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RFID THROWDOWN – touchatag v mir:ror

I have always been fascinated with physical x digital interactions, so when tikitags came to my attention  in 2009, my head began to spin with ideas. When finally I got it together to order a starter kit, (now known as touchatag) they were sold out.

So to the web I went, trawling electronic and DIY gadget shops looking for a kit to buy when I found another home use RFID kit called mir:ror, by violet, who also produced nabaztag – a rabbit shaped ambient device. Having no luck tracking down touchatags, I found a mirror kit from an Amazon store and ordered it, eager to test the application and reality of using NFC technology.

Eventually touchatags became available again, so I ordered a set to see what’s possible with that system, and in a sense do some sort of review between the two “home user” kits for people wanting to dip their toes into this (near) field.

UPDATE to mir:ror.
After installing and signing up with mirror a couple of months ago, and then re-familiarizing myself with it after getting the touchatags, I learned that the company Violet that produced them originally, went bankrupt in 2009 and were taken over by Mindscape. They have recently released a new version of their nabaztag rabbit called Karotz.

So although this face-off might not be relevant as mirror is no longer produced, but I will still post it, for reference as it still may point to the merits of each system, and also to some of the frustration I had with mirror.

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PACKAGING

touchatag
Touchatag comes in a small box which houses the reader (wrapped in bubble wrap), a small single sheet quickstart (still from tikitag days) and small stack of adhesive tags. The language is simple and slightly cheeky as it explains the steps as easy as 1 – 2 – 3.

mir:ror
Mirror comes in a bigger box that is more consumer friendly with more brand personality (though overly so at times?). The language is over branded + proprietary, with terms like “z:tamps” and “mir:ror” – why not just call it a reader and stamp? It comes with some usage suggestions on the box, is well packed in a styrofoam stack, comes with a 4 page quick start guide and a direct URL for starting (though that doesnt exist anymore).

Mirror seems more of an end use product, where touchatag seems more DIY.

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SIGN UP AND INSTALLATION

Both kits require internet connection and registration on their networks. This is where you’ll manage your device, tags and applications. Both also need firmware or drivers and the application to install.

touchatag
The home page should call out “are you a 1st time user?” or there should be a direct URL. I felt a little bit lost even though I have visited the site numerous times and it’s geared towards potential buyers and information on the product, which is fair, but as they start moving towards a mass use case, the service should reflect that. To that point, the status of what the green lights mean and dock/tray icon need to be explained more upfront. This info is too buried. Other than that sign up was simple with email confirmation to complete your registration.

Installing the files was simple, the only downside is that a restart is needed.

mir:ror
The home page calls for action – either you register, create a account or log into network. This is a lot simpler and geared towards someone who has already purchased the kit and is ready to go. However, the Karotz site is more in line with supplying information on the product and calling a new user to participate, and does so appealingly.

Installation was simple, no restart.

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RUNNING THE APPLICATION

touchatag
Initially, the reader did not recognize the tag, so off to the forum I went. There was lots of to-ing and and fro-ing, restarting and disappointment. Then finally – voila! Tag recognition after a restart (and a forum post). My first tag was a simple web link. I took the tag off, placed it back on the reader and bingo! Web page loaded.
Success = 1.

mir:ror
My first attempt was a couple of months ago and I cannot remember getting anything working. I wanted to do a simple “open web page” – but no luck. I spent a lot more time familiarizing myself with the network and the jargon used. It seemed more complex to have have so many names and brands for a new product and service, also having to name your tag reader seemed excessive. No luck.
Success = 0.

It always felt there was one too many steps in the process. I put a bunny tag on the reader and I had to log in again, etc. Things like that drove me mad. I love the cute bunnies, but if they don’t work, they are kind of expensive desk toys. Of course, in hindsight, this was when the nabaztag servers were being shifted, so a lot of what was frustrating may not be so today.

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APPLICATIONS AND DASHBOARD

touchatag
I had success with using established applications. It was very simple to amend fields and get it going. I will progress on deeper interactions later, but for now it worked, which is always a marvel.

The dashboard is a little weird and frustrating. This has to do with containing the view of apps. I want to view “all apps” and there is no option for that. While the tag cloud aids navigation, it isn’t as intuitive as one thinks.

mir:ror
I battled to find an ‘open a web page’ app where you can define your own web page. There are a lot of pre defined podcasts and rss feeds and UK centric sites. I went around in circles trying to add an action to a z:tamp or the bunny (nano:ztag), but got internal error for my efforts. “please try again.” When i finally found an “open a web page” application, I got an error.

Again, please note, the failure of the mirror is likely due to the discontinued service of the product. I mailed Karotz support to see if they will integrate the z:tamps and old bunnies, but have not received a reply yet. There are discounts if you were a nabazag owner and want to upgrade to Karotz.

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OVERALL

For touchatag (±$40 for the starter kit), I liked the DIY/tinker aesthetic it has going for it. It is less precious and at $1 a tag, allows one to be more free in experimenting with NFC behavior. The fact that you can also assign a QR code with a working tag opens this platform up fairly widely and I can see a lot of use case scenarios here.

For mirror, besides the failure of getting mirror to work properly, I like the design, the bunnies and overall feel, but at ±$100 for a new mirror starter kit, it is way more expensive. There are no more z:tamps, so the cheapest entry item is a bunny (flatanoz) and that will run you ±$10 per item, so it is less throwaway.

The Karotz world is more self contained and is geared toward having the Karotz at the center of your connected world, whereas touchatag is more of a platform for you to create your own internet of things.

Mirror is certainly more designed overall, not only the objects but even down to the lights and sounds when you place a tag on the reader, but for me, I want to tag objects, so touchatag is more my tagged cup of tea.

touchatag – http://www.touchatag.com
mir:ror (violet) – http://www.violet.net
Karotz – http://www.karotz.com

Also of interest:

3D Pixels
Ali Demirel’s cube
Ghost in the machine
BBC Blast: Realtime physical art installation
Bubblegum Sequencer
This is Remo Saraceni rolls
Flap to Freedom
LED watch strap
Bubble Speaker
LED Watch Strap

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One Response to “RFID THROWDOWN – touchatag v mir:ror”

  1. dan Says:

    nice writeup. agreed on the "new user" stuff for touchatag. thanks!

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