We Need More Enchanted Objects

Why we created the Hale Orb (1)

https://haleorb.com/

Or, How I Stopped Being a Critic and Just Made It

My smartphone is no longer this endearing magical device that it once was to me. It’s still very useful, of course, and I can’t imagine parting with it given its utility. But having one requires me to constantly make decisions, both consciously and unconsciously, every waking minute of my daily life. It’s a bombardment of alerts and other bit-ridden stimuli all clamoring for my attention. I check it constantly, pulling down on my feeds like a lab rat, and as it has been discussed by many others, this probably isn’t contributing to my overall productivity and happiness.

On a related note, a few years ago, I taught my aging mother how to use the the iPad. At first, she had to refer to her meticulous notes of my instructions (written on a paper with a pencil!) to remember how to operate it. However, she now writes emails and checks Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. She even listens to Japanese radio programs on it while living in the U.S. I remember how happy this made her, and even more so, what she told me then.

I always felt anxious and sad that I was being left behind while everyone else in the world seemed to be using all this new useful technology I kept hearing about. Now, thanks to my children’s help, I feel like I can finally be part of that progress.”

This was quite memorable, and it reinforced my belief that this is what technology should do — bring joy to people like her and not just to the tech elites. At the same time, however, she needs constant support from us to keep enjoying this device. Whenever iOS updates itself or Facebook changes its UI and one icon goes missing or the menu structure changes, she is suddenly helpless. This really doesn’t feel like the “appliance-like ease” we are often promised by products.

The smart phone isn’t going away anytime soon, and it would take a lot for a new category of devices to completely supplant it. That’s not what we are aspiring to do at the moment either. Even then, I became convinced that there could be a much simpler and enjoyable way for family members to stay connected. At first, it may sound like the smartphone and tablet can pretty much do anything already. However, those are more about functionalities, and the experience I’m imagining is something entirely different.

Something, simple and intuitive, yet doesn’t look down upon the user.

Something inviting that doesn’t feel like technology.

Something with an experience that can be shared on the spot with others.

Something my mother can continue to use, without help.

If we could create a core experience like this, it would be special, I felt. This is why we created the Hale Orb, and in the course of development, I realized this product concept has the potential beyond just an “easy to use simple device for the elderly” (although we do want that to happen too!). I believe we are creating a kinder and warmer interaction between man and machine.

Halē (hah-lay) means “home” or “house” in Hawaiian. I also always admired the family oriented culture of people in Hawaii.

Hale Orb is in the category of “Enchanted Objects” defined by David Rose of the MIT Media Lab in his book with the same title. These are tools with familiar physical shape but also possess “magical power” that expands our innate capabilities. Our product is tactile and has warmth. You can talk to it. It should minimize the choices we have to make but remain a tool and not replace our ability to think and decide. It is powered by the magic of Internet and other technology but all complexity is hidden away from the user.

I will write more in the next article about what it does, how it works, and where we are headed with it.

Mr. Rose and I at 2016 SXSW. That’s the mockup Orb I’m holding. He was happy to hear how I was making an Enchanted Object!

A video from our crowdfunding campaign. The prototype hardware and software is a bit old, and may be the situation is a bit contrived, but it does convey how we want the Orb to unite family members instead of dividing them.