In our last blog, Tom, our Head of Development, looked at how technology has changed as a result of the pandemic. It’s clear to us that hardware, software, apps and platforms had to step up to keep up, as families, friends and colleagues across the world adapted to new ways of staying connected.
Tom’s previous blog: How the Pandemic is Accelerating Consumer Technology
In this piece, we’re looking at the particular pieces of tech that really helped us navigate the tricky time of lockdowns, remote working and social distancing. We’ve been impressed by the rapid evolution of consumer tech, sometimes even just tiny tweaks or additional features, and we wonder how much of this is here to stay as the world returns back to some degree of normality.
Wearables: for health, safety and sanity
Keiron and I both agreed that our Android-based smartwatches have been brilliant over the last 18 months. They add an extra layer of flexibility to contactless payments, allowing you to pay for an item with just a flick of the wrist, rather than fumbling around to find your phone in a busy queue of hungry baked goods aficionados. And during a time where we are mostly immobile—desk-bound at home or office—the step tracking feature has become even more useful, often prompting you to get up and go for a walk, or at the very least, stretch your legs.
Keiron’s flavour is the Samsung Watch, and mine is the Skagen Falster 3, both of which run Google’s WearOS, which isn’t a million miles away from Apple’s watchOS equivalent. For me, having worn an Apple Watch previously, I much prefer the layout, design and simplicity of Google’s watch OS, and perhaps it’s just the ease at which I can customise notifications, but I find it a lot less distracting than the Apple Watch. Also, it looks like a watch, and a nice one too.
Staying in Camp Android for a moment, Keiron also listed his Samsung Earbuds as a must-have for Zoom calls. Again, I’ll agree here (although my flavour is once again a little deeper into the Google ecosystem – I use the Pixelbuds). I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say it took a while to find my Zoom ‘sweet spot’ back in March last year. I tried headphones large and small, before settling on earbuds. I like how they seal out most other noise and I find that this allows me to focus deeply on the call that I am in.
Something I learned during this time was that you’re better off using your laptop’s built-in microphone(s) rather than running audio and microphone through your earbuds. This is because when running both, the bandwidth for each is halved, so not only will your audio degrade a little, but the quality of the audio you’re sending (your voice) will suffer too. This comes down to the limitations of Bluetooth. Oftentimes, the built in microphones within your laptop (particularly in newer Mac machines) are of far greater quality than those inside tiny earbuds.
Almost everyone at AndAnotherDay has cited VR as a pandemic staple, me included. We touched upon this in our last blog, but the benefits are clear. VR is not only an exciting way to immerse yourself into games and virtual experiences, but also a legitimate way to stay fit. Keiron has enjoyed FitXR, a boxing app that is great for short bursts of exercise for when time is tight, as well as TRIPP for relaxation and meditation.
For me, it’s been YouTube 360º’s impressive library of content, including 8K flyovers of some stunning parts of the world, and walking tours of deserted cities – Venice being a particular highlight. I’ve also enjoyed a game called ‘Phantom: Covert Ops’, which is a game based upon stealth, taking place entirely from a canoe. This is good for me because I live in a small cottage where space can be tight. Stealth requires you to sit down and paddle, taking out enemies from the relative comfort of your fibreglass vessel. It can be a little nauseating at first, but your sea legs soon settle in.
Other surprising delights
Tom found joy in a toothbrush! With healthcare services like dentists temporarily shutting down, oral care was a concern. So he invested in the Oral-B iO Electric Toothbrush. Those popcorn-fueled movie nights start to add up, so a smart toothbrush seemed like a good way to stay on top of brushing, tracking time and even monitoring pressure.
“It’s like something out of Black Mirror when compared to a normal toothbrush, but it does bring a whole load of excitement (and discipline) to something otherwise very mundane.”
Keiron has been getting to grips with the ‘Remarkable 2’ note-taking tablet. This is an e-ink device that can only be described as a pared-back iPad with a sole focus on taking highly customisable notes with a stylus. The benefits here are the ability to instantly sync with your Mac, a sudden drop in paper usage, and the ability to transcribe handwriting into digital text. You can also pick up, drag and drop parts of your notes such as sketches, bullets, titles and headings to ‘rearrange’ your page.
A final one from me is some Nest equipment from, surprise, surprise, Google. The Nest Hello doorbell has allowed us to see who’s at the door and even communicate with them, which has been so useful when we’ve been mid-Zoom or are deep in some work, and need to tell a delivery driver where to stash a parcel. Or, who we can just ignore until they go away.
Will consumer technology influence the workplace?
Generally, we see things happening the other way around – a big, bombastic and often expensive tech product will gradually trickle down to consumer level and make its way into the hands of you and I. A great example of this being video conferencing, which was once exclusive to expensive and embedded business systems from the likes of Cisco, often with its own proprietary hardware. Now, even the most basic of laptops can join a video call through free-to-use web-based software.
Tom cites Facebook’s Portal system as a great example of how this form of communication is evolving. Cameras are able to crop, zoom and adjust mid-call to keep subjects front and centre. Microsoft Teams has been doing this for a while, at least with traditional head and shoulders video calls, but Facebook and Apple are now adding features that allow you to walk around, for instance, the kitchen, being tracked as you unpack your shopping or cook a meal. This is a prime example of simple tech evolving to suit our changing lifestyles, embedding video communication into our homes in a way that doesn’t require us to drop everything else and sit at a desk.
We also see pubs and restaurants using applications and QR codes as a means of ordering drinks and food. This was incredibly rare pre-COVID, but we all agree that this is a smart response to social distancing challenges, and in many cases, is more favourable than queuing at a bar like we would in the ‘good old days’. Perhaps this method of service will stick around. The QR code itself has fallen in and out of favour in the western world until lately, but COVID certainly seems to have given it a new lease of life.
We’re keen to hear how technology has surprised or delighted you over the last year or so. What software, hardware, apps or services have changed the way you approach an otherwise mundane or difficult task? What’s been your source of entertainment during those long lockdown nights? Let us know in the comments below.