Two weeks with Roomba

I’ve been eyeing robot vacuums ever since the first Roomba came out, and when the nearby supermarket had a Roomba 521 on clearance, I splurged. Here’s the experiences this far.

Some background – we have a dog and two small kids in a 74.5 square meter flat. What this means is, the flat goes from neat to disaster area in about a quarter of an hour, sometimes faster. And that happens every day. Enter Roomba.

The kids and the dog took a few days to adjust to their new friend. Kerttu immediately named the robot wally (or wall-e) and talked to it the first couple days but then mostly lost interest. I think the dog still sometimes thinks the vacuum’s out to get her.

The algorithm the robot uses to navigate floors is interesting and watching wally do his job is strangely hypnotic. I’m noticing I’m starting to learn to predict where the robot will go next, even though I don’t know how the robot works. Subconscious pattern processing is pretty amazing, I guess.

I’m positively surprised at the efficiency of the robot. It’s not perfect and if I vacuumed by hand, the rooms would definitely be cleaner. On the other hand, I’m getting a 95% vacuumed flat with the touch of a button, which is completely awesome. I don’t think our floors have been this clean in a long time. To be fair, the real test for wally will be when Luna the dog starts dropping hair in a significant manner during the summer heat. If the results are as good then and the vacuum doesn’t choke, I’ll be pretty darn impressed.

It’s pretty clear that in order to get real value, you need to establish a routine for clearing the floors from toys & random junk every morning and turn on the robot for daily maintenance vacuuming. This seemed a bit of an effort the first few days but I’m getting hang of the routine and I’m feeling good about the results.

Two complaints this far.

First, the unit we got feels noisy. I know it’s silly to assume a vacuum would be silent, but the unit looks somewhat graceful so I somehow expected it to be quieter based on the looks. I’d definitely prefer to be out of home when wally is working, but I work from home right now, so that’s unfortunately not an option every day. It does sound like half the noise is the motors though, so I’m sure the unit could be made quieter.

Second, the dock supplied with the unit is just silly. The dock is super light weight and the bottom of it is slippery, so I can’t see how it’s supposed to really work. After wally failed to dock the 50th time due to the dock slipping away, I just put some two sided tape onto the bottom of the dock so it doesn’t move anymore, and the problem was solved. I suspect rubberised bottom with more friction would fix the problem, but Roomba decided to save costs and give me a cheap piece of slippery plastic instead.

And a couple improvements.

Firstly, I suspect the navigation system of the robots hasn’t improved hugely despite the product having been on market for a fairly long time. The robot definitely doesn’t remember the flat’s layout. Given today’s tech, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t possible to create significantly better system that was still cheap enough to manufacture, so from this perspective it looks like Roomba is resting on their laurels, waiting for someone to come to market with a superior product and eat their lunch.

Second, it feels like the product would be greatly improved by adding some more personality traits to it. The couple little quirks the robot has are great – when you activate it from the dock, the robot makes the same warning beep sound as if it was a truck, as it backs out from the dock. And apparently you get some quirky talking when you try to steer the robot with your foot a little too much. But I’d like to hear the robot tell me about how full it is. Or maybe occasionally speak out how many meters it’s traveled in the flat. A bit of Genuine People Personalities and I think I’d love the bugger a bit more. And a talking piece of kit would probably make the product more viral. Having a switch to turn off the personality might be a good idea though, with related snarky comments when you turn it back on.

Anyway, summary. Yes, after two weeks of use, I’d say the €250 was well spent. Had I paid €500, I’m not sure if I’d be as happy. If you’re contemplating getting a robot vacuum, I suggest you only get one if you get a good deal and are willing to keep your floors clean. With those caveats, it can be a great investment. :)

Update: I’ve been informed the current models are incredibly good compared to the Roombas that first came to market. Myself assuming they’ve not improved dramatically is a testament to how good a job Roomba has done on the robots – the current model Just Works, so the user gets an impression that creating the product must have been effortless. The truth seems to be a massive amount of iteration has happened, even if the product still looks similar to the first models that came out.

