Bitcoin Piggybank Idea

ERNIT (“the smart piggy bank) is certainly up to date, accepting Bitcoin (from anyone or anywhere). It is a tangible interface to a digital wallet, including a Bitcoin wallet.

Yay!  Tangible interfaces meets intangible money!  What can possibly go wrong? ☺

ERNIT consists of an app and a smart piggy bank. The app enables you and your kids to set savings goals, and allows you and others to contribute money from nearby or far away. The piggy bank provides a physical way for kids to connect with their savings. They can hear when money is added, and the light on their piggy’s snout lets them know how far along they are toward reaching their goal.

Ernit defines a four step process:


The transactions are handled by an app, “[y]our child’s savings will be stored securely and with no risk through one of our financial partners”. In other words, this is a conventional bank account with a kid-friendly tangible interface.

The app has a “goal setting” task for the young saver. This involves touch screen interactions, and rather complex activities such as setting a goal that has a specific numerical target (e.g., purchase price for a new video game), setting multiple goals, seeing how much of the numerical goal has been reached, and allocating current savings among multiple goals.  (This sounds more like budgeting than savings.  But what do I know.)

It also implements a model of “allowance” which seems to make assumptions about family finances and parenting philosophy. The actual implementation itself is recognizable as a version of the gig economy. Parents define assignments with specified payouts, which show up on the screen. Ernit could argue that they not only teach financial literacy, they are also preparing your child for a life in Uber economy.  Great.

My biggest objection to the design is that the piggy fails to replicate the single most important feature of the classicanalog piggy bank: you can put money in easily, but there is no way to get it out easily. Ernit is basically just a front end to a bank account, and so “[c]ashing out can be done just as easily as putting money into the system.”

Bad idea. You should have to “smash” the pig to get the money out.

While the goal setting is designed to be a personal interaction, parent and child together, the deposits (and ultimate withdrawals) are purely digital and invisible. I have to wonder how this impersonal transaction is understood by kids, and what they learn from the experience.

Given that all the action is happening in the not particularly unique app, why bother with the piggy bank? The Ernit crew has thought about this, and think that the tangible interface is a valuable tool.

Children need a connection between intangible numbers and tangible value – that is why the ERNIT app and piggy bank focus so much on touch, feel and sound.

Hmm. This is supposed to teach the connection between “intangible numbers and tangible value”? Evidence?

The kickstarter video says they talked to many experts and visited a lot of homes. It is impossible to evaluate this unreported research, and in any case it was not an evaluation of the actual effects of the product.

Lot’s of questions deserve to be answered.

Do kids (and parents) use for a long time, or grow tired and lose interest? Do kids like it better than just using a digital wallet or other alternative method? How do parents like interact with kids around this product? What do kids actually learn? How does the goal setting work? What kinds of goals do the set, and do they achieve them?

By the way, since most grown ups, even technically savvy people like me, have trouble grokking Bitcoin, you have to wonder if it is something that kids should be playing with at all.

I must say that the physical design of the piggy is quite attractive. Personally, I would love to have one if I could just use it as a crypto or digital wallet (i.e., ditch the app). Why not? ☺  The report in CoinDesk suggests that you probably can ignore most of the app if you want to, but I’d like a stripped down app that just connects to my own crypto wallet, period.

I don’t really like the app at all, or the fact that you need an app. I’d be much happier with a much simpler interface. And if I have to talk to piggy with my device, I want it physically connected, not wireless, to make it clearly and tightly associated with the piggy. Make some kind of docking cradle on the piggy?

Also, I don’t really like the feel of the goal setting. It is designed like a wishbook, and basically teaches that the first step if savings is to shop around for “stuff” you want. Call me old fashioned, but I think the purpose of savings is to not spend the money, to prepare for unforeseen needs, and to stop thinking about life as a shopping spree.

I’m going to give this a yellow card for a borderline “Inappropriate Touch Screen Interface“.  They have been warned!

Finally, the audio should be expanded. The piggy is supposed to make noise when a deposit is made, though I don’t know what that sound is. Clearly, it should be proportional to the size of the deposit (“ka-ching!”), and also to the amount already in the piggy (“ka-chunk”). Even more important, shaking the piggy should make a noise representative of how full the bank is! (Ideally, the bank should get heavier as it fills up, but I don’t know a good way to implement that feature.)



Cryptocurrency Thursday

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