For years, Wired has been your trusted source for the widest variety of gadgets on the planet. But will we ever be happy with a single uber device that does it all? Let’s find out.
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Wired’s Product Reviews 2018 – we test the best device in the universe.
First, let me set up this week’s show with a plug. The November 2008 issue of WIRED Magazine tests and rates 141 of the coolest gadgets on the planet. Meanwhile, we’ve updated our Wired product reviews section online to feature hundreds of products, from Lenovo Laptops to Lamborghinis. And all the reviews are done the Wired way, with authoritative advice from trusted editors and concise ratings to cut through the hype.
So 141 gadgets were added just this week in 9 electronics categories. But as a lifelong gadget geek, I have to wonder if I’ll ever get to the point where a single superproduct replaces my collection of digital devices.
10 years from now, could our product reviews be cut to one?
And how will advertising work on this uber platform?
For the sake of argument, lets take something everyone already knows – the iPhone 3G – and use it as the starting point.
How do we get 9 devices we use at home into one unit? For each, I’ll go through the concept and the marketing. Concluding with, the EVIL advertising plan.
1) THE CELL PHONE
Concept: Let’s start this uber device as a cell phone. As cell networks continue to evolve, the landline’s days are numbered. Let me take you back for a moment. The year was 1999, I was living in Seattle, catching the very tail end of the grunge era, living through the dotcom boom, and calling my parents back in Boston from my landline on Sprint’s 5 cent Sundays. That was really the last time I ever worried about making long distant calls and worrying about the cost.
I still remember when my best friend out there told me he disconnected his landline and was only going CPAOP – cell phone as only phone. I know you’re laughing, but this was a pretty new concept at the time. I held out another year or so, but when I moved to New York City, getting a landline in my new apartment wasn’t a consideration.
In my slightly-distorted-reality of millions of 20 and 30 somethings living in apartments in Manhattan, the vast vast majority of people I know go CPAOP. The number seems to increase with age, marriage, housing, and distance from Grand Central station.
But the numbers back it up. A story in Wired’s Epicenter blog notes that AT&T lost nearly 1MM landlines last quarter. But on the plus side, the company recorded 2.4 million iPhone activations during the third quarter — 40 percent came from competitive wireless carriers.
Marketing pitch: Easy. One phone. One number. One bill. Always available. One marketing pitch that just won’t stop is Time Warner trying to get me to sign up for their triple play – internet, cable, and VoIP phone. Listen, I’m already paying you over $100 a month for the first two. Let me make this perfectly clear. I do NOT need a land line. Period. Please stop sending me things in the mail and destroying the environment. At least we’ve been able to stave off the telemarketers.
2) MUSIC AND MOVIE PLAYER
Concept: Forget your CD and DVD collection, everything is digital. It took a few years longer than expected, but the iPhone finally gave us a streamlined music experience on our phone. We’re getting there with movies, but I’m still guessing Blu-Ray players are a hot holiday gift this season.
Marketing pitch: What’s not to love? MP3s don’t take up space, don’t skip, and can be organized and ordered to your heart’s delight. And you can download and watch any movie on the fly. No more trips to the video store, pay per view, or even Netflix membership.
Concept: OK, this is a silly one, but why wear a watch when you have the time on your phone? I do know at least 1-2 people that do this, but I really don’t see this one happening. Sure, it’s not THAT much harder to pull your phone out to check the time, but please.
Marketing pitch: I don’t even think a wearable computer on your wrist is going to make this idea fly, but it is nice having various time zones, stopwatches, and alarms on your device. Maybe when you check the time in London it shows you an ad for British Airways?
4) HOME STEREO AND SPEAKERS
Concept: You’ve gotten rid of all your CDs, now how do we get that giant receiver and surround sound speakers from your entertainment center and into this device. Well, right now I can get radio stations through AOL radio, and you can get surprisingly good sound by hooking up your MP3 device to a fairly compact docking system. But can we ever do away with the speakers completely? I have to say, I can put the iPhone on speaker and very happily listen to an audio podcast while sitting at my kitchen table. But shrinking speakers small enough so that their built into the device, yet can crank enough sound for a party? I’m not a sound engineer, but my guess is that there’s a physical limitation that can’t be overcome when you’re trying to pump out some bass. Plus, the audiophiles would have too much to complain about.
Marketing pitch: Does anyone remember those giant wooden cabinet speakers from the 90s with the black grills that would pop off the front? We’ve come a long way from there to Dolby 5.1.
