Technology: capability v expectation

Have you ever gone on the hunt for something fully expecting to be overwhelmed by choice, dazzling features and multiple pricing options only to have your aspirations shattered by a pitiful array of products?

The digital picture frame market is a classic example. Customer expectation has vastly outweighed the available product capabilities and has done so for over a decade. It’s tempting to say digi frame manufacturers have rested on their laurels but that assumes they had some to begin with . . . complacency and a shoddy disregard for what customers have been telling them has been the order of the day for a long, long time.

Remember that bit in Mad Men season 4 when Don Draper dashes off a late night missive to the New York Times all about why his company will no longer deal with cigarettes? The letter was a crafty way of differentiating the firm from the crowd in the middle of a crisis but amidst all the self-serving guff about not being able to sleep at night there’s this line which  has always stuck with me:

A product that never improves, that causes illness, and makes people unhappy.

True for tobacco in the 1960s. True for digital picture frames in the noughties. I concede the second point might be a bit harsh but a decades worth of buyer’s remorse on a global scale surely counts for some kind of affliction?

Speaking of buyer’s remorse….In 2005 I wanted a digital picture frame and I bought this:

 

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It’s a Nokia SU-4 image frame. It cost £149 and if memory serves you transferred your photos via infra-red which means this product must be one of the few ever sold that came with built-in obsolescence! I remember the frustration of not finding something that could even connect via USB let alone use Wifi. But back then it was about the only thing I could find that would come close to displaying digital photos the way I wanted. It wasn’t that good a device and it prompted me to write my first ever Amazon product review. I gave it 3 stars which was generous. They’re thin on the ground these days which may be this thing’s only saving grace.

 

Fast forward a decade and I dipped my foot into the digi frame waters once more:

 

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This is the NIX Advance 12 inch frame. Now this cost £99. In other words 33% cheaper than the Nokia but a better product by a factor of 10 or more. Bigger screen. Sharper image and a very useful remote control. This device sat on our shelf and was unused and unloved….why? Quite simply it was a pain to update. It comes with a tiny USB mem stick onto which you load your images . . . naturally I did this once and then never again.

With the vast majority of casual digital images these days being taken on a smartphone owning a NIX meant you needed to import from the phone onto your PC and then transfer from the PC onto the mem stick. A real hassle. Lovers of the NIX will point out that it also has an SD card slot on the side but to me this is a not-very-good sop to the serious photographer community and honestly . . . has anyone, anywhere in the world ever used this feature?

Now we’re in 2016.

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This is the Aura Frame. It’s a superb bit of engineering: from the box it comes in to the cord on the power lead…everything screams quality. The tiny, suede pouch in the box containing the wall-mount fixings is made with more thought and precision than the entire Nokia product range. It costs £300 — it’s definitely at the premium end of the market.

It’s got high resolution and a quality screen which means even though it’s half the size of the NIX your images will look way, way better on this. Also somehow it seems to get the brightness just right for each image (is there something going on automatically there??). There’s gesture control (kids love this!) and some nice sensors which mean it displays a different photo each time you wake it up by motion.

What really seals the deal though is the smartphone integration. Basically you send your images to it using the App and this can even be done automatically — the App can scan your albums, detect a new photo containing the face of someone you know and zzzzip . . . up it goes with NO WIRES and NO USB STICKS. Wonderful.

11 years since Nokia rushed out their crummy product, finally the technology has caught up with the customer.

Interestingly the tobacco industry has also finally started to move. In the past 3 years or so we’ve seen vaping technology grab significant market share and just this past week we’ve seen a major firm launch a new HNB (heat-not-burn) tobacco product. For an industry that was at the fag-end of its life so to speak, there’s a surprising amount of innovation going on.

I wonder what Don would have made of it?

 

 

 

PS — this is the initial Aura release and I feel there’s many, many great things to come including bigger, thinner frames. I’d also like to see:

  • Cut the cord! Could be challenging technically but a photo frame on your wall with a power lead dangling down is an eyesore. How about a battery option?
  • License the Aura app technology out to the high-end photo manufacturers. Wouldn’t it be great if Nikon’s SnapBridge technology could incorporate the Aura tech? In other words straight from your D700 to the frame . . . no need to go via the smartphone.
  • Android version of the Aura app. At the moment it’s iOS only.

