a nice juicy insight of what type of products might be around the corner.
Tom’s Hardware finds that
the possibilities for multitasking are very enticing.
Geek.com‘s Matthew Humphries clearly sees the value of Tangent Bay:
Screen space is always limited on a laptop and if you can save some by pushing a music player, Skype, IM chat window, or calendar on to a completely separate area, then all the better.
I’m sure there are apps we could keep an eye on “in the background”. Think of World Cups, for example, with games on during work hours… or the Ashes, or the European Championship, or Wimbledon, etc…
Having visited the past three editions of the Consumer Electronics Show, I am now looking back at a “Vegas hat-trick.” While I just won’t warm up to the artificial lights of Sin City, the trade show itself has become all too familiar and has ceased to hold surprises. Yet there are a few things worth mentioning – five of them to be precise.
1. Personal Favorites
Apart from products somewhat detached from bigger strategies like Haier’s completely wireless TV (no electricity or video signal cables needed) or Asus’s notebook study sporting translucent fabrics, the company that most impressed me was Lenovo – their Skylight and Ideapad U1 seem to break the paradigm of what netbooks have been for the past years, by introducing new architectures, interfaces and with that also new usage proposals. I also got to play briefly with Lenovo’s 乐-Phone (pronounced “Le-Phone”, meaning “happy phone”) that looks like it will be a rather decent Android-device. In combination with a large amount of product releases, the company did position itself as an innovator on an otherwise dreary marketplace.
While those personal highlights might seem to be utterly “small picture”, I concluded that this is due to a complete absence of bigger ideas. My personal theory behind this finding is, that technology has gotten in the way of well thought-out consumer products, which leads us to the second point that I am making.
2. Technology vs. Consumer Electronics
To start with examples, there are two categories of consumer products that have seen drastic changes in their technical possibilities during these past years at CES:
- TV’s were thinand bigin 2008, got even thinnerand biggerin 2009 and they now seem to disappear into 2-dimensionality, while at the same timenot fittinginto any living room. 3D TV technology on the other hand was a big topic in 2008, became more apparent at last year’s CESand the devices were omnipresent in 2010 with announcements that there might well be a 24-hour 3D TV channelin 2011.
- Besides incremental innovations in television technology during its last three editions, the CES has seen the “Tablet PC’s” of the early 2000′s being named “MID’s” in 2008 and after another round of re-christening, the same devices are now marketed as “Slate PC’s“. Gizmodo states that Dell’s version looks like a big iPod Touch, and it appears that the product will indeed not have much more functionality than the gadget from Cupertino.
Trade show booths have been flooded with new products and new technologies year after year, yet strong attitudes and points of view of consumer brands seem to have no access to the fairground and consumers are left to wonder what to do with all that promising new technology.
How beautiful would it be if electronics makers would use the technology and turn it into beneficial products for the consumer, rather than blindly implementing what’s out there? It seems like the market is waiting for someone to step up and make a strong position, so that the rest will be able to follow.
3. The Rapid Slide of the E-Reader
And since we are already talking about “Slate PC’s”, I was baffled by the steep decline of the value of E-Readers and by how blazingly fast a rather new product category went from novelty to commodity. The first Kindle went on sale a mere two years ago, soon to be followed by its second generation and an entire hive full of Sony’s, “nook’s” and “Alex’s“.
Roaming the trade show floors at CES, it is impossible to avoid yet another little company introducing half a dozen “me too” e-readers.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is great merit in new technologies like Pixel Qi’s displays in a reading device and – being a product designer – I obviously appreciate the object that is Plastic Logic’s Que Reader.
That said, it seems that the industry is making the wrong choice, while trying to sell their devices to a broader audience: The incremental innovation that can be observed (additional screens, larger displays, bigger storage,…), coupled with a smaller price tag just doesn’t cut it, as the overall user experience, attached services and new use models that in their combination could make for great products, are left completely untapped.
