Earlier today, connected device guru Matt Webb announced the closure of cloud service developer Berg Cloud in a blogpost, citing difficulties in finding a sustainable business model for the innovative venture since moving away from the agency model back in 2013. Conceived after experiencing the difficulties of making connected products first hand, the vision of the ambitious Berg Cloud had been to create cloud services that would make life easier for hardware innovators—effectively serving as the missing link between the wireless chip in a new connected device and a user-facing website or smartphone app.
The Little Printer—perhaps the most iconic of Berg's creations—also looks to be implicated in the sad news. Closure of the service behind the product, the release reports, could come as soon as March 2015 unless a suitable buyer can be found. Fortunately for fans and owners of the diminutive device and the wider technologist community, the announcement also suggests that the code for the Little Printer could be opened up—no doubt to the delight of legions of hackers and tinkerers.
Only in Japan could the worlds of novelty plastic consumer goods, fast-food fanaticism and brand worship collide in such awe-inspiring, object-cultural absurdity.
The Japanese arm of fast food giant KFC recently released a suite of computing accessories in the likeness of their deep fried product. Whilst the Colonel hasn't yet taken to directly battering computing equipment (though that may not surprise some given recent accusations of some of their stores unsavoury contents), winners of a promotional giveaway could find themselves the lucky owners of a curious red and white keyboard, the keys of which replacing standard symbols with cryptic castings of miniature fried chicken pieces, giving users only the K, F and C to anchor to (presumedly touch-typing is second nature to Japanese technophile whiz kids). To make this branded computing experience complete, KFC also offers consumers the chance to wrap their hands around a disconcertingly realistic USB mouse and equally disturbing, as well as impractically large, USB flash drive—both novelties employing a rather questionable amount of plastic.
Collectors and fried chicken fanatics from Harajuku to Akihabara are surely to delight in these wild creations. Looking beyond the shimmering golden brown surface however, critics of the fast-food chain may well come to point out that such questionable objects only operate to abstract KFC's fried products further from the suspect reality of their production (current estimates for chickens put through the KFC machine at around 1 billion per year!).
Definitive Technology; from L to R: W Adapt, W9, W7, W Studio, W Amp
A veritable three-headed giant in consumer electronics, Sound United's aptly differentiated trio of brands is well-established across the category, offering products for users of all stripes, from hip millennials to discerning audiophiles. Today sees the launch of its first two wireless music systems, major releases for both the Polk Audio and Definitive Technology brands. Building on its long history as a leader in bringing top-notch audio engineering to music fans, the Polk Omni family comprises a suite of speaker options, plus a standalone amplifier and a wireless adaptor for your existing home audio system. Definitive Technology's W collection is billed as the "first audiophile-grade wireless music system," with higher-end versions of a congruent product range—two sizes of speaker, a soundbar/subwoofer combo, an amplifier and an adaptor.
DTS' Play-Fi allows for streaming via services such as Pandora and Spotify, as well as Internet radio and, of course, the user's personal music collection. Each of the systems is controlled by a dedicated app, compatible with Android and iOS and specifically designed to complement the respective hardware.
Polk Omni, from L to R: S2, S2 Rechargeable, SB1, A1, P1
We had the chance to talk to Michael DiTullo—a longtime friend and contributor to Core who also happens to be the Chief Design Officer of Sound United—about the thinking and process behind the two new collections.
Core77: Home audio, as a category, has a certain aesthetic; to what degree do you abide by these standards, and to what degree to do you try to break away?
Michael DiTullo: We try not to think of what is going on in the CE category and instead focus on what is important to our target persona and what other objects they surround themselves in. An audio product lives with a family, in their living room, in their kitchen, in their bedroom. It has to respond to these spaces to earn the right to be there. Our Polk collection uses warm metallic finishes, warm metallic off blacks, a mix of dark and light grilles and softer, mid-century modern inspired form language to respond to what is going on the space of the Polk listener and visually represent the sonic profile which is very warm.
The Definitive persona, who we call the aficionado, is more Modernist, clean, crisp, very precise. The design language reflects that with machined aluminum bases, machined cantilevered aluminum UI's, and very strong, minimal forms. Likewise, the sonic signature is very cold, precise, and forward, just like the design.
It sounds like you imagine these products in context, i.e. in and among the kinds of interiors, furniture and lifestyles of the end users.
Very much so. Before embarking on designing this collection, we conducted a series of ethnographic interviews with a range of listeners, including recent college grads moving into their first apartment, couples moving into their first home, young families with multiple children, and empty nesters who were downsizing. We studied the use cases of these individual groups, the unique pain points with trying to get an audio experience around their rooms, and were able to extrapolate the insights that went into the innovation and form factor of each product. By learning about what wasn't working for people, we could develop a collection and system that does work and is flexible enough to grow with them and continue to surprise and delight. We always start every project by answering two very simple questions: Who are we designing for, and what can our brand and expertise bring to them that makes their audio life better?
