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Issue #1 October 11, 2012 Oct 11, 2012 Oct 11
From Issue #18 June 6, 2013

Staying Power

Branded as an anxiety-relieving product, Dog 1.0 has room for improvement.

By John Moltz Twitter icon 

They come in all kinds of colors, with many different features. Some are fun-sized, small enough to fit into a purse, while others are scaled for industrial work and capable of performing a myriad of useful tasks. You can even find them in the workplace now, as many companies allow their employees to bring their home units to the office to carry out routine tasks.

Yes, there’s no denying that Dog 1.0 is highly popular, and you may be considering purchasing one for yourself. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? While it continues to enjoy wide popularity, serious flaws and design issues bring into question whether or not this product was fit for release.

First impressions

Your first experience with Dog, the unboxing experience — or uncrating, as it is known in Dog-user parlance — is quite positive. Possibly too positive, as Dog may literally knock you over. And your children. And a lamp. And then wet the floor. This is ostensibly not a design flaw but indicates that Dog is ready to start an undocumented but necessary heuristic training procedure.

Dog lacks any sort of official manual, and there is no manufacturer tech-support number. However, millions of third parties provide documentation, tutorials, and hardware support. The Dog I was provided with for testing was freshly made with a recent production date. It didn’t smell fresh, but I understand that Dog is technically washable, if the process is ultimately fruitless given its propensity for getting dirty.

You will quickly notice that Dog is soft to the touch and that handling the unit is pleasurable. Indeed, it has even been shown to relieve stress. The process of Dog circling and rubbing up against you is a sensory delight that will sweep up even the most cynical person — while incapacitating those with allergies, who may then require a reboot.

Its hyperallergenic nature, we are told, is a “feature” intended to keep Dog soft and temperature adaptive. Because its body temperature is a few degrees higher than ours, Dog feels warm to the touch, which is great on a cold night, especially when Dog is lying across your chest and face, breathing the odor of stale roadkill up your nose. Dog is effusive and personable and generally aims to please, if only because you’re the one who feeds it.

Input errors

The look and feel of Dog is a user experience that borders on addictive, but there are several drawbacks that bear noting. For starters, it has severe input/output bugs that desperately need addressing. Some of these are so bad it’s hard to believe the developer fully tested this release. We’ve tried reporting these bugs repeatedly, but the breeder insists that these are very carefully made design choices and scoffingly asked if maybe we were “more cat people.” He also likes the phrase “no refunds,” even though we didn’t ask. Like many other devices, it seems, Dog suffers from a snooty fan base.

Although my troubles with calibrating Dog’s input could be classified as operator error, a well-designed interface should prevent the user from making poor choices. And often it’s impossible to know what these poor choices are. For instance, how was I supposed to know that leaving out a loaf of raisin bread could potentially cause catastrophic damage to Dog? If Dog’s hardware were more durable, raisins would not be so destructive to it.

Given that Dog’s kidneys seem to have been acquired from a sub-standard parts manufacturer, it would be prudent for Dog’s software to prevent it from craving invalid inputs such as raisin bread. And rubber bands. And Skylanders. Cardboard. A stuffed monkey. Charcoal briquettes. Elmo. The list goes on.

It often seems as if Dog’s developers required no input validation at all, which leads to regular buffer overflows and output errors, and we just purchased new rugs, for the love of god.

Stuck in self-cleaning mode

The unit we tested — and we confirmed this visually and with other reviewers in a nearby Dog-oriented structured socialization pseudo-natural area — lacks parental filters. While we have been told repeatedly that Dog is family appropriate, I can’t agree. This is true even after a hardware modification that can be performed in authorized facilities to remove an adapter that works with certain other models of Dog. (Dog has a two-piece interactive replication feature that produces unlimited copies, and that can only be disabled through the complete removal of interface components.)

After the interface modification, Dog should not perform the continuous self-cleaning operations that other units I’ve seen at DogPark apparently can’t restrain themselves from engaging in. But the hardware change clearly triggers a bug in software, and now no matter what we’ve tried, Dog continues to attempt this, locked into an infinite loop related to its — how do I put this delicately? — output function.