4. Mobile Computing: Hard- and Software at the Tipping Point?
When it came to information technology products over the past 20 years or so, the choice of an Intel/Microsoft combo seemed imperative and while a shift has been noticeable for the past few years, I believe that a few observations from this year’s CES indicate that the industry is approaching a tipping point, that give consumers new choices for the truly mobile information age, which – according to Gartner – is imminent.
After selling its XScale mobile microprocessor core technology to Marvell in 2006, Intel has been facing strong headwinds in the mobile arena and at this year’s CES it have been Qualcomm’s and nVidia’s technologies that arguably powered the most exciting mobile gadgets, as opposed to Intels’ battery-hungry Atom platform.
On the user interface side of the equation, the market has been searching for an alternative to the Windows-desktop paradigm, which just does not want to fit the bill for small-screen use scenarios. Ever since the advent of netbooks, it have been mostly Linux derivates like Jolicloud that attempted to compete with Windows XP, but new competitors emerged over the past few months. And while Android and Chromium cannot yet keep the user experience promises that the operating systems are making, they will very soon be able to.
I do not expect the marketplace powerhouses to stand still and am looking forward to seeing the goodies that will come out of Redmond and Santa Clara in the near future. I am sure that this competition will be great for the consumer and hope we will have products at hand that will have truly changed the landscape of consumer electronics come 2013.
5. Product Design
So what about the design of consumer electronics? While the shift from classical industrial design to experience design that began a decade ago is now omnipresent, I cannot help but being utterly disappointed by the lack of accomplishments that my profession can post. While I found products and their interfaces in 2008 and 2009 “not very touching“, I can only but report that nothing much has changed since then.
Next to a general lack of figurative transparency, interfaces on handheld devices are quite obviously not made to be used byhands, with interaction elements still being too small and cluttered to help users achieve their tasks. And don’t get me started on the experiences you get from the silver screen: UI and graphic design seem to have mostly been standing still in the mid 90′s and interactions are confusing and clumsy at best… it’s pitiful.Every now and then Hollywood shows us that user experience could truly be natural, but in reality most novel interactions that we come up with are eye-candy features like BumpTop that don’t add much value for the user, are limited to a certain area of the experience and impractical for everyday tasks.
Unfortunately, truly novel and game-changing graphical user experiences like 10/GUI‘s study have not found their way into mass-produced gadgets yet and were absent from CES. The excuse of the discipline still being young simply does not hold water. It is time for a shift on a broad scale towards better user experiences.
I certainly do not want to part without expressing a wish for Consumer Electronics Shows to come and hope that CES 2011 will have major headlines other than Elvis’s 76th birthday or the availability of fluffy phones in additional colors to pink.
I wish for new products to be convincing not only in one or two aspects but holistically, starting from technical specifications, industrial and interface design up to integrated services and I wish for consumer electronics companies to make choices and decisions for their customers, so that they become advocates for the user rather than just impersonal institutions that sell “stuff.”
This post was first published on Carbon Design’s blog.
Fernd, Peter, and I attended the IDSA International Conference in Miami and were having the greatest time there!
We received the IDEA Awards for Carbon’s Pathway Jetstream System and Nanopoint Microfluidics Controller projects, participated in a few great lectures, mingled with our designer friends, and – most importantly – managed to “bobb” in the lukewarm waters of the Atlantic Ocean for a moment or two…
Less than two weeks after returning from Taiwan, I embarked on another intercontinental trip, this time strictly for business. A collaboration between Carbon Design, Artefact and Panasonic Avionics around the future of inflight entertainment took Martijn and I on a crazy trip through three continents in order to experience different inflight entertainment systems with different airlines and to visit the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.
Our first stop was the trade show in Hamburg and we also crammed in a few internal work sessions in the “Hansestadt”. Before heading out for the second leg of our trip, we had an afternoon off, took a stroll through the stunning “Speicherstadt” and discovered the “Prototyp” Auto Museum, where we spent a few hours exploring the exhibition…
Our business trip’s second stop took Martijn and me into the United Arab Emirates and the city of Dubai – an area and a city that always fascinated me. While we had a three day stay in town, our time was mostly spent on work. We did however manage to escape for two afternoons to explore the city and to participate in a desert safari.