Polk Omni SB1 (wireless subwoofer & soundbar)
Definitive Technology W Amp
Polk Omni P1 adaptor (at center), pictured with RTiA1 speakers
Being an organized traveller involves packing just the right stuff—and for most end users, that involves electronics. After deciding which devices to take (laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.) the end-user also needs to decide how to keep them charged.
If the travel is international, that often means packing one or more adapters. For those who are traveling to multiple countries and want an all-in-one adapter rather than individual ones, there's this universal travel adapter from Kikkerland, which works in more than 150 countries. At 8 × 5 × 0.6 inches, it's flatter than any other such converter. And at 2.4 ounces, it's very lightweight. The two downsides: The two parts both have projections that could snag something else in the luggage. And while the converter comes with instructions showing you how to make it work in each country, they may be too complex for some end-users. But some end users have noted with delight that using this adapter felt like playing with a Transformer toy.
When we first wrote about Twelve South's PlugBug back in 2011, a commenter said, "Great product but does me no good when I travel to Europe." Well, that's been fixed with the new PlugBug World. As with the older version, the PlugBug World attaches to a MacBook power adapter, converting it to a dual-charger for both the MacBook and an iPad or iPhone—and it will charge that iPad faster than the factory-supplied charger. But the PlugBug World also has five attachments which allow it to work around the world. It measures 2.44 x 2.57 x 1.14 inches, and weighs 3.5 ounces. One minor quibble: An end user noted that the U.S. adapter plug isn't retractable like the Apple adapter plug is.
A number of my clients now collect compostable materials, either for their own outdoor composting, or for city curbside collection bins. While a home recycling station might include a compost collection section, that's far from the only way to go.
If you're designing a kitchen, you may want to consider having something like the BLANCO SOLON compost system built into the countertop. Shannon Del Vecchio, an interior designer, LEED AP, says that "this useful feature is well on its way to becoming standard issue for new kitchens and renovations in the [San Francisco] Bay Area."
But there are also interesting designs for end-users who don't have the built-in option. The OXO compost bin follows the common approach of not being airtight, to avoid anaerobic conditions and the resultant odors. The lid detaches for easy emptying when the bin is taken outdoors. This bin is designed to be used without a liner; all parts are dishwasher-safe.
One way to control the odor (and the flies) is to freeze the compostable scraps. Scrap Happy from Full Circle, made of flexible silicone, has a wire rim to attach to a drawer, so end users can easily push scraps into the bin. It then goes into the freezer until it's time to use it again—or empty it, by pushing on the bottom. Again, this is a dishwasher-safe product.
There's nothing inviting about a surveillance camera. Closed-circuit cameras invariably raise the question of security at what cost, and while the devices are pivotal to many movies, I'm more reminded of that tape scene in The Grudge that I always watch from behind my fingers. Italian designer Eleonora Trevisanutto gives the cold, boxy cameras a fun, almost toy-like makeover. In fact, at first glance I mistook these for disguised baby monitors.
Created for Italian company Parson, the camera lenses are hidden behind a semi-transparent screen and holds true to the designs' theme by attaching to the wall with a tree branch.
HTC launched the new HTC One (M8) to great fanfare in central London yesterday, its new DotView case stealing much of the show. Core77 UK correspondent Sam Dunne caught up with VP of Design Scott Croyle to talk industrial design on the front-line.
With the keynotes out of the way and a restless swarm of tech bloggers let loose on banks of demo handsets, we were plucked from the fray and ushered down a bright white corridor of pre-fab meeting rooms. A quick handshake and a warm smile, Scott takes a seat at a table strewn with a spectrum of handsets, apologizing for the smell of fresh paint. I mention the local joke that the smell follows the Queen around. He lifts his gaze and grins quizzically.
HTC's VP of Design makes no attempt to hide his relief at another launch event done and dusted. "Selling," Croyle tells me, "is a huge part of my job, of the designer's job, both externally and internally... You gotta engage the business with stories to drive home innovations that are actually meaningful to people... even our engineers are selling their new stuff with fun little consumer stories now..." And then, of course, it's showtime: "Giving the consumer the stories behind the design helps them engage with our work emotionally." Getting up on stage, Scott admits, doesn't come naturally, "but it's so important for us as designers to put ourselves and our ideas out there... we've got to be confident and resilient if we want to be heard."
