For example, the ability to actually play videos should be coming very soon, Gannon promised. Likewise, voice activation and control is included in the box but has not yet been turned on in the software. The device will go into a rest state with a clock face showing the time. The device will also be able to do Alexa-style simple tasks, such as set a timer. The Loop app on your iOS or Android smartphone will soon act as a remote control to the device. And so on and so on – a million-and-one fixes coming down the line.
A big issue as far as we were concerned was the quality of the video calling. It was almost always pixelated despite ample network bandwidth.
This, Gannon assured us, is the result of the trade-offs and algorithms Loop has incorporated into the service, which it outsources to an unnamed corporate video-conferencing service. He said audio quality was prioritized over video quality, and maintaining a constant connection was also prioritized.
So while the video may not look great, it won't do the maddening thing that, for example, Apple's Facetime increasingly does and drop the conversation altogether. Some software tweaks will give a better experience, he promised. Which we will give him some benefit of doubt over, since his background is in video conferencing and he was once in charge of putting Skype into Samsung TVs – it didn't take off because people don't want to sit in front of their TV talking to others.
The perfect scenario – for both the consumer and for Loop – is for someone to buy three of the devices, do the setup themselves, and then ship them to their parents, kids and siblings.
Then they pull the device out the box and it already has everything they need set up. Sit it on your kitchen surface, or desk, or carry it around from room to room. It's a high-tech device that doesn't look like one. A modern piece of technology that can connect to things like Dropbox and YouTube but doesn't require you to navigate a much wider world and log in and enlarge screens. It just sits there and makes things easy. It's for people who find the iPad and iOS too much a faff or ugly.
And we can see the appeal. It is a simple and safe controlled environment. It is a pleasant, robust device. It's a way to stay in touch with your family without worrying about screwing up an email or being bamboozled by notifications. Loop is working desperately hard to get it fully functioning and all the niggles ironed out before the Christmas shopping season. And you can see thousands of nerds handing them out as presents to their families.
The concept is almost an idyllic throwback to more innocent times – and by innocent, we mean less unpleasant (there is no Twitter channel option, for example).
As much as we like the idea, though, there is still a lot of work to be done. We are not convinced the box has enough processing power, and the interfaces between existing services, such as Instagram, are too clunky.
But, unlike many products we test, it won't be going back in the box or the back of the cupboard just yet. If in the next few months, Loop's software is updated to include all the features Gannon promises, and if they are done with a little more finesse, then this is a product your humble vulture could easily grow to love. ®
PS: Loop is shipping to the US and Canada – drop them a line if you're interested in the UK, Australia, Europe, and beyond.