In 2001 Creo undertook a small project to pursue an idea in consumer electronics. The metabadge concept was to fulfil the vision of the PDA – personal digital assistant, without a stylus, and without even a display, just using voice and tones.
While the metabadge doesn’t seem revolutionary in this day and age, it’s important to realize that this project was in beta test 6 years before the introduction of the iPhone.
The metabadge team developed the prototype hardware, software, Bluetooth, and integration with Microsoft Outlook, providing 40 beta users with a unique and personal product. Then CFO Mark Dance correctly anticipated these features should be attached to a cell phone, and by 2009, the iPhone 3 eventually had almost all the features the metabadge proved earlier:
- AirSync when nearby your home PC. metabadge automatically detected when it was close to its host computer, and would initiate a sync session without needing user interaction.
- person-based alarms. “Encounters” defined reminders that altered the user when they were nearby another person. Reminders like “ask Randy about the user group” could be triggered the next time the user was near Randy.
- location-based alarms. With “beacons” that had a well-known location, metabadge could alert you of a reminder that you had set for that location. For example, remind yourself to bring your laptop charger home as you leave the building Friday evening.
- voice recognition off-board for greater accuracy. Cloud-based resources even today exceed the capability of the remote devices, and metabadge used this fact to capture audio on the device, but relay it to the computer for voice analysis and synthesis.
- voice prompts. Without a screen, voice prompts were used to provide clues to the user when certain kinds of information were required.
- user downloadable audio cues and prompts. We found that people can identify tones and their significance quicker than words, and found the repetition of hearing a tone less annoying than a voice prompt. We built an audio package theme downloader to let users customize their prompt tones; start sync, end sync, reminder, start recording, end recording.
metabadge was the first project I worked on purely using the development mode of Extreme Programming. On the whiteboard below you can see the names of stories, the tasks that would have to be performed to achieve the story, the estimates the developers initially made on planning day, and the daily updates to the estimates as the development proceeded.
metabadge was also the first project I helped design where we wrote the instruction manual before the code, an excellent way both the manage feature-creep (“that’s not in the user manual”), as well as ensure the user model is consistent. See The tao of metabadge 2
The awesome metabadge team; Doug, Dan, Dave, Arthur, Paria, and Paul.