It's blatantly obvious that today's attitude toward technology is very much "right here, right now." In an attempt to reorient a user's relationship to their consumer electronics, The Consortium for Slower Internet—a website focused on giving a deeper look into computation spaces and all of the different communication methods around us—has launched a series of products for our gadgets that's looking to reconnect users with their devices' roles within their homes. By incorporating a planter or photo display into charging dock and USB drive designs, the hope is that users will take a moment to reflect on their natural environment while using their technologies.
It looks like Aramique Krauthamer has been keeping busy since we visited Nike's "Art and Science of Feeling" pop-up experience last month. We encountered the NYC-based installation/interaction designer at the opening of "PLAY: A Visual Music Experience," the latest installation that he's designed with Fake Love for his ongoing collaboration with premium home audio purveyors SONOS. No brainwave sensors this time around: Since true haptic feedback would have required speakers with custom top panels, the 'touch' sensor is actually a discreet optical input, which toggles the colors of the ripple-like projections. The visuals reflect not only the amplitude of soundwaves (as in your iTunes visualizer) but also the pitch, tone and a few other attributes.
Frankly, I couldn't tell the difference, but I did share Aramique's interest in the custom 'furniture' he designed for each 'room' of the installation. The lucite boxes are embedded with LEDs that match the projects and were fabricated for the project, which is en route to SONOS' Los Angeles studio after its one-night-only debut earlier this week. The occasion for the celebration is the worldwide availability of the new PLAY:1 speaker, which debuted two weeks ago, just in time for the holidays.
CES being what it is, there were of course numerous displays of techno-wizardry; and the business world being what it is, most of the new businesses built around these technologies will fail, while a few will thrive. Here's a few we'd like to see make the cut.
We know that the odds are against Pulse Wallet, because it's one of those technologies that needs to be ubiquitous to work, so we hope they've got a good marketing team. Because here's what it promises: The ability to leave your credit cards at home and pay with your finger. After registering with the service, which is free, the vein pattern in a finger of your choice is scanned and linked to whatever credit/debit cards you'd like. Then (assuming merchant uptake), you can pay for your purchases at a touchscreen register with a finger-scanning device.
Velodyne Acoustics is a high-end audio manufacturing company that, having mastered soundwaves, is now messing around with lightwaves (specifically, lasers). The result is their LIDAR system for realtime 3D scanning. By placing a small, spinning, blender-sized contraption on top of a car, they can generate a CG map of the immediately-surrounding environment in realtime.
Machinery company Caterpillar has already signed up, so we'll reportedly see earth-moving and construction equipment kitted out with Velodyne's system.
If everything at CES actually worked (i.e., no concepts) and you won one of those grab-whatever-you-can-in-fifteen-minutes shopping sprees, what would you snag? We've worked out a short list:
The Cynaps Bone Conduction Bluetooth Headset is the perfect way to take noisy calls on a crowded city sidewalk (or CES exhibition hall floor). I tested the device out in person (it was embedded inside a baseball cap) and it's awesome; just push your tragus—that little flap on your outer ear—closed, and you can hear audio coming in clear as day, transmitted through your bones.
The Cynaps is currently up for pledging on IndieGogo, and at $9,000 of $20,000 with 20 days left to go at press time, it could go either way. I should also point out that I'm of the opinion that they need to add a throat mic, though they claim their external mic picks up voices fine.
PiqX Imaging's XCANEX portable scanner was one of the few devices on the showroom floor that actually looked like an industrial design project.
The portable, fold-flat device clips onto your laptop, and can then be used to "scan" (via snapshot) documents, books, receipts, you name it. The included software auto-rotates the image to the correct orientation while OCR sorts out the text, making it an easy, and quick, push-button solution. Also a great way to quickly scan ID sketches. Totally wish I had one.
Judging by the large amount of small, wheeled, floor-mounted robots we mostly saw coming from Asian manufacturers, manually cleaning spaces in Asia will be a thing of the past.
While iRobot is a well-known name in the 'States, in China it's Xrobot (see their machines up top, as well as the one below that looks like it was designed by Cylons) that's all over the "intelligent robot service industry."
EcoVacs' Winbot is also square, but can pull a trick the others can't: The window-cleaning robot sticks to vertical glass.
Moneual (the company behind the Touchscreen Cafe Table) makes a "state of the art robot air purifier" in the H800, which chugs around your apartment scrubbing the O2. I'm not crazy about the taller form factor, because unlike the floor vacs, this one looks trickier to flip over and disable in case it goes rogue.