Weighing our options for the former activity with the hotel’s front desk, we found that “leisure” in the desert city more than in any other place on the planet equals “shopping”, as there seemingly is nothing else to do in Dubai and the options given by the hotel were somewhat monotonous…
Q: “What else can we do except for visiting shopping malls?”
A: “Well, not much… but every mall has its own flavor.”
Vegas on steroids. Great.
Admittedly, there is no other shopping mall on the planet where one can visit an indoor ski resort, but I found the lack of culture and history in the dusty city combined with a generally inhumane and little hospitable urban planning and the obvious slavery-like conditions of Dubai’s poorest simply disgusting.
While I still had hopes to find the romantics of 1001 night in the desert safari, I was also disappointed here, as the tour consisted out of several caravans of around a dozen jeeps each driving around in the sand dunes, just to stop at absolutely insignificant points for a few minutes and then to continue on to another little ride until the final destination, a very touristy “desert camp” featuring a few tired looking camels, shops selling overpriced Dutch beer and gimmicky souvenirs and a little inspiring belly dancer from the Philippines…
How to best summarize my first impressions… or the lack thereof?
If it wasn’t for the incredible man-made structures, built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of men deprived of human rights, Dubai would be an utterly uninteresting and boring place in the middle of nowhere. With all its ongoing and completed constructions the town is well worth a one-day visit.
I simply cannot believe how quickly 2008 has flown by and am amazed at all the wonderful events that have made the past twelve months without any doubt the most event- and wonderful year of my life.
Just four days after arriving in the Pacific Northwest last year, I set out to visit the CES and – hoping that this is a good omen for another fantastic year – I am doing the same thing in 2009, with the only difference being that there aren’t several days, but mere hours between my arrival in Washington and my departure to Nevada.
Having just come back yesterday at around midnight, I found myself back at SeaTac just 15 hours later, boarding a plane to Sin City. Now I am sitting here in my hotel room at Circus Circus, cranking away on work for a meeting tomorrow…
While Vegas certainly has a more familiar air to me the second time around, I am still dazzled by the random accumulation of lights, colors and styles and by the absence of good taste… Vegas will probably always be a fascinating place for me and I believe I will never get over the constant dose of culture shocks that it offers.
Originally I was supposed to go to Taiwan for business in December, but I had to postpone my trip subsequently until I finally didn’t have time anymore to embark on a flight to the South China Sea. In recent months, I was reminded of my years in Taiwan time and time again, as a few friends asked me for tourist tips when traveling to Formosa.
Taipei 101’s Shadow
Not being able to visit my “second home” this time, I went on a little “virtual tour” through my own personal tourist guide for the visitor of Taipei and compiled a pretty comprehensive list that I want to post here, grouped by different sorts of activities.
The Taiwan Tourism Bureau gives a good amount of general information, while the website is exactly what the name suggests. One shouldn’t visit Taipei without knowing about the MRT system – a fast, cheap and bilingual (!!!) means of transportation to explore the city.
Wining and Dining
Taipei is an absolute paradise when it comes to food and also offers lots of bars. As the locations are ever changing, I will here just refer to Taiwanfun, which is a pretty good source for all sorts of restaurants, pubs and clubs.
Gong Bao Chicken
My absolute favorite restaurant is Kiki – veeeery spicy Sichuan style food at a few different locations. Order some – or all – of these dishes:
- 宮保雞丁 (“gongbao chicken” – spicy)
- 麻婆豆腐 (“mapo tofu” – spicy)
- 蒼蠅頭 (“fly heads” – no insects are harmed in the preparation of this dish… it’s just minced meat… veeeery spicy! Order enough rice!)
