Something interesting happened at a recent gathering of like-minded technophiles: I put my rather banged-up and decrepit silver-backed iPhone on the table (screen facing up to hide my shame among the flock of shiny new black iPhones) and someone pointed from across the table, exclaiming, “Is that a first generation iPhone? That is so cool!”
Okay. This doesn’t happen to me very often and within a week it had happened to me enough times for me to feel so emboldened as to start pointing it out to people.Suddenly I was transformed, what had been old had become cool again. And those dings and dents had become battle-worn scars to show off with pride.
This led me to thinking that my iPhone is probably the longest I’ve ever kept a mobile phone (3 years) and more importantly, it’s functions are as relevant to me today as they were the day that I bought them. Because of the ability to expand the iPhone’s feature-set through loading it up with more apps, I’ve had no desire to replace it with a newer, better featured device.
The main complaint I have now is the increasing sluggishness with each new firmware update. Apple’s products all have an inevitable use-by-date as the software outgrows the abilities of the CPU. So it was interesting last week when I read that the Android 2.2 firmware update for the Nexus One will be 450% faster. Is it possible for new software to make your old CPUs perform better? Or possible to create CPUs we haven’t fully exploited the performance potential of at release?
Okay, so nevermind how google have managed this feat, the great potential here is that the lifespan of the mobile gadget, like the lifespan of the species, can be extended by much much longer, reducing the impact on planet sustainability. We will no longer need new stuff for their features, or new stuff for performance, or maybe even new stuff for fashion, because our old stuff would do all that stuff.
So the challenge for product design here is to keep up with the advances in software. How do we create gadgets that don’t need replacing? Is there a value in creating gadgets whose physicality improves with age? Can we swap out the bits that still need improving while keeping the things that don’t?
Taking inspiration from Ricoh’s new camera platform is to make the technology divisible, creating modular components of the stuff you want to keep (screen and processor) and the stuff you want to swap out (lens and ccd), or vice versa.