The H800 is not yet sold in the 'States, but once it is, how long until a Star Wars geek hacks it up to look like R2-D2?
3D Systems seemed to be the only 3D printing company out in force at CES, perhaps because it was at last years' that they debuted their Cube 3D Printer.
This year they pulled the sheets off of not one, but two machines: Their updated Cube 2, a faster and more accurate update to the original, and their larger CubeX, which can print "basketball size" (10.75" x 10.75" x 9.5") in both ABS and PLA.
Once Nexiom had refined their wicked Power Slate ultra-slim battery, they needed some industrial designers to refine the product it would be a part of. After a successful Coroflot search that product is now ready: The AMPT Smart Bag is a sort of messenger bag/backpack hybrid capable of charging many gadgets at once.
The vertically-oriented, sleekly profiled bag can take a laptop in one side...
...and tablets, phones, cables, and smaller gadgets on the other side.
Inner sleeves take Power Slates to provide charging functionality, and the larger 1300 model has enough juice to get your laptop from zero to full.
On the crowded CES floor a company called Nexiom caught our eye, and as it turns out, we had caught theirs: "Ah, Core77!" exclaimed the rep, spotting our badge. "We recruited our designers off of your Design Directory." Hong-Kong-based Nexiom had spent years developing an interesting little technology, and hired ID'ers we'd listed to integrate it into a consumer-friendly product design.
We'll start with what Nexiom developed, a super-flat battery they're calling the Power Slate.
They're ridiculously thin, about the same thickness as a USB connection.
Folks, something strange about this exhibition: All these speakers everywhere and I've only heard "Gangnam Style" once. It came blaring from a booth labeled Exelway, and I expected to see some big-ass speakers, but was surprised to see the sound coming out of these two impossibly thin bars (marked in the photo with hot pink tape):
No word on how the technology works, but even the bass was pretty decent, and the system is sub-woofer free. Another thing I appreciated is that they didn't beat their heads against the wall coming up with a name: The product is apparently called the Slim Speaker.
Meanwhile, a Chinese company called In2uit has moved in an adjacent direction, going thin and flat. Their Audio Art series of speakers are wireless and just about paper thin:
We're seeing so many objects here where the form has nothing to do with the function, as a designer it's almost... offensive. So it was almost refreshing to run across this weird massage products section, where things need to be shaped in such a way as to interact with the human body. The area was hard to miss, because there were quietly moaning people apparently being eaten by chairs (like this one by Infinity):
Then across from him, we saw this dude:
Guy on the right is getting his eyeballs massaged, in addition to the top of his head. A company called Breo USA (ironically, a Chinese company based in Canada) makes a ton of different portable battery-powered massagers targeted towards different areas of the body, and he's wearing their iDream 3 Eye & Head Massager.
Breo's Mini Body Massagers are designed with different shapes at the business end, depending on where they're meant to contact.
Like rival Samsung, LG also caused a stir with their new TV offering, seen above. (I apologize for the crappy photos, but it was a real jostle-fest.) The EA9800 series is freaking curved, providing truly equidistant viewing to the corners, assuming you're sitting dead-center. The OLED display can also support 3D, which is why the second image looks janky; it looked a lot more impressive through the glasses.
Honestly this seems more a demonstration of manufacturing might than a design innovation that consumers will enjoy, but time and the market will tell. Samsung reportedly announced their own curved televisions just moments before LG, and I like to see this kind of competition--it means sooner or later one of them will be driven to produce a breakthrough the other cannot match, and assuming their designers are clued in, we'll hopefully see something a bit more profound.
In the meantime, I think the curved screen technology would actually best be targeted to art directors, 3D modelers and video editors, people who spend their lives in front of a screen manipulating images, and typically from a fixed position.
Still not seeing much on the form-follows-function tip here on the CES floor, but we're trying. The last thing that jumped out at us were these rather extreme, specialty PC tower bodies made by a company called In Win.
Machine running hot? Their H-Frame is a series of aluminum cooling fins:
Skate- and surf-inspired accessories company Nixon has a couple of upcoming products on display: A ruggedized Bluetooth speaker "that's truly go-anywhere" and a cool silicone cable wrap for their earbud speakers.
The water-resistant silicone-skinned speaker, with its Rams-like design, is pretty chunky and substantial; it's a bit larger than a brick. It's also made to be tough. "You won't have to worry about dropping this thing or banging it around," said the rep. He then tossed the thing up in the air and let it hit the floor with a thud. While it was still on the ground, he proceeded to step and stand on it. After he picked it back up, the dust wiped off of the silicone cleanly.