Smell of clean

When you think of what clean laundry smells like, what is the smell that comes to your mind first? I’m assuming more than half the people reading this will think of the smell of their favorite detergent, which means all those ads featuring happy women smelling laundry has been extremely successful at making people associate the smell of clean with a particular mix of chemicals.

Above thought came about as I was just hanging the laundry and smelled it. What clean laundry smells like is wet cloth, an almost nonexistent but perceptible smell. And clean here means the item of clothing doesn’t have anything on it including stains and chemicals. Just water.

Fixing Readability’s business model

John Gruber doesn’t like the way Readability is doing business. I have a simple proposal for fixing what they’re doing that I think would make almost everyone happy.

Readability should hire someone to work full time in creating a database of who owns each site they owe money to, going through domains in order of how much money they ought to pay the owner of that domain. Once you reach the person who owns a domain, just tell them how much you’ll give once they’ll sign up. If the content publisher refuses the money, it’d be a conscious choice, not oversight due to not knowing Readability exists.

There, most objections to Readability’s business gone.

iPad 3 purchase tip

Don’t get the 16 gig version. You’ll run out of space with the apps alone, with the app sizes having bloated significantly with the retina graphics. If you’re serious about having media on the devices, get the 64 gig device. If you’re not planning to have any movies, tv shows or a large photo / music library, you’ll probably be fine with the 32 gig device.

GDC 2012

It’s GDC time again. You know, Game Developer Conference, the biggest event for computer game professionals in the west. I’ve been coming to San Francisco for the conference for quite a few years in the row now and given around 10 talks in the conference. This year is a bit different – I’m primarily here to meet VCs as one of the founders of MakieLab.

I’m amazingly well adjusted to the 10 hour time difference this time, which is probably due to two things I did. Firstly, I fasted for about 16 hours after landing, timing it so that the first thing I ate after landing being the first breakfast. Second, I went to Walgreens and popped a melatonin pill before going to bed. It’ll be interesting to see how the sleeping goes for the rest of the trip, but I got a good uninterrupted eight hours of sleep last night timed correctly to the clock here, so I’m hoping the week isn’t going to be a massive jetlag bomb.

The conference week will be incredibly hectic with meetings, but fortunately I have tomorrow free. We’re planning to go to Muir Wood for a visit. It’s the woods where Endor scenes were filmed, and I have a Makie with me dressed in a Jedi robe, which will be a fun little photographic experiment. I’ll post some photos immediately when I can. :)

Samsung Not Worried About Apple’s TV

Techcrunch posted a piece a few days ago about a Samsung product manager saying “TVs are ultimately about picture quality”, so he’s not worried about Apple’s rumoured TV efforts. They point out correctly that it’s a dumb thing to say, but don’t discuss a few specifics related to that.

I have an Apple TV box hooked to a Sony HDTV. My dad has a pretty new Samsung “SMART” HDTV. Of these three devices, Apple’s is the only one that’s easy to use and blazingly fast. The Sony and the Samsung have annoying reboot time. The menus stop to think too often. The Samsung’s smart capabilities seem like a value add-on that wasn’t allowed to cost anything, judging by how poor the software is and how slow the UI is. The first time I set it up (because it was too obscure to use for my dad), it took about 15 minutes to download and install software updates, and the first boot of the YouTube app took something like a minute. After going through some apps, I figured the user experience is simply so poor that I’d rather go do the laundry than frustrate myself more with the confusing, slow menus.

So, based on that experience, if Apple releases a TV with iOS capabilities in the tune of the Apple TV box, I assume I’d be very tempted. What they have now is a TV add-on that’s lightyears ahead of the competition in the few things that it does. And if the iPhone taught us something, a simple but super well executed solution is better than type of a diluted crap experience the Samsung is.