As a leader within a massive organization, Scott eloquently elaborates on the ongoing battle of championing meaning in product development: "There's a fire hose of information and stuff coming at you from all directions all the time... the only thing you can do is to filter it. With experience, designers develop what I call an informed intuition. You don't need to know everything before you act. You do have to know when to trust your gut. These days, I can look at the title and summary of a report and know whether I should dig for more detail. It comes with practice." With a wince of self-awareness, Scott speaks of the language he has armed himself with for fighting feature creep and mediocrity. "I don't let anyone talk about differentiation, it's not about that, it's got to be better-entiated. I'm always talking about meaningful innovation... innovation by itself just doesn't cut it."
Everyone loves to back a winner. Eone Time brought the Bradley Timepiece to Kickstarter and the people of Kickstarter backed it to the moon and, uh, back. This slick watch was developed by Hyungsoo Kim, inspired by the surprisingly limited watch options for people with impaired vision and aided by simple design sense.
The Bradley Timepiece is made from machined titanium and powered by a Swiss crystal mechanism, but the brilliant point is the face. Two slightly exposed ball bearings representing the minute and hour hands are pulled around tracks by strong internal magnets which keep them in time and secure. Numerical positions are marked in relief, 12 is a bold triangle and quarter hours are textured to distinguish them from minor increments. As a result, you can tell time with a brief brush of the fingers.
It's blatantly obvious that today's attitude toward technology is very much "right here, right now." In an attempt to reorient a user's relationship to their consumer electronics, The Consortium for Slower Internet—a website focused on giving a deeper look into computation spaces and all of the different communication methods around us—has launched a series of products for our gadgets that's looking to reconnect users with their devices' roles within their homes. By incorporating a planter or photo display into charging dock and USB drive designs, the hope is that users will take a moment to reflect on their natural environment while using their technologies.
It looks like Aramique Krauthamer has been keeping busy since we visited Nike's "Art and Science of Feeling" pop-up experience last month. We encountered the NYC-based installation/interaction designer at the opening of "PLAY: A Visual Music Experience," the latest installation that he's designed with Fake Love for his ongoing collaboration with premium home audio purveyors SONOS. No brainwave sensors this time around: Since true haptic feedback would have required speakers with custom top panels, the 'touch' sensor is actually a discreet optical input, which toggles the colors of the ripple-like projections. The visuals reflect not only the amplitude of soundwaves (as in your iTunes visualizer) but also the pitch, tone and a few other attributes.
Frankly, I couldn't tell the difference, but I did share Aramique's interest in the custom 'furniture' he designed for each 'room' of the installation. The lucite boxes are embedded with LEDs that match the projects and were fabricated for the project, which is en route to SONOS' Los Angeles studio after its one-night-only debut earlier this week. The occasion for the celebration is the worldwide availability of the new PLAY:1 speaker, which debuted two weeks ago, just in time for the holidays.
CES being what it is, there were of course numerous displays of techno-wizardry; and the business world being what it is, most of the new businesses built around these technologies will fail, while a few will thrive. Here's a few we'd like to see make the cut.
We know that the odds are against Pulse Wallet, because it's one of those technologies that needs to be ubiquitous to work, so we hope they've got a good marketing team. Because here's what it promises: The ability to leave your credit cards at home and pay with your finger. After registering with the service, which is free, the vein pattern in a finger of your choice is scanned and linked to whatever credit/debit cards you'd like. Then (assuming merchant uptake), you can pay for your purchases at a touchscreen register with a finger-scanning device.
Velodyne Acoustics is a high-end audio manufacturing company that, having mastered soundwaves, is now messing around with lightwaves (specifically, lasers). The result is their LIDAR system for realtime 3D scanning. By placing a small, spinning, blender-sized contraption on top of a car, they can generate a CG map of the immediately-surrounding environment in realtime.
Machinery company Caterpillar has already signed up, so we'll reportedly see earth-moving and construction equipment kitted out with Velodyne's system.
If everything at CES actually worked (i.e., no concepts) and you won one of those grab-whatever-you-can-in-fifteen-minutes shopping sprees, what would you snag? We've worked out a short list:
The Cynaps Bone Conduction Bluetooth Headset is the perfect way to take noisy calls on a crowded city sidewalk (or CES exhibition hall floor). I tested the device out in person (it was embedded inside a baseball cap) and it's awesome; just push your tragus—that little flap on your outer ear—closed, and you can hear audio coming in clear as day, transmitted through your bones.
The Cynaps is currently up for pledging on IndieGogo, and at $9,000 of $20,000 with 20 days left to go at press time, it could go either way. I should also point out that I'm of the opinion that they need to add a throat mic, though they claim their external mic picks up voices fine.