Volume and playback buttons are up top, molded into the silicone; on the sides are the power button and ports for USB and audio input, covered by water-resistant seals.
The cable wrap's a neat little affair, with a central compartment that you pop the buds into; then you just wind the rest of the cable around the slit in the perimeter.
The guys at Nixon are saying both will be ready to go early this year.
The rumors were true, and we finally got to see the touchscreen cafe table produced by Korean manufacturer Moneual. It's officially called the Touch Table PC MTT300, and there's a little more to it than sticking a tablet on a table.
First off, the invisible stuff: It's an Intel/Windows 7/Android/Nvidia-powered affair, and features two hidden speakers, though the model hired to flog the table couldn't say what the audio was meant to accomplish—perhaps feedback for button touches? As for the visible, the screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. The demo models we saw all had the menu taking up the entire screen and oriented just one way; will it be split up and oriented for two people, or even four? Or must the menu be swipe-rotated towards each person who wants to order? Again, the rep didn't know. (I'm starting to get frustrated with this aspect of CES).
As for the physical design, the side of the table features two USB ports, a mic jack and a headphone jack. They're located underneath the table, presumably to avoid spills that run over the edges, and their presence is indicated by icons:
For exhibit designers, it's tough to cut across the visual clutter clogging the floor at monster events like CES. Eventgoers' peripheral vision is basically rendered useless, as colors, shapes, text, and screens all scream for their attention.
However, whatever firm Audi hired to handle their exhibit design found an effective way to stand out. They erected a large rectilinear tunnel, paneled entirely with white plexi covering what appear to be daylight-rated bulbs. After all the visual junk you've waded through to get there, Audi's area looks so clean, so pure and so awesome that your feet automatically start taking you towards this visual oasis.
Inside there were no adornments, signage, built-ins or displays; just a few letters on the floor denoting the two cars they were showing off, the RS5 and R-18 E-Tron Quattro racecar.
I realize not everyone's got the scratch to pull this off, nor has just two objects they're trying to display, but this was the one exhibit design out of the entire scrum that really had a remarkable design.
Fighting the sleek, modern Bluetooth-speaker-aesthetic here at CES are a few companies going the retro route. For starters, Sylvania's got a model that looks like a traveling salesman's record player (above) and another that looks like a cross between a suitcase and a Cadillac (below).
Studebaker goes further back in time, conjuring up the 1930's wooden cabinet-style radio grill:
The largest CES crowd we saw so far, generating an audible buzz, was dogpiling into the huge Samsung section. What we saw there was astonishing, in a way that the photos probably don't accurately convey: There appeared to be floating windows looking into a different, better-looking-than-reality world.
They weren't windows of course, but high-def TVs. The crispness of the picture and the thinness of the border lent them their jarring effect. A team of designers clearly slaved over these things—getting up close, you only expect craftsmanship like this from Apple—and their manufacturing must be conducted by magic elves. The TVs "small" enough to be mounted on tables (I put small in quotes because these things were freaking huge) had beautiful polished metal legs and seemed just an inch or two thick when viewed from the side.
While we got sucked into the Polaroid area by the iDevice lens add-ons display above, it was what we saw deeper inside that really caught our eye: They've gone into Bluetooth speakers in a major way. The reason we gave this post the title it's got is because it doesn't look like their design director said no to anything. It looks like the assignment came in to design a portable Bluetooth speaker, the team cranked out twenty cool concept sketches, and all of them got greenlit.
There were longitudinal ones roughly equivalent to what the competition's got...
Today we're in Vegas at at the opening of CES, the electronic geek Mecca of all trade shows. There's a good 150,000 people expected to converge on this year's event, piling into blimp-hangar-sized rooms filled with 33,000 vendors and their gadgets. We managed to sneak into one of the convention halls 90-minutes early, not that it did us any good—the sheer amount of product on display is staggering, and it would take us weeks to get through it all. Instead we've got two days and one man on the ground.
The good news—or bad news, depending on how you look at it—is that most of the stuff is repetitive from an industrial design point of view. China has 1.3 billion people, and it seems 1.2 billion of them are making flatscreen TV's. Then there are the world's tablet and smartphone manufacturers; add all those things up and we've passed thousands of illuminated rectangles this morning, with little to distinguish them (except for one manufacturer, which we'll get to). While we can't hope to match the manpower of other media outlets—CNET brought a team of ninetypeople—we will try to weed out the repetitive stuff, and find whatever would catch the eye of an industrial designer strolling through the show.
