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Handheld Devices

Sony's Xperia Touch and the fine line between genius and dud

Is it just me or has it been a while now since a technology product lit up the world with incandescent luminescence leaving we mere mortals pondering the brilliance of software and hardware engineers?

Of course, only a very few exceptional products leave us in an ecstatic state where the world appears to have been repainted and reconfigured. Apple has had more than its fair share and, of these, the iPhone perhaps takes first place as a product the reconfigures its category, creates new and delightful user experiences, and makes the world a generally more enjoyable and accessible place. The Mac might be its closest contender and the iPad finally showed that tablet computing was more than a theoretically beneficial format.

Microsoft is often unfairly neglected in such discussions but the step from WordStar for DOS to Word for Windows was like walking in dense forest and being struck by sudden shafts of light. The opportunity to play with page furniture and quickly access the tools of the writer’s trade – bold, italics, word-count, font, highlight, underline – was life-changing (or at least work-changing).

Excel and PowerPoint would at least merit podium places in the ways they changed the way we managed quotidian activities. In their days, programs such as Adobe Photoshop, CorelDraw and Aldus Pagemaker had similar effects, democratising and pluralising new ways of creating and working.

I can think of a few others where there was something akin to a Eureka moment: the PalmPilot finally delivered on the promise of pen computing after Psion had defined what a pocket computer could be. Almost from nowhere, Diamond’s Rio MP3 player anticipated today’s digital music industry. Iomega’s Zip drives changed the face of portable media.

You might argue that Amazon’s Echo is another such breakthrough product but my experience so far is that it narrowly misses the mark – perhaps developments and enhancements will change that.

But, as often as not, innovation either fails to deliver or even appears to exist for its own sake and I am struggling with the concept behind Sony’s new Xperia Touch, a projector that turns surfaces into touchscreens. This might well fall into the category embodied my Dr Johnson’s dancing dog: it’s not that they do these things well, but it’s impressive that they can do them at all. Virtual keyboards went nowhere fast, while table-top computers, dictation software or pens that produce digital ‘ink’ never went further than niches.

Apple’s Siri was one of those products/features that received a lot of early hyperbole but settled into mediocrity and the world of shoulders being shrugged. There was once a lot of fuss about an IBM laptop that had a ‘Butterfly’ keyboard that could be expanded at the touch of the button, but it disappeared without trace. VR headsets already seem to be losing their lustre: too clunky and disconcerting.

So we await the next wave of technology that stuns us into financial submission – what Steve Jobs memorably called the “insanely great” –confident that there will be plenty of duds and close misses along the way.

 

Also read:
Remembering Apple’s insanely great iPhone launch
Unify’s Ansible is here

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Editorial Consultant for IDG Connect

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