Each year for a week CES or the Consumer Electronics Show (Las Vegas) an array of ultra cool gadgets and concepts from some of the largest players in the industry including Samsung, Lenovo, Toshiba, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, HP, HTC, Motorola, 3M, LG, Intel, Sony , Dell, Palm, Philips and much much more, as well as many unknown startups. Although this show has the stigma of being geek central it really is a show that will get many industrial designers very excited. There are many new innovations and technologies on show, new styles and new interfaces to products that we as designers use every day or products we wish we were designing ourselves. In this article I will reveal some of the good, the bad and the interesting products not from a geek perspective but as a critique of industrial design. Much courtesy goes to Engadget and Gizmodo for the photographs.
Article by Martin Gibson – Twitter – 08.01.2010
This is one of those products which you just say ‘wow’ and wish you were in a room with one for a couple of hours. It is basically a projector which projects a computer or any kind of operating system on a flat surface. You can then touch on that surface where you want to navigate to or what you want to select! Brilliant! It is actually surprisingly accurate and you can even input multitouch gestures like the famous iphone image scrolling and pinch zooming. Of course the draw back is that the room must be dark otherwise you wont see anything. I am not 100% certain of the applications of such a device but it could perhaps be a mini presenter device for presentations?
The 3M multitouch display is a computer monitor which is basically an Iphone on steroids. It features multitouch of up to 20 fingers simultaneously so you can draw on it using your finger with 20 of your friends or with a stylus like pen. 3M is pushing this for games, but I see this product as a killer design tool for designers. Imagine putting this display at a flat angle or on a desk so its like an oversized graphics tablet. It would be like working on a generous A3 sized page and then being able to input your line strokes in illustrator as a vector. Or imagine being able to morph a 3d model with your fingers! I think there is a great future with these types of devices in the product design industry, and it is just the beginning.
My eyes nearly exploded after looking at a Samsung prototype laptop where the screen is completely see-through. One step closer to Minority Report this 14 inch notebook uses a transparent OLED screen. You are unable to look through coloured or white items on the screen, but black and dark items are nearly 60% fully transparent. This has no practical purpose whatsoever, but it just looks really cool.
Finally some decent looking 3D glasses! As soon as I walked into Avatar 3D my girlfriend immediately laughed at how goofy I looked wearing my glasses I knew there was an opportunity to put some style into this product. Gunnar Optics is releasing a whole range of colours and styles of 3D glasses starting at a massive $90US a pair. They even plan on releasing prescription glasses later in the year. I know many people who need to wear prescription glasses have to wear 2 pairs of glasses when they see a 3D movie. I realise nobody is going to pay $90 for 3D glasses to wear at the cinema but this isn’t what this is really for, it is for when 3D televisions become more readily available. With all things considered sometimes people pay $200-$400 for surf sunglasses anyways, what’s the difference!
The design of television boxes (VCR’s, DVD Players, Blueray Players) have just been so dull and typical. I take my hat off to Samsung which have made just a simple design choice by making the top surface of the disk drive transparent revealing the spinning disk for show. The design features backlighting which beams a light-blue ray that comes out from the glass. Simple but different.
I was very close to immediately dismissing this design and accuse it of over designed mumbo jumbo. This is a mouse for the extreme tech enthusiast or gamer and will set you back around $130US. It features adjustable dimensions so it will fit any sized hand by utilising an array of internal sliding mechanisms. It has weight distributors within so you get the perfect centre of balance. It also features the extreme nerdyness of an adjustable tolerance of the scroll wheel in case you need to sniper some guy in the head with fine accuracy in Call of Duty 2 Modern Warfare.
Boxee is a free program that can be downloaded from Boxee.tv which allows you to watch an internet styled television on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer. I love Boxee because of its masterfully designed user-interface, it is simple and fast. At CES, Dlink and Boxee have teamed up and have suggested a new paradigm for your television experience. No more Foxtel or cable, no more digital TV, just TV coming from your internet with the Boxee Box. The Xbox 360 and PS3 are slowly integrating web programming into their systems, but Boxee gives it to you here and now. The device is apparently going to get Hulu channels as well but this hasn’t been verified. Unfortunately many non-US residents will be unable to view a lot of mainstream programs from ABC and Fox because these networks have been geo-blocked. The box itself has both an ethernet slot and wifi to receive data from your modem router.
As a piece of design the Boxee box is fantastic. It has really picked up on the visual motifs of Boxee that were once only found in the interface and has transformed them into a handsome little box. The whole box is at an angle with a cut out bottom corner revealing a lime green underside. Just a little different and always welcomed over just a standard box. I am also a huge fan of the Boxee remote. It has been an age old question how do we allow people in their living rooms to be able to type quickly? I hate the game consoles solution where you use the scroll wheel or control pad to navigate your letter selection on a virtual keyboard on the screen which takes ages. I also hate the idea of having a full sized keyboard in the living room as it is just uncomfortable and takes up too much room. Boxee have solved this really elegantly, as when the remote is reversed from the D pad side, a decent full sized QWERTY keyboard is available for typing. Great design work Dlink.
