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.

 

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