pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed May 2 19:04:57 EDT 2001
Subject: Product Convergence
(from INNOVATION, 2 May 2001, http://www.newsscan.com)
TELL ME AGAIN WHY CONVERGENCE SEEMED LIKE SUCH A GOOD IDEA?
For years, convergence has been the Holy Grail of technology
developers. WebTV brought the ability to Web-surf and check e-mail to
television. WAP technology married the Internet to the cell phone.
And PDA manufacturers have been working feverishly to stuff
cell-phone capabilities into their handheld computing devices. The
only problem with this is that the drive for convergence, so
engrossing to engineering departments, isn't shared by consumers.
Fewer than 1 million people subscribe to Microsoft's WebTV. Less than
10% of Sprint's cell-phone customers have signed up for Internet
access via WAP. And Gateway sold a paltry 7,000 of its Destination
gadget, a PC that doubled as a TV, before abandoning the product. One
drawback is that products designed to do everything rarely do
anything well, and are often much more complex than the average
consumer is willing to tolerate. "There isn't a single engineer who
wouldn't love to design a product that does everything," says Paul
Liao, chief technology officer at Matsushita Electric Corp. of
America, maker of Panasonic products. "It's the engineer's dream but
a consumer nightmare." ("Gadgets Offering 'Convergence' Show Whole is
Less Than Sum of Its Parts," Wall Street Journal 25 Apr 2001)
Though this schematizes engineering attitudes excessively (corporate
marketing people usually bear equal blame), it does point out the
woeful lack of social perspective that should inform product design.
Many other failed examples could be cited, such as home banking via
All product designers and managers need doses of anthropology,
psychology and sociology, in addition to economics, to enable them to
relate the design of products to the purpose of tasks. Understanding
how purpose is affirmed, or thwarted by unreliability or boredom, is
as important as understanding technology. For a start it would help to
just have product designers lead culturally more diverse lives, so
that they could confidently view themselves as users of their designs.
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