Each week Adam Frucci takes a closer look at the latest gadget buzz in his column, Shift.
Image by Falon
As gadgets and technology have become more mainstream in recent years, how a device looks has become just as important as how it functions — if not more so. Now that it's commonplace to see people walking around with a cell phone, MP3 player, and PDA, people want to make a style statement with their gadgets of choice. You only have to browse the archives of this very blog to see that many pieces of technology garner attention just for the way they look. Take the iMac — sure, its guts were all right, but people were more interested in having a computer they didn't want to hide under a desk.
Which brings us to two of the biggest "fashion gadgets" of the past few years: Apple's iPod and the Motorola RAZR phone. They both sold millions based on their aesthetics, but did form outweigh function too much in these cases? Let's take a look.
The phone, while it looks slick, had all sorts of design issues, including a slow, ugly interface and crawling data transfer rates. While the phone is Bluetooth equipped, the Bluetooth functions were limited in most versions and might as well be there only to hook up to an optional Bluetooth headset. Oh, and there's no headphone jack, so you'll need to buy a Bluetooth headset if you want to use any hands-free earpiece. Additionally, the design was arguably not user-friendly, with its straight lines making it less comfortable than other models that featured more curves.
So how does the iPod succeed where the RAZR fails? First, the iPod integrates how one uses the device into the design seamlessly, making everything on the player easy and obvious. Beyond the austere styling, the functionality of the iPod is what makes it so beautiful and iconic. The click wheel makes browsing and selecting music an intuitive snap, and there wasn't a bunch of bloated crap on it that you would never use. The iPod is made to play music, and it does that well. If you want to listen to the radio, check your appointments, or play games, you'd probably be best to look elsewhere (although those things aren't impossible on the iPod).
What makes the iPod a genre-defining gadget is focus, and what makes the RAZR just another nice-looking, ultimately forgettable gadget is the lack thereof. While the RAZR is a best seller now, it's not something that's going to have the influence and staying power of the iPod. Soon enough another slick phone will come along with a buzz-generating price tag, probably with better features, and it'll steal the spotlight. It might be here already — what phones and gadgets do you, dear reader, think serve as great examples of design following function. And what disasters are out there? I await your comments….