The only way to prevent this behavior is through the use of a third-party conic add-on that, at the very least, distracts from Dog’s aesthetic appeal and, at worst, increases the unit’s destructive potential to fragile items around the house.

I’m not sure what kind of user end-testing the developer did, but this intimate self-cleaning procedure is clearly the opposite of the desired user experience. Maybe you could argue it should be a user-configurable on/off setting, but at the very least it should ship in the “off” position.

Lacks silent mode

Dog also has a flaw in its command-and-control systems. Unless the user has food, Dog is surprisingly unresponsive to user feedback. In most instances, Dog is utterly heedless of my remarks, other than a bemused stare. Supposedly you can improve on these behaviors through third-party training that makes Dog responsive to user feedback. But I don’t think I should have to “train” it not to exhibit behaviors no user could possibly want.

Dog would also benefit from the kind of Do Not Disturb feature found on the iPhone and other devices. Once I was woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of Dog vomiting up pieces of a Wii controller cover that had somehow entered into its system unbeknownst to me. As these events are unavoidable because of the aforementioned input/output issues, it would be nice to be able to defer them until waking hours after my first cup of coffee and bourbon.

I also couldn’t locate Dog’s volume control, which one would assume is in an obvious location, but Dog didn’t appreciate my attempts to find it. The review unit is stuck in an “intermittent/excessively loud” position that once served a purpose, apparently, and was left in through generations of hardware upgrades and modifications to the product line.

Interoperation with other units is also extremely awkward, although the interface removal (sorry, boy) was supposed to help with that. At legally authorized DogPark locations, one engages in a persistent exercise in apologizing for its behavior. “I’m sorry, he’s a nipper,” I’ll say.

Then a few minutes later, “Oh, right, and a humper.”

Finally, “And a… uh… jeez, I’m not even sure what he’s doing there. Performance art? Well, I think we’ll be going.”

Good dog

A good Dog will last you up to 16 years, but be warned: maintenance can get expensive. The raisin bread incident alone set me back $900. Another unpleasant feature is that Dog is sold “as-is” with no warranty. Trade-ins are a no-no, returns unavailable, and replacements inadvisable. I’m not sure how they get away with any of that under state consumer-protection law, but the kid would be devastated if we accepted a factory-reconditioned replacement.

Despite all these flaws, however, there is something inexplicably pleasing about Dog. The same exuberance it exhibits upon unboxing is displayed whenever you come back from vacation. Or work. Or stepping behind a pole for 30 seconds.

Owning a Dog is often like owning an id, but it taught me something I didn’t realize about ids. Yes, the id takes pleasure in all that disgusting body stuff, but it also takes pleasure in just being with you. In playing with you, in lying down next to you (or on top of you), in looking up at you while on a walk. In just being touched by you.

And maybe that’s the genius of Dog’s design. It’s a simple message about what pleases. And it often doesn’t have to be complicated.

Rumors abound of a Dog 2.0 in which the least-desired features will be removed, artificial intelligence improved, and a perfected model released that conforms exactly to our desires. Prototypes that deviate from Dog’s wetware design — especially the tongue, nose, and orifices — into pure hardware have been attempted for years.

But Dog 2.0 will likely have as little resemblance to the Dog we know and love as a rice cake to a Danish. Don’t wait for the promised upgrade. If you’re thinking about seeing what the fuss is about, now’s as good a time as any. Dog is addictive, and it requires no prescription.

Product: Dog 1.0
Price: Free to very expensive, but in-arf purchases add up, as well as maintenance and repair budget.
Unit reviewed: Standard poodle in white.
Rating: Three and a half Milk Bones.

Illustration by Christa Mrgan.1 A version of the illustration is available as a T-shirt.

  1. Christa designs quality audio software for Rogue Amoeba, where she also occasionally blogs. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, daughter, and cat, and is pretty smug about it. Her interests include eating kale chips and playing the banjo non-ironically. 

John Moltz recently gave up the glamour of working in corporate IT to write online at his Very Nice Web Site. He does not respond to questions about whether he used to write what amounts to Apple fan fiction.

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