PiqX Imaging's XCANEX portable scanner was one of the few devices on the showroom floor that actually looked like an industrial design project.
The portable, fold-flat device clips onto your laptop, and can then be used to "scan" (via snapshot) documents, books, receipts, you name it. The included software auto-rotates the image to the correct orientation while OCR sorts out the text, making it an easy, and quick, push-button solution. Also a great way to quickly scan ID sketches. Totally wish I had one.
Judging by the large amount of small, wheeled, floor-mounted robots we mostly saw coming from Asian manufacturers, manually cleaning spaces in Asia will be a thing of the past.
While iRobot is a well-known name in the 'States, in China it's Xrobot (see their machines up top, as well as the one below that looks like it was designed by Cylons) that's all over the "intelligent robot service industry."
EcoVacs' Winbot is also square, but can pull a trick the others can't: The window-cleaning robot sticks to vertical glass.
Moneual (the company behind the Touchscreen Cafe Table) makes a "state of the art robot air purifier" in the H800, which chugs around your apartment scrubbing the O2. I'm not crazy about the taller form factor, because unlike the floor vacs, this one looks trickier to flip over and disable in case it goes rogue.
The H800 is not yet sold in the 'States, but once it is, how long until a Star Wars geek hacks it up to look like R2-D2?
3D Systems seemed to be the only 3D printing company out in force at CES, perhaps because it was at last years' that they debuted their Cube 3D Printer.
This year they pulled the sheets off of not one, but two machines: Their updated Cube 2, a faster and more accurate update to the original, and their larger CubeX, which can print "basketball size" (10.75" x 10.75" x 9.5") in both ABS and PLA.
Once Nexiom had refined their wicked Power Slate ultra-slim battery, they needed some industrial designers to refine the product it would be a part of. After a successful Coroflot search that product is now ready: The AMPT Smart Bag is a sort of messenger bag/backpack hybrid capable of charging many gadgets at once.
The vertically-oriented, sleekly profiled bag can take a laptop in one side...
...and tablets, phones, cables, and smaller gadgets on the other side.
Inner sleeves take Power Slates to provide charging functionality, and the larger 1300 model has enough juice to get your laptop from zero to full.
On the crowded CES floor a company called Nexiom caught our eye, and as it turns out, we had caught theirs: "Ah, Core77!" exclaimed the rep, spotting our badge. "We recruited our designers off of your Design Directory." Hong-Kong-based Nexiom had spent years developing an interesting little technology, and hired ID'ers we'd listed to integrate it into a consumer-friendly product design.
We'll start with what Nexiom developed, a super-flat battery they're calling the Power Slate.
They're ridiculously thin, about the same thickness as a USB connection.
Folks, something strange about this exhibition: All these speakers everywhere and I've only heard "Gangnam Style" once. It came blaring from a booth labeled Exelway, and I expected to see some big-ass speakers, but was surprised to see the sound coming out of these two impossibly thin bars (marked in the photo with hot pink tape):
No word on how the technology works, but even the bass was pretty decent, and the system is sub-woofer free. Another thing I appreciated is that they didn't beat their heads against the wall coming up with a name: The product is apparently called the Slim Speaker.
Meanwhile, a Chinese company called In2uit has moved in an adjacent direction, going thin and flat. Their Audio Art series of speakers are wireless and just about paper thin:
We're seeing so many objects here where the form has nothing to do with the function, as a designer it's almost... offensive. So it was almost refreshing to run across this weird massage products section, where things need to be shaped in such a way as to interact with the human body. The area was hard to miss, because there were quietly moaning people apparently being eaten by chairs (like this one by Infinity):
Then across from him, we saw this dude:
Guy on the right is getting his eyeballs massaged, in addition to the top of his head. A company called Breo USA (ironically, a Chinese company based in Canada) makes a ton of different portable battery-powered massagers targeted towards different areas of the body, and he's wearing their iDream 3 Eye & Head Massager.
Breo's Mini Body Massagers are designed with different shapes at the business end, depending on where they're meant to contact.
Like rival Samsung, LG also caused a stir with their new TV offering, seen above. (I apologize for the crappy photos, but it was a real jostle-fest.) The EA9800 series is freaking curved, providing truly equidistant viewing to the corners, assuming you're sitting dead-center. The OLED display can also support 3D, which is why the second image looks janky; it looked a lot more impressive through the glasses.
Honestly this seems more a demonstration of manufacturing might than a design innovation that consumers will enjoy, but time and the market will tell. Samsung reportedly announced their own curved televisions just moments before LG, and I like to see this kind of competition--it means sooner or later one of them will be driven to produce a breakthrough the other cannot match, and assuming their designers are clued in, we'll hopefully see something a bit more profound.