- 老皮嫩肉 （”old skin, tender meat” – contrary to what the name suggests, a very mild vegetarian dish, made from tofu)
Even more popular, but serving food a lot more mild is the Din Tai Fung restaurant. Go to their original store on XinYi road and enjoy the best dumplings in the world!
Above the rooftops of DanShui, you’ll find the “Red Castle restaurant“… this restaurant is not inside the castle itself, but five minutes down the road and then up the hill… nice view, good coffee, good food.
For a real Taiwanese experience check out one of the night markets – most favorably ShiLin Night Market, close to the MRT’s red line JianTan station! As a guideline, order at least three kinds of food of which you have no clue what they actually are.
The National Palace Museum holds treasures of over 3,000 years of Chinese culture… great for a rainy day. The Taipei Fine Arts Museum always features a good mixture of Eastern and Western exhibitions. While ticket prices are low anyway, entrance is free on Saturday evenings between 5:30 and 8:30… a great way to start your evening!
Taipei Fine Arts Museum
I really like the building that Moca Taipei is located in – a former Japanese school, about 10 minutes walk away from Zhong Shan MRT station (red line). Exhibitions are often more on the local side, but I have never been disappointed. As the museum is rather small, it’s suited if you just have 1-2 hours to spend.
The Juming Museum is about an hour north of Taipei and great in the autumn, when it’s not too hot, as the most interesting sculptures are located outside.
On the opposite side of Dan Shui at the mouth of the Dan Shui River one finds the Shisanhang Museum of Archeology… it’s interesting, but a little far out and resembles more an entertainment park on the weekends with thousands of kids visiting and a night-market like atmosphere around the building.
Taipei Eye is a show that is sponsored by he CEO of Taiwan’s National Cement and Construction Company, whose passion is to promote Chinese performing arts. Chinese opera, Taiwanese aboriginal performances and puppet shows are performed and explained with English and Japanese sub(side)titles. While the ambiente is a bit cheesy and far from “authentic Chinese” Taipei Eye offers a great introduction to performing arts in the Far East. It’s a 10 minute walk north east from Shuang Lian MRT station (red line) at the corner of Zhong Shan North Road and Jinzhou Street.
National Taiwan Concert Hall has program that probably cannot compare with European cities, but offers a great mix of local Taiwanese, Asian and international performances… check out their program – I never regretted a visit!
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre is an internationally acclaimed dance group that blends Eastern and Western culture in a truly beautiful way… I’ve seen about half a dozen of their performances over the past years and never left without being deeply impressed.
U-Theatre has amazing performances that combine martial arts, dance, traditional Chinese music and confucianism into one amazing new experience… performances are rare, though.
Visit Red House for a taste of Japanese colonial architecture and some smaller shows.
If you’re up for your major Hollywood entertainment, you can go to Vieshow (formerly Warner Village) in the Xin Yi district, Living Mall Theatres (in a mall that is shaped like a giant sphere) or Miramar Cinemas in Tian Mu / Da Zhi. Unfortunately it seems that Taipei is getting less accessible to foreigners, as some of the theaters don’t have an English website anymore.
I like the Spot movie theater (Taipei Film House) close to Zhong Shan MRT station. It is located in the former US Embassy on Zhong Shan North Road, has a nice coffee shop and a good selection of foreign non-Hollywood movies. Make sure to check with the staff whether non-English movies come with English subtitles. If you happen to be in town during the Golden Horse Film Festival, make sure to catch some arthouse films, and if not,
The Wall is one of my favorite places in Taipei for Live Music. Riverside has a rather small stage, with mostly lesser known bands, but the quality of performances is usually very good. Even smaller is the German-owned Witchhouse that also offers an okay dinner before or during the performances.
The Yang Ming Shan National Park is just a 20-minute bus ride away from Taipei City. Take bus “Red 5”, that leaves Jian Tan MRT station every 20 minutes or so for the Park Entrance. You can ask in any hotel for maps or download relatively good bilingual ones here.