5) DIGITAL VIDEO RECORDER
Concept: Everyone loves TiVo and DVRs. Do we still need a giant cable box? I’m pretty sure I was the first person in Manhattan to get an HD DVR box from Time Warner as I got it the day it came out, and it hasn’t disappointed. I know there are media center computers and slingboxes and so forth, but here’s what I want. Get that stupid cable box out of my house. Instead, I program and record all my shows right from my iPhone, whether I’m at home or not.
Marketing pitch: How cool would that be? Forget to record the game? Just tap a few keys. Someone recommends a TV show while at the office? Set to record that night’s episode. And when you get on a flight, you’ve got that week’s Family Guy or Saturday Night Live in your hand.
6) VIDEO GAMES
Concept: Who needs a separate Nintendo Wii when you have it built in? One only has to look at Apple’s application store to see game developers are hard at work taking advantage of a new platform. And we already have devices like the Sony PSP. Could you get to the same experience on something much smaller?
Marketing pitch: We’ve come a long way since Pong. The level of detail in today’s games blows me away. Then again, so does the simplicity of Wii Tennis. For ads, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Grand Theft Auto sponsored by Buick anytime soon, but you never know.
7) YOUR WALLET
Concept: Remember, we’re trying to get down to 1 single item in your pocket. Pay with plasma, not plastic. This one is already taken hold in some parts of the world, but not so much in the US. Do you think we’ll look back one day and say, ‘Remember when everyone used to carry around little plastic cards in their wallet and had to sign with pen and paper to verify a purchase?’ We’ll still probably need cash, but maybe they can have a little billfold on the case to store it.
Marketing pitch: It will take some effort to get this to a tipping point, but maybe an up to the second balance and instant budget will help people manage their finances better. Fingerprint technology would prevent theft. For ads, you sign up for coupons from Frito Lay, and when your device detects your purchase of Blazing Buffalo and Ranch Doritos, ping, 50 cents off.
8) YOUR TELEVISION
Concept: We’ve made our TVs flatter. When can we get rid of them?
In some cases, we’re already there. You have the option to watch video content right on your device’s 3.5′ display. But the goal is to also replicate the experience of HD on a 50′ LCD. So my vision is a projector, R2-D2 style. One wall in your house would be painted with a special paint, and you simply aim the device at it like a projector. Over the years they’ve gotten smaller and smaller and smaller. Why couldn’t this happen?
Marketing pitch: Mom can hang a painting during dinner parties, Dad can watch the Raiders in lifesize mode.
9) EVERYTHING ELSE
Concept: That’s right, get rid of all those other devices.
â€¢ Take a photo! Look, we can shoot 10 megapixels, detect faces, stop blurring, and fit the data on a chip the size of a postage stamp, in a camera that fits in an Altoids box. You don’t think all that will be in your phone in 10 years?
â€¢ Take video! Ditto the above.
â€¢ Surf the internet on your device! It’s here, just needs to get better and faster.
â€¢ Answer email! Here, just get it easier and faster.
â€¢ Find your way via GPS! No one will need a separate device.
â€¢ Read a book! Here, just make it better.
Marketing pitch: Why pay for all those devices when one does it all?
But how are the advertisers going to reach you when you don’t have a radio or TV?
I’ll sum things up by scaring the crap out of you. If you’re a marketer, you know the more targeted an advertising message is, the better it performs. That’s Marketing 101. If you’re Ford or Saab or Hyundai or Porsche or Toyota or Suburu or Acura or Lincoln or Honda or Infiniti or Chevy or Kia or Nissan or Mazda or BMW and you have a model aimed at highly influential, very educated, early adopters with a lot of disposable income, THAT’S why you advertise in Wired.
– Uh, wait a second — all FIFTEEN of those car companies displayed their coolest vehicles in the November issue of Wired? – I gotta give props to the sales team.
Sorry, back to the story.
And honestly, as a consumer, sometimes I honestly want that. Look, if I love reading Wired, and I’m also in the market for a car, when the Porsche ad talks about their new PDK system that features increased performance and faster gear changes while reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, that’s like another page of content to me.
But like Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. Here’s where it can all go wrong if everything is tied into one device. What if you’re talking on the phone with your friend and planning a trip to Tokyo. The device does a voice to text conversion, and all of a sudden when you hit shuffle on your music player, the 80s one hit wonder ‘I’m turning Japanese’ comes on. When you surf over to the web, all the ads are suddenly for Continental’s nonstop flights to Asia. The movie recommendation just happens to be Lost in Translation, and the pre-roll commercial is for the Park Hyatt. You’re walking home from work, and your GPS function pops up a coupon as you walk past a Sushi restaurant.
It’s enough to want to make you want to go home, put a record on the turntable, and read a good book.
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