I was a huge critic of Microsoft’s Arc mouse because it had no consideration of ergonomics, it was plainly uncomfortable to use due to its high arch. However the Microsoft Arc Keyboard is a great design ergonomically. The palms natural resting position when put onto a desk isn’t parallel to the desk, rather the palm tilts upwards towards the middle. The Arc Keyboard addresses this anthropometric data in a really nice way. Yes Logitech have made sloped keyboards in the past, but none that look as nice and as simple as the Arc keyboard. Microsoft do a lot of bad products, but they have always managed to make really reliable, durable mouses and keyboards at very affordable prices.
The first of the bad is the Lenovo IdeaPad U1. It is basically a netbook with a removable screen that acts as a tablet. I know many of you will say this is an excellent idea, and maybe 3 years ago I would applaud Lenovo for thinking outside the box. But one must question why the user can’t just take the whole netbook if they want to transport it. Because the weight and size difference between the tablet and the whole netbook is arguable. The interesting aspect of the internal architecture is that when you remove the tablet it actually runs a small Snapdragon processor and runs linux as a media centre hub. But when plugged into the netbook it runs a Windows operating system. For most people I think this dual operating system configuration will be confusing. There are all sorts of issues with battery sharing, memory sharing and processor issues which make the two operating systems difficult to manage. Aesthetically the transparent red plastic is revolting, it looks like one of those novelty child mobile phones.
The Industrial Designers at Asus have a reputation for being let loose by their managers to think wildly. But in this case they have gone perhaps too wild and have lost all common sense. This gigantic laptop has a dual track pad (you know the mouse part of the laptop) on either side of the keyboard. There are so many issues wrong with this including accidental hitting of the keys when your fingers are on the trackpad. Not to mention what a waste of resources of having two trackpads when they do exactly the same thing. The only advantage I see in this trackpad location is that it makes it quicker to go from typing mode to mouse mode. Despite my bagging of Asus I give them the thumbs up for simple and stylish design. The NX90 looks elegant and really fits in as a piece of furniture into the home unlike the abundance cheaper styled laptops we see these days.
This year at CES it is the year of the tablet and the 3D television. 3D television you may ask? The major TV manufacturers including Sony, Samsung are advocating 3D televisions as the next piece of technology as part of a home theatre setup. But to many it is merely an attempt to get consumers to spend $2000-$4000 for a television as LED televisions and plasmas get cheaper and cheaper due to competition. I am very sceptical whether many consumers will flock and adopt 3d televisions in their homes. But already major broadcasters like Discovery and ESPN are planning recording events and shows using this medium. But not even these girls could ever sell me 3D glasses. If you have seen Avatar at your local cinema in 3D you will know exactly what I am talking about when it comes to poor industrial design.
I am really tired of seeing Iphone copycat designs springing up from everywhere. This new lanky versioned phone from LG does just that running the Android 2.1 operating system. It is possible to design interesting products that are phones but still differentiate it from the Iphone. Take the HTC Diamond as a good example of unique but smart design of a phone.
This pc/laptop by MSI is designed to be a family computer or home central information hub. It is designed to be stuck onto a wall and features a slide out keyboard. As a piece of design it looks like an old Imac, and the keyboard looks once again like an old Imac keyboard. Despite the averageness of it aesthetically I think as a concept it is very interesting. By no means is the family information hub a new idea but I think by making a computer seem attractive and accessible this concept might have some potential. I think the real need of a product like this is leaving notes for family members, or recipes and instruction. Or for teenagers to tell their parents where they are. I think it makes the product a bit more accessible for the elderly or the computer illiterate, well it sure beats the Windows 7 home networking feature.
The Litl Webbook is a bulky ugly looking device but it has caught onto a potentially good idea. What do you do with your laptop when it isn’t in use? You probably close it? Put it in a bag? Or leave it on a desk? The Litl Webbook allows you to swivel the laptop past the formidable 180 degrees barrier to do an almost full revolution so it looks like a tent. It then goes into a sleep mode where it turns into a nice digital clock/alarm clock, weather station or photo frame. But I could also see this tent like shape great for doing mini presentations 1 on 1, where you control the slides on your side with your reading notes and the audience views it on the other. It could also be good for games as well (like the old school styled battle ship or connect 4). Great Idea LItl! Of course this product needs some development streamlining the hinge and other minor aesthetic details that could be easily resolved with a bit more concept evolution.
Tunebug has released a speaker unit that can be attached to any kind of helmet. It can be fastened using a velcro strap and music can be inputted using bluetooth or through a standard 3.5mm audio jack. The downside of this device is that the volume and songs can’t be adjusted from the unit, the songs are always in shuffle mode.
Like the Microsoft Curve the ErgoMotion keyboard from Smartfish includes the upward angled keys towards the centre. However the Smartfish keyboard takes ergonomic consideration to a whole new level as it aims to reduce carpal tunnel by moving automatically every so often. The whole plate of the keyboard (the segregated keyboard sections move either side, so the left section of keyboard moves to the left and the right side to right. Think of the keys themselves sitting on 2 tectonic plates below which move every so often causing you to re-adjust your finger and hand position to prevent fluid retention in your wrist and flexor tendons. I commend Smartfish for trying to address this issue as I think it is a serious problem with World of Warcraft players, but seriously I am not sure whether this automatic movement would get annoying after a while. But different? Certainly.