Yang Ming Shan National Park
There are really easy trails like Qing Tian Gang… essentially just a few meadows that offer a nice view on Taipei City or more difficult ones for example to Mt Qi Xing, where you’ll have to climb more than 500m… I loved it up there in Yang Ming Shan, no matter if biking or hiking.
I always found it difficult to bring something “truly Taiwanese” back home… below are four places where you might find what you’re looking for.
The Jade Market (and Flower Market) are whimsically located underneath an overpass at the intersection of RenAi Road and JianGuo Road (sometimes romanized as ChienKuo or similar).
What they are offering might be a bit on the cheesy side – check out this website for an overview.
At the Wu Fen Pu Garment District you can buy all sorts of crazy clothes for veeeery little money. Here is a good English introduction (that also talks about Shi Lin Night Market), this is an “how to get there” guide and also a brief intro to Xi Men Ding Shopping Area (西門町商圈) below. Some pictures of Wu Fen Pu here.
The Xi Men Ding Shopping Area is where the kids hang out. It reminds very much of Tokyo’s Harajuku district and has lots of “KTV’s” (karaoke clubs), eateries, fashion, music and toy stores. It’s best to get there by taking the MRT – Xi Men Station is right after Taipei Main Station.
Xi Men Ding Shopping Area
Shi Lin Night Market is the biggest and best-known night market in Taipei – see some photos here. If you decide to go there, look out for “$10 Stores” (10元)… they’ve always got crazy shit in there… take the MRT to Dan Shui, exit at Jian Tan Station and follow the signs or ask the kids…
Shi Lin Night Market
Well… this list could obviously be a lot longer and maybe one day I’ll get around to extending it!
Well… I did quite a bit of travelling these past few days. While on Saturday night I was still in Taipei and after having a quick stopover in Seoul on Sunday morning, I touched ground in Seattle yesterday afternoon, just to take off again today for a one-day business trip to Portland.
While I have taken that tour quite a bit in past months, it was – until now – by car or standard scheduled flights.
Prior to today’s trip we discovered a new airline in town, though: SeaPort Airlines, that offers direct flights between Boeing Field and Portland’s PDX airport, with the former being a lot closer to downtown Seattle than SeaTac International airport in Tacoma and – in combination with the omission of security screenings – decreasing the overall commute from 4 to 3 hours.
In addition to the shorter travel, a ride in SeaPort Air’s 10-seater Pilatus PC-12 Turboprop also makes for an unusual and really cool flying experience!
With all this travelling though, it is needless to say that I was pretty jetlagged at the end of the day – from my trip to Asia that is, not from the one to Oregon – and I fell asleep at around 9pm. Fortunately, there’ll be a few weeks time until I’ll be embarking on my next intercontinental flight…
With the Epson Endeavor, I led the creation of a slim and light notebook that the US media seems to love, except maybe for the fact that the product is only available In Japan.
Akihabara thinks the notebook is a miracle:
Are you looking for a light and powerful notebook? Here’s the latest wonder from Epson, the Endeavor NA801.
In his brief report Technology Tell‘s Kian Henry focuses on the great performance-to-weight ratio and wished that he could buy one stateside…
Its also nice to see that power doesn’t have to weigh a ton, the NA801 weighs in at just over 4-pounds.
The Japanese Epson website confirms that the NA801 will retail for around $1000 when it is released, sadly this will be available only in Japan.
A few brief impressions from the office…
Living in Asia for some seven years, I thought I had seen it all when it comes to the excessive use of light bulbs and neon tubes in the streets… little did I know that my memories of Tokyo’s Shibuya district now feel like ‘underexposed images’ when I compare them to my impressions of ‘The Strip’ in Las Vegas.
Visiting the Consumer Electronics Show there, I have not yet decided whether I should be fascinated or disgusted by the city’s artificiality, chintzy glamour and affluence of materiality. While Vegas offers an intriguing mixture of entertainment, gambling and great food, it certainly seems that all good taste is doomed to remain outside the city limits…