CES has kicked off in Las Vegas and we're covering the show this year to bring an ID perspective to the usual fan boy tech banter. One project we have been tracking to its debut at CES this week is Definitive Technology's Sound Cylinder. You may not have heard of Definitive, but these guys have been making audiophile gear since 1990, including the recently released SoloCinema XTR, a killer sound bar for your living room housed in an aluminum extrusion. Building off the learnings of the SoloCinema, Definitive brings us the Sound Cylinder, a sound bar designed for your iPad and Macbook. The Cylinder has a perffed aluminum housing with an injection magnesium kickstand and grip mechanism.
Side-firing driver on the Definitive Cylinder handles the bass
As nice as the minimal aesthetic is to look at, where this thing really shines is when you crank it up. We had an opportunity to test run a prototype here at the office in December and were pretty impressed. There are no shortage of bluetooth speakers out there, but most of them don't play very loud, or the low end frequency starts to drop out when the volume is pushed. The Cylinder has two forward firing 32mm drivers that give great reproduction of the mid and high range, and a 43mm side firing driver that handles all the low end frequency. What that means is you get crazy bass from a small package even when you are 20 yards away. Playing video games and watching Mad Men on our iPad just got way more interesting. The digital signal processing on this thing is intense. The same engineers that design the acoustics on Definitives $6,000 systems developed the Cylinder and it shows. 20+ years of audio engineering definitely pays off.
Bluetooth means you can easily connect it to just about any laptop, tablet, or phone, and there is a 3.5mm aux in just in case. The silicone blades open wide enough to grab an iPad even with a case on it, and grip it snugly enough that we couldn't easily shake an iPad out. The front blade has a little jog to dodge the camera on the top of for laptop or tablet which we thought was a nice detail. The pop out kickstand is great when you want to watch a full length movie, or stream some audio. The Cylinder is $199 and will be available next month. Check it out in person at the iLounge at CES and be sure to follow Rain Noe's live posts from the show this week!
As the founder of Timbuk2, Rob Honeycutt spent over a decade and a half in the messenger bag industry, before selling the company to move on to his next venture. The former bicycle messenger has since turned his attention to the 21st Century (/First World) problem of cable management for the earbud-tethered masses. Not content to incorporate low-tech clips into zipper pulls and buttons, he recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for his most ambitious solution to date. Known as the Elroy (the logo refers to the Jetsons character's helmet), it's essentially a customizable Bluetooth remote that attacks the problem at its source: the cord itself.
The clip-on device is roughly the size of a lighter, featuring a customizable the front panel—the ten options at launch range from faux snakeskin to a meme-y gray tabby—which belies its touch functionality: tap to answer a call, swipe for volume, etc. A complementary pair of earbuds has a short cord; magnets on the sides of the Elroy hold the 'buds in place when not in use.
While I must admit I didn't know that Timbuk2 was a pioneer of the personal customization trend (circa the mid-90's), I agree that portable music players and smartphones are an obvious market for personal expression via accessories. Similarly, I didn't realize that Honeycutt was a champion of American manufacturing:
At Timbuk2 [where I applied mass customization], I was able to take orders for mass customized product online and ship product, usually within 24 hours. I've run manufacturing in the US in an industry with products requiring high labor content. I've worked with both domestic manufacturing and off-shore manufacturing across a wide variety of products...
I personally spent well over 10,000 hours doing actual line production at Timbuk2. I understand on a personal and visceral level what production workers face on a daily basis. I know how to transform what has the potential to be a meaningless drudgery into a meaningful and engaging work experience.
Your cell phone knows where you are through triangulation. A Hungary-based company called Leonar3Do has taken that principle and applied it to a 3D mouse: by integrating several antennae into the form factor, a reading device can determine, with pinpoint accuracy, exactly where the mouse is in space. Have a look:
Until Ideso's PowerPac goes into production, I'm on the lookout for a human-powered charging device, inefficiency be damned. Next time I'm caught unprepared in a blackout I'd like to be able to charge my phone and iPod Nano for the radio. Eton's BoostTurbine 2000, a hand-cranked generator/battery that charges via a USB connection, seems it'd fit the bill nicely.
The device is apparently popular--as of press time, they were sold out--but puzzlingly there's not a single review of it on Amazon, the first place I typically check for things I'm thinking of buying. What I really want to know is how long it takes to produce a watt-hour, but the product copy makes no mention; they do say, however, that "in one minute the hand turbine power generator can produce enough power for a 30-second call or a few critical texts. When fully charged, BoostTurbine2000 fully charges most smartphones."
