow as the back button (like TiVo and other similar devices work). Users may also expect that “menu” will bring them back to the main screen of your App, which is not correct. Instead, the menu key will bring up the Boxee quick interchange menu. Make sure that the navigation of your App is intuitive and well defined.

7 – Make it Move!

As we wrote in our post yesterday, motion is critical to the TV App experience. Making backgrounds that shimmy and shake will engage and retain users. Playstation 3 has an elegant and dynamic menu background that keeps users entertained.

6 – Redirect for Account Creation

If your app requires a login, give the user two options: either they can sign up via the laptop next to them or they can enter their account information right on-screen. Too many current Boxee apps direct the user to a web address to create an account, which works fine when Boxee is installed on your laptop, but much less so in the living room. While we assume that the average Boxee user has other internet enabled devices near them, it still is a frustration to HAVE to go grab your laptop or iPad to start using an app on your television.  Don’t believe us?  We’ll summarize with this way of crystalizing the point, ask yourself this question: “do you believe you will get more or less signups by telling the user to drop their remote, pick up their laptop, enter in some info, confirm via email, go back to the website, then return to their TV experience?”  Yeah, we agree.

5 – Include a “Sit Back and Watch” Mode

Remember that this is TV we’re talking about so computer rules do not apply. Even if you App is text heavy and social, you should consider including some kind of a “chill out and watch” mode. Tumblr has incorporated a passive consumption mode for both pictures and music with great results. Redux (another Stage Two client, for the record – but it’s super-relevant so we included it here) is another good example of proper execution in this vein.

4 – Your Boxee Box App CANNOT Be “Your Website Only Way Bigger”

Just because it’s a 50 screen doesn’t mean people are sitting a foot away from it. Furthermore, websites are meant for a specific type of “lean forward” interaction, and even the Boxee remote in the living room doesn’t change that. Design your features accordingly.  Yep, we said this yesterday too, but it’s just so important to consider that we brought it back around again.

3 – Keep Your Menus Visible When Needed!

Don’t hide menus until the user is watching content, period. Many current Boxee apps have a slick interface similar to Boxee’s that hides the menu in a tray that can be reached by mousing over a portion of the screen. But wait a sec, there’s no mouse to move around anymore!

For a specific suggestion: The user should be able to use the left arrow on the remote to pull the last nav menu back up, but not lose what they are currently watching. When you expose a menu, make sure the content the user was watching is still active and easily visible/reachable.  You can riff off this theme as much as you want, but if your users can’t figure out how to control the features, they’ll soon leave it behind.

2 – Your App Needs a Social Life

When a user “loves” something on Boxee, the Boxee universe knows about it. But what about Facebook and Twitter? The Boxee Box experience is designed to include social features from the start.  Developers should give users an easy way to share media preferences across multiple channels in real time. If your app already has a social aspect like comments or user ratings, display this information on-screen during playback (just be sure to give users the ability to turn that element off easily).

The app does a good job of showing users that 300 other people are currently watching exactly what they are. It reinforces this new thing called “social tv” and begs for user interaction. If you let users know that they are not watching in a vacuum, they are more likely to comment, share, and participate.

1 – HD is Pretty

The Boxee Box supports HD, so if your app does as well, make sure you push that HARD. As Mr. Jobs recently said, “users don’t care about amateur hour” (that is, right before announcing YouTube would appear in their box). Most homes that have a Boxee Box will hook it up to a nice, big HD TV. If you have HD content, don’t hide it, promote it as the best way to watch what you’ve got.

We at Stage Two are extremely excited about watching the TV app ecosystem flourish in 2011.  Boxee already has a huge developer base, and we hope they all consider how to make their apps just as engaging on the Boxee Box as they have on Macs and PCs around the world.  Let’s face it, there’s a tiny tiny handful of folks like us who have ever considered true ten-foot experiences, so this is virgin territory for a lot of people.  But for those of us who have the experience, we think it’s important to share, and help see our industry grow and flourish.

Mar 16

Posted by TeamS2

Posted in Clients, Gadgets

Pogoplug Launches Game Console Media Streaming and Offsite Backup

At Showstoppers, during this year’s CES, Pogoplug announced that soon users could stream all their digital media to their televisions through their Xbox 360 or PS3 using the Pogoplug system. Today this feature, along with enhanced data backup, goes live.

Starting today, your Xbox 360 or PS3 automatically sees Pogoplug connected drives you’ve chosen for this feature and the contents of other shared Pogoplugs. This means you can not only stream your videos from your hard drive on to your television, but you can also stream home videos of family and friends in the same way, no matter where the videos are in the world–provided they have given you access to the drive. Music and photos stream equally well.

Active Copy, the Pogoplug backup feature, is also being enhanced today. Active Copy enables users to backup folders on their computer to a Pogoplug connected drive. Whenever new files are added, or changes are made to an existing file within the Active Copy enabled folder, these files are automatically copied to a chosen destination folder. With today’s enhancements, users can also use Active Copy to automatically backup key files from one Pogoplug to another off-site Pogoplug, for additional safety and redundancy.

Both features came from user requests and both update to all Pogoplugs (first and second generation) worldwide through an automatic firmware upgrade today.

Coverage so far:





Headline News


Gadget Review






The Good NET Guide



Oct 28

Posted by David

Posted in Clients, Gadgets, Outreach

Client News: DeviceVM Signs with Lenovo, yet another Tier 1 OEM

DeviceVM, makers of the award winning Splashtop™ instant-on software issued a press release today announcing a partnership with Lenovo and a new Splshtop-enabled computer, the Lenovo S10e netbook.  We’ve thought for a long time that Splashtop makes perfect sense on a netbook.  The whole idea behind Splashtop is to get you on the Internet as fast as humanly possible.  Netbooks are lightweight, low-powered computers designed mainly for use on the Web (hence the name: netbook.)  Hand and glove.  It’s meant to be.

The press release went out this morning, and there’s been lots of great coverage so far.  We’ll continue to update this list throughout the day.

The new Splashtop UI, customized for Lenovo (“QuickStart”)

Sep 16

Posted by andrew

Posted in Clients, Events, Gadgets

Client News: selected as CES I-Stage finalist

We’d like to congratulate our favorite social media center company,, for being selected as one of 15 finalists for the CES 2009 I-Stage eventI-Stage is a new event for CES, which they’ve labeled with “Think you’ve got America’s next top gadget? Prove it. “  The event is being judged by Kevin Kelly (Wired), Ryan Block (Engadget/gdgt), Jeff Pulver, and Molly Wood.

The 15 finalists will unveil their products before a live audience on Monday, October 20, at CEA’s 2008 Industry Forum, scheduled October 19-22, 2008, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, NV.
Good luck Avner and the rest of Team Boxee!

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