WowWee ChiP Robot Toy Dog: Great Technology but Silly Omissions

Forget the grandchildren; grandma herself loved her Christmas present of a WowWee ChiP robot dog from HongKong-based WowWee. It’s a great gadget for under $200, packed with features like voice recognition and gesture control.  Even the owner’s manual is complete and well-written. But why did the company force grandpa to install four wheel guards, using microscopic-sized Philips-head screws? Very likely they had manufactured and assembled thousands of units before they finished their testing, and discovered a malfunction, and didn’t want to remanufacture them. (It is not clear WHY these wheel guards are needed, but the instructions suggest that they are to prevent the wheels (which are made to look like paws) from becoming choked with dust, hair, or other detritus.)  Well, we should praise the company for discovering this and fixing it (of course, it is a lot cheaper than having to deal with a bunch of customer complaints, returns, and reputation diminution), but we will rebuke them for the defective way they did it. The screws were so small that (a) many consumers would not own screwdrivers small enough, and (b) it would be very easy to lose one or more of them (8 were provided, but it would have cost almost nothing and prevented customer problems if they had provided 10 or 12. And the instructions could easily have caused all but the most savvy grandpa (well, maybe they figured that grandpas ARE savvy), because they warn in a footnote that the four wheels are not identical and must be dealt with one at a time AFTER they have said to loosen the wheels. This is typical of consumer products, but we thought that as clever a company as WowWee should know better. And WowWee should have already had a group of nitpickers and/or some savvy UX (Uxer eXperience) engineers doing usability testing, so grandma and grandpa didn’t have to deal with screws they can hardly see.

Fixit Bill

Boy Scout Compasses More Useful Than Handheld GPS Devices?

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GPS (Global Positioning Systems) CAN magically tell you where you are, IF you have access to both the GPS signal AND geographical data that translates latitude and longitude into streets or other recognizable landmarks. I have a long  and unsuccessful history with handheld GPS devices. Some years ago I was delighted to find a Garmin PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, remember those?) with a built-in GPS. And it included the geographical data. I wanted to use it to find my way in Japan and other unfamiliar countries or regions.  The problem was that even my seasoned IT consultant was unable to load it with the geographical data (probably because it was too voluminous for the device). Useless! Very recently I bought a Bushnell BackTrack GPS for my direction-challenged wife, partly as a gag gift. Equally useless! My old Boy Scout compass was more helpful. I admit that the Bushnell sounded promising, and it might be useful in some situations. What is wrong with it? Let me count the ways. First, it has a user interface that only a mother could love; its buttons were modal (i.e., they did different things depending on which mode you were in, a no-no so bad that a Silicon Valley denizen had/has a “NOMODES” license plate) making this simple device unnecessarily complicated to actually use. Second, if you try to use it in a city with a lot of even medium-tall buildings, it may not be able to see the GPS satellites so would not work at all. Third, and worst, if you succeed in figuring out how to use it, and mark your starting point, then try to return there, it does not at all remember your route, instead just showing an arrow pointing toward the starting point. That MIGHT be useful if you were in a flat, open area with no obstacles, but in reality you would have to deal with dead-end streets, bridges, etc. in an urban environment or mountains, cliffs, rivers, etc. in a countryside. Despite these shortcomings, this gadget has garnered high ratings on Amazon. We wonder how many of the five-star ratings were from people who really used it.

Pathfinder Bill

Swivel Personal Cameraman Disenfranchised Me

As a very early customer, I expected better treatment. But, within 6 months they obsoleted their first model, without either notifying me or offering me an upgrade or discount on the new model. I own an iPhone 4S, which worked with the first model OK for a while (after a repair of the defective original Swivl unit). But there is new firmware and a new App. The new App does not work properly, and Swivl’s customer service did not respond to my requests for help on a timely basis.

Honorable Contributor: Wild Bill

“Don’t Cuss, Tell Us” – Vent about Bad Technology

Welcome to Blooper Jar, a more useful version of a swear jar. Tell us about problems you’ve encountered with technology, e.g. mobile devices. The latest developments in computing hardware and software continue to produce miraculous functionality. But it could be a lot better if the numerous mistakes or misguided directions in design and implementation were fixed.  Technology Bloopers is YOUR  forum for calling these mistakes to the attention of the companies and individuals making them, and asking that they be fixed. We welcome not only your identifying the problems, mistakes, misguided directions, etc., but also your suggestions for fixing them.