Before I take the gamble, do any of you have experience with human-powered electricity-generating products? If not, you'll have to wait until the next "Dispatches from the Dark" series to read the review.
After he completed his Masters degree at the Institut Supérieur de Design in his home country, Maxence Derremaux left France for San Francisco, which he describes as "the intersection of art and commerce, high style and DIY, globabl awareness and local engagement." His concept for a new approach to earbud assembly, a personal project with a certain high-end audio company in mind, recently caught my eye.
Citing headphones' general lack of repairability, Derremaux set out to design a more versatile earbud, figuratively dismantling the glue-based assembly process of cheap 'phones.
Karim Rashid sez: "Human beings touch an average of 600 objects a day." I'm guessing that number drops, and becomes much more focused, during emergency situations. Here are the two things I touched most during the recent blackout.
Surprise winner: The iPod Nano I never ordinarily use.
The Nano's built-in radio tuner was my only link to mass media, and as I live in a city well-covered by broadcast towers the reception was crystal clear. The device is tiny and unobtrusive, easy to clip on the lapel of a shirt. It only had a sliver of battery life left, yet lasted hours longer than I thought it would, because after you turn the screen off it uses such little juice.
The Nano will now be a go-to piece of kit for me, as soon as I get around its only drawback (proprietary charging method) by acquiring a battery-powered iDevice charger. I'd recommend it for anyone not requiring a powerful antenna.
Expected winner: Surefire flashlight.
Undoubtedly the object I touched the most during the blackout whether cooking, trying to take a pee, or confronting someone I thought was breaking into the darkened diner downstairs (turned out to be the diner owner, who offered me free bagels in gratitude). I can't say the model I have, the E2L Outdoorsman, is any better or worse than competing ones, as the only thing I have to compare it to is the relatively wan Mag-Lites I grew up with. The ergonomics of tactical LED flashlights are obviously superior, requiring just one hand, and the beam is almost absurdly bright for something so small. The metal clip is sturdy and makes it easy to keep the thing at hand at all times.
However, there are two central design flaws that I see with LED flashlights like this. 1) A lack of visual feedback on power levels, and 2) no well-designed way to attach extra batteries.
1) When this flashlight does run out on you, it's completely without warning. One second it's working, one second it's not. Old-school flashlights start to get dim, telling you it's time to switch batteries.
I realize this would add to the cost, but I'd consider it a perfect object if there was an indicator of exactly how much battery life was left. I'd settle for a sequence of LED dots, but I'd pay more for a counter that dumbed it down—the way new cars tell you you've got 72 miles left in the tank—by telling me how many more minutes I could leave the thing on for.
2) The CR2 batteries required by LED flashlights are not easy for me to find locally, so I stock up on Amazon. But I don't like that they sit in the back of some drawer. I wish the Surefire had some type of clip-on thing so I could always keep the extra batteries together with it, in case it runs out while I'm in the middle of doing something important. I'm guessing someone makes a holster that holds both the flashlights and extra batteries, but I'd prefer not to have a separate thing, I'd like to see it built into the flashlight itself.
Yesterday Apple released the much-anticipated iPad Mini, and the company's talking points were clear: They do not consider it a shrunken iPad but instead, a separate device in its own right. It delivers the same amount of pixels (1024×768) as the iPad 2, but in a more portable size, coming in at just under eight inches tall and just over five inches wide.
While everyone knew the smaller tablet was coming, what surprised some analysts was the starting price point of $329. Industry watchers had assumed the iPad Mini's raison d'etre was to wipe out competitors in the small-tablet space, like Amazon's $159 Kindle Fire or Google's $199 Nexus 7.
If Apple had taken the traditional route, where a bunch of marketers determine that competitors are undercutting them on price, they surely could have manufactured a tablet selling for less. But it probably wouldn't have that beveled edge meeting the glass, or the A5 chip, or the 163 ppi screen resolution, or two cameras (including one that shoots 1080p HD video), or it wouldn't have been made with an aluminum unibody and absurdly thin 0.2mm-thick glass, et cetera.
No, the $329 price they've set conveys a clear message: We are not competing with anybody. The company has earned a position where they can pretty much design whatever they want. And those end up being things that consumers want. While competitors envy Apple's financial success and market share—at yesterday's presentation, Tim Cook made the startling announcement that last quarter they sold more iPads than any manufacturer sold PCs—designers have to envy the fortunate circumstances Apple's design department has worked themselves up to.