In the meantime, I think the curved screen technology would actually best be targeted to art directors, 3D modelers and video editors, people who spend their lives in front of a screen manipulating images, and typically from a fixed position.
Still not seeing much on the form-follows-function tip here on the CES floor, but we're trying. The last thing that jumped out at us were these rather extreme, specialty PC tower bodies made by a company called In Win.
Machine running hot? Their H-Frame is a series of aluminum cooling fins:
Skate- and surf-inspired accessories company Nixon has a couple of upcoming products on display: A ruggedized Bluetooth speaker "that's truly go-anywhere" and a cool silicone cable wrap for their earbud speakers.
The water-resistant silicone-skinned speaker, with its Rams-like design, is pretty chunky and substantial; it's a bit larger than a brick. It's also made to be tough. "You won't have to worry about dropping this thing or banging it around," said the rep. He then tossed the thing up in the air and let it hit the floor with a thud. While it was still on the ground, he proceeded to step and stand on it. After he picked it back up, the dust wiped off of the silicone cleanly.
Volume and playback buttons are up top, molded into the silicone; on the sides are the power button and ports for USB and audio input, covered by water-resistant seals.
The cable wrap's a neat little affair, with a central compartment that you pop the buds into; then you just wind the rest of the cable around the slit in the perimeter.
The guys at Nixon are saying both will be ready to go early this year.
The rumors were true, and we finally got to see the touchscreen cafe table produced by Korean manufacturer Moneual. It's officially called the Touch Table PC MTT300, and there's a little more to it than sticking a tablet on a table.
First off, the invisible stuff: It's an Intel/Windows 7/Android/Nvidia-powered affair, and features two hidden speakers, though the model hired to flog the table couldn't say what the audio was meant to accomplish—perhaps feedback for button touches? As for the visible, the screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. The demo models we saw all had the menu taking up the entire screen and oriented just one way; will it be split up and oriented for two people, or even four? Or must the menu be swipe-rotated towards each person who wants to order? Again, the rep didn't know. (I'm starting to get frustrated with this aspect of CES).
As for the physical design, the side of the table features two USB ports, a mic jack and a headphone jack. They're located underneath the table, presumably to avoid spills that run over the edges, and their presence is indicated by icons:
For exhibit designers, it's tough to cut across the visual clutter clogging the floor at monster events like CES. Eventgoers' peripheral vision is basically rendered useless, as colors, shapes, text, and screens all scream for their attention.
However, whatever firm Audi hired to handle their exhibit design found an effective way to stand out. They erected a large rectilinear tunnel, paneled entirely with white plexi covering what appear to be daylight-rated bulbs. After all the visual junk you've waded through to get there, Audi's area looks so clean, so pure and so awesome that your feet automatically start taking you towards this visual oasis.
Inside there were no adornments, signage, built-ins or displays; just a few letters on the floor denoting the two cars they were showing off, the RS5 and R-18 E-Tron Quattro racecar.
I realize not everyone's got the scratch to pull this off, nor has just two objects they're trying to display, but this was the one exhibit design out of the entire scrum that really had a remarkable design.
Fighting the sleek, modern Bluetooth-speaker-aesthetic here at CES are a few companies going the retro route. For starters, Sylvania's got a model that looks like a traveling salesman's record player (above) and another that looks like a cross between a suitcase and a Cadillac (below).
Studebaker goes further back in time, conjuring up the 1930's wooden cabinet-style radio grill:
The largest CES crowd we saw so far, generating an audible buzz, was dogpiling into the huge Samsung section. What we saw there was astonishing, in a way that the photos probably don't accurately convey: There appeared to be floating windows looking into a different, better-looking-than-reality world.
They weren't windows of course, but high-def TVs. The crispness of the picture and the thinness of the border lent them their jarring effect. A team of designers clearly slaved over these things—getting up close, you only expect craftsmanship like this from Apple—and their manufacturing must be conducted by magic elves. The TVs "small" enough to be mounted on tables (I put small in quotes because these things were freaking huge) had beautiful polished metal legs and seemed just an inch or two thick when viewed from the side.
While we got sucked into the Polaroid area by the iDevice lens add-ons display above, it was what we saw deeper inside that really caught our eye: They've gone into Bluetooth speakers in a major way. The reason we gave this post the title it's got is because it doesn't look like their design director said no to anything. It looks like the assignment came in to design a portable Bluetooth speaker, the team cranked out twenty cool concept sketches, and all of them got greenlit.
There were longitudinal ones roughly equivalent to what the competition's got...