Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Real Review of LittleBits (that wasn't paid for, given free products, or from a press release)

My nearly 10YO daughter and her friends are what the marketers these days call “Makers.” 

She likes to make and create her own games using a really inovative App called Hopscotch that teaches programming and allows her to share the creation with other kids. Minecraft has become a staple with her now. She makes iPhone videos with friends and posts them. Usually my wife and I find weird contraptions around the house, “inventions” as she calls them. Wants to make her own “(insert anything).” It’s actually quite refreshing for us and we encourage it all the time as good parents should.
To our benefit new “Maker” products are popping up everywhere and are specifically geared for kids (and some curious grown-ups…) that encourage this which has my overwhelming approval. What’s great about these projects is that they come with instructions, tutorials that inspire ideas, and a community of users that teach others how to use them. To me they're extensions of what Lego started generations ago. 

Then I read all of these amazing reviews off Inc.Fortune, CNN, of something called LittleBits. Which are marketed as “Kits” that allow you to pretty much create anything. They’re adpatable, resuable, encourage tinkering and learning by creating. They’re simple electronics with magnets so you can’t burn (or kill) yourself. You can invent anything, play with it, connect it to the internet and HACK it.  Hack it? What can be more exciting!? And more importantly it’s ages 8 and up, and has received lots of awards by educators, brain toys, and TED. TED?! Yes, TED so you know this is the best right? TED even let CEO Ayah Bdeir do a talk - which they only allow for big life changing products or ideas.

I enthusiastically ordered what an article and others recommended “LittleBitsCloudBit Starter Kit” which allows you to “snap” the internet to pretty much anything your heart desires. It says in the product description, "Perfect for hackers, designers, makers, and tinkers of all levels - without the programming, soldering and wiring normally required" Here! Take my $109.75 with tax!! Please take it now!

Oh marketing, it’s such a stretch from reality…

When we got it, it came with NO instructions whatsoever. Only a card to go online for basic “cloud” setup process that we quickly found out wouldn’t work on 2 iPads (1 newer iPad Air), my daughter's iPhone 4S, my iPhone 6 - even though marketing material off the website shows it being controlled by an iPhone, oddly enough there’s no App available.  After 45 minutes of searching through LittleBits website help, FAQ, forums, and in desperation Google, I found out it ONLY works through the desktop browser Chrome; iPhones/iPad use Safari.
An hour later,  we were finally up! But then, they drop you on a very techie hub with a button to basically remotely turns the electronic bit’s LED light on and off. No projects, no tutorials. Nothing. The help there isn’t really help, but just basic tool tips. After searching for over 2 hours off their “MakerHub” website, Google again, and YouTube videos, I realize that what’s included in the kit doesn’t have any projects associated with it. If you want to do something that’s advertised, you have to buy even more LittleBits (advertised up-sells are everywhere on their website) OR you just have to have a PhD in electronics, be a programmer, or have prior experience with electronics. They immediate try to pass you off to another site called which is even more fustrating because there are even less instructions there. Just recipes that somehow connect back to the Littlebits, but no instructions on exactly how to do that.
Try and go to get help in their forums (LittleBits or IFTTT) and you're met with hard-core techies; try and check out how others made projects off LittleBits Makerhub and you get these type of instructions:

Easy! Make a space shuttle! Step 1: Buy Kits. Step 2 Put stuff together. Step 3: Go to Space! It’s TOTALLY EASY. A 5YO can do it!!

When I contacted LittleBits, they apologized for the miscommunication of their website acknowledging that the product messaging is incorrect and the advertised products don't work. They referred me to a few user-made projects that do require soldering (SMS doorbell?) and have vague, just horribly written instructions like the one above. But they did offer me a $20 coupon code buy more LittleBits. 


I’ve encountered lot’s of challenges in my lifetime, but nothing comes close to this experience. For something that’s been out for awhile you’d think they would have worked out the bugs. Instead they have a brilliant marketing department that produced a slick website and an expensive product that does nothing.

What really bothers me even more are the awards and recommendations by so-called objective tech journalists. But when thinking about it, they get some PR release written by the company’s (brilliant) marketer and tell the story on the idea, what it can do (excluding that you need a PhD in astrophysics) not actual reality by a normal kid, or human, that it's being marketed to. I’ve been getting these PR releases for years and I fell for it myself. I’ve been hacked to think this stuff actually does something. I fell for the marketing message with no real-world validator. The shame…!

Like my grandma use to say, if you’re hearing it from the company, it’s more than likely too good to be true!

In this case, at least I can return to Amazon and try some other Maker products recommended by ACTUAL parents of kids that use the products. Lego has a Robot Kit EV3 and Snap Circuits has a pretty good system, both are used in STEM programs in lot's of schools. They even come with step-by-step illustrations AND instruction booklets - imagine that! That's something LittleBits doesn't seem to get. 

1 comment:

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