 

Rediscovered track of the month: Nov ’16

Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

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Rediscovered track of the month: Oct ’16

The Rolling Stones, The Harlem Shuffle

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Rediscovered track of the month: Sep ’16

Manic Street Preachers, A Design for Life

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70mm Panavision — BBC World Service

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what I do counts as work . . this is one of those times. Special thanks to Michael Mannix of the Odeon Leicester Square for showing the skill involved in getting Hateful 8 screened. Read more

Rediscovered track of the month: July ’16

Paul McCartney, Jet

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EU Referendum 2016

WRITTEN BEFORE THE EU REFERENDUM ON June 23rd 2016

 

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My last attempt at predicting a vote was a dismal failure. But this time I’ve been out and about and speaking to people a bit more than in 2015. Having just spent 4 days in Edinburgh with the indefatigable World Service UK correspondent Rob Watson (@robwatsonbbc) I think I’m on reasonably firm ground saying Scotland will vote for remain but with a higher vote for Brexit than people are generally predicting. In other words, no matter what happens in rUK (rest of the UK), the vote for Brexit in Scotland will be too high for anyone in Scotland to claim a mandate for a second independence referendum. Why? Let me explain . . .

Last week in Edinburgh I encountered some strong feeling from the SNP that I hadn’t expected. Basically, many in the nationalist camp feel that in 2014 the EU hung them out to dry by plainly backing Westminister’s Better Together campaign.

Nobody holds a grudge like the nationalists: on a cold, dark night in Clarks Bar you’ll still find certain types of indy voter with grievances to air about the Duke of Cumberland (show offs), the malt tax (brainy) and the poll tax (bolshy). At just 21 months ago September 2014 is a fresh, bleeding wound for many. So despite Nicola Sturgeon’s order for SNPers to vote remain I feel that many, once they get into the ballot box, will defy the party line and vote Brexit just to stick one in the eye for the EU.

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Some of course have suggested that indy voters would do this anyway, as a means of causing a Brexit which would then trigger IndyRef#2 — on the whole I don’t think the nationalists are that cynical and not all buy the Alex Salmond line that if rUK goes Bexit then Scotland would automatically get IndyRef#2. A prime indicator being just how much more circumspect Nicola has been on this than Alex and the more vocal SNPers. Consider also the fact that the pro-indy percentage of the population hasn’t really changed since 2014 (around 44% which means winning IndyRef#2 is not a done deal); add in the desensitising effects of the ‘neverendums’ and it all points to IndyRef#2 being far, far off. Unless there are hundreds of thousands marching in the streets of Glasgow and Edina on June 24th demanding it, there will be no #Indyref#2. I would say any Scottish Brexit vote of over 40% means Indyref#2 is a dim possibility. 

Cards on the table: Scotland in the EU referendum

Brexit 43%

Remain 57%

 

And what of the UK as a whole — will Brexit nip it as the polls have shown in these final days? I think Brexit might, but it will be ultra tight and there will be no end of squabbling over the result. Lawsuits will fly.

Cards on the table: UK wide in the EU referendum

Brexit 50.8%

Remain: 49.2%

 

A final thought. . .

Many have commented that if the UK votes Brexit then Cameron and his pals are finished. Boris is waiting in the wings to pounce etc etc. That may be true but there is a certain class of politician whose bum will be squeaking way more than those in Westminster on the night of June 23rd. I’m referring of course to those EU powerbrokers: Merkel, Tusk, Juncker et al. Cameron came to them earlier in the year to negotiate his ‘better deal’. Only the most die-hard Conservative would concede he got anything significant. What he in fact got was piecemeal at best. If the EU had really wanted Britain to stay in the EU they should have said “Dave, old pal, what can we do for you?” and welcomed him with open arms. The niggardly shreds of soon-to-expire restrictions on this, and various opt-outs on that were a bit of an affront. Cameron of course could hardly have returned to the UK saying Hey, I’ve negotiated nothing — let’s vote to stay! He swallowed the gruel and soldiered on. Brave yes. Foolish? We will see but if Brexit happens Tusk and his pals will face incredible pressure to account for their role in nudging Britain to the exit and a resignation or two at the top of the EU could well presage a wider EU crumbling . . . interesting times!

 

 

 

Rediscovered track of the month: May ’16

Suede, She’s in Fashion

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