Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Field Testing makePad v1.0

This past weekend I had perfect conditions to field test makePad v1.0. We were traveling in Orlando Florida with a friend's 8 year old. He was the ideal beta tester to try my content-creation-only device.

I had a pretty good idea as to how this was going to go down. First, he'd be disappointed that the device had no movies or games on it. Then he'd create a Bitmoji character and start to see the light. I expected him to experiment with the drawing and music apps, but quickly give up on them. I figured PicSay, the photo editing app would be the winner, as it's easy to snap a photo and throw a hat or mustache into the pic. Ultimately, I figured the lack of games and other content would cause him tire of the device.

I was wrong on nearly every point.

First, Bitmoji was a bust. On my LG G6, the app is fun and easy to use. You can create your likeness by making a few simple selections. But the BLU Advance 4 phone that I used just doesn't have a enough oomph to run the app. Or maybe it was the lack of network bandwidth. Regardless, I spent a disappointing few minutes with the makePad struggling to get Bitmoji running.

My test subject then moved on to PicSay, which he did enjoy. He turned out to be more interested in the visual effects (like, say 'Neon') then using the stickers. But what really pulled him in was the drawing app, Sketchbook, and the music app, Walk Band.

He was especially fascinated by Sketchbook's pen selection options. Another win was his discovery of the mirrored drawing mode, which as the name suggests mirrors every stroke. He came up with some slick abstract drawings using this tool. Check out his work below.

And he really got a kick out of noodling around in Walk Band. In fact, when he was telling his folks about the device, he explained that there aren't any games on 'my phone' except for Walk Band. I'm clueless as to how to help him turn his random mashings on the guitar and drums into music, but I suppose that's OK. The point is for him to discover and create.

He never did tire of experimenting with the device. The phone form factor (versus, say a tablet) was definitely a novelty and helped. At the same time, I was pleased that the device wasn't so addictive that for the vast majority of our day at an amusement park he didn't even think about it.

The only point I got right was his quick detection that the device had no games on it. He was adorable in that he asked if Google Play was on the phone, and if it was, he would be glad to install some games for me.

The use of the BLU Advance 4 phone was mostly positive. The camera is slightly sub-par in ideal lighting conditions, and most of the time the conditions aren't ideal. I'd forgotten how crappy cell phone cameras used to be. These days my LG G6 takes as high quality photos as my DSLR, but back in the day, a "real camera" definitely trounced a cell phone. Still, the ability to capture, edit and send off pictures make up for the lack of quality. Simply put, better a mediocre camera with these capabilities than a high quality camera where the images sit on an SD card.

The BLU Advance 4 also had limited battery life. This turned out to be more feature than bug. For one thing, it gave us natural breaks to disconnect from the phone. It also teaches a valuable lesson on resource management. You can snap tons of photos now, but then you'll have no battery juice later, so plan accordingly.

On the sharing side of things, e-mail worked well, while publishing to the blog, not so much. For one thing, I don't think he's as jazzed as I am about sharing content with the whole world. And for another, the Blogger app struggled to keep up. Posting a single photo required multiple attempts. Perhaps I drop the Blogger app altogether and just use Blogger's post by e-mail capability?

In many respects, this little experiment went well. I wanted him to take an active approach to tech, and he did. But still, it was a reminder how of much of an attention magnet a device can be. He had other goodies in his backpack, but almost always opted to fiddle with the phone. On a more existential level I can't help but wonder: is drawing in an app the same as drawing in a sketchbook? Is fiddling around with a ukulele the same as strumming virtual strings in Walk Band? I'm not sure. He certainly never tired of the device, as I had predicted he would.

As it stands, I'm planning on picking up a few more of the BLU phones. They're sluggish, but their compact form and core functionality make up for this. I'm curious what happens when a group of kids all have the same device at their disposal. Do they learn from each other? Do they go into their own zones? Will they form a mesh network to watch movies and play games? I'm not sure, but the results are sure to be interesting!

Here's a sample of items made with makePad v1.0:

And here's a Walk Band creation. He's got a future in death metal, no?

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