Goodbye, gadgets

Around 1998 or so a funny thing happened to personal computers: they all started to look alike. Same plasticky keyboards, same ashen boxy monitors, and Dells and HPs all began to blend. Gateway resorted to opening retail stores with farm themes and shipping packages splotched with cow designs. PCs were slapped with stickers touting — wait for it — Intel chip speed to stand apart. But then flatpanels came along, and then Apple tweaked first colors and then glass-like translucent shells and then carved aluminum, the same cheap material you wrap leftover fish in — but, today if you peer above Engadget for a moment, you might see it.

Once again, gadgets are all starting to look alike.

They’re becoming frames. Just screen casings. Droid phones and iPhones and, yes, the best current example, the Apple iPad, just shells for digital content. (That’s right, you’re considering dropping five Benjamins for a black electronic frame.) Which makes us wonder, as we approach the singularity of device transparency, when the iGenie gadget of 2020 morphs from handset to laptop to big screen to projection on the wall of your bedroom, cradling content like a slender, almost invisible mother, will hardware designs even matter? Ludicrous to suggest, perhaps, as we still battle over cell phones with sliding keyboards or Kindleish left-right e-reader buttons. But the singularity is coming. How will device manufacturers compete when the view inside the window becomes more important than the border around it?

Image: Gizmodo via Photo Giddy.

3 thoughts on “Goodbye, gadgets

  1. Ben:
    Don’t know what kind of computer or phone you use, but can assure you that most Apple users buy for the inside not the outside. All about the interface and the elegance. The kindle is great for what it does and I like aspects of it better than other tablets for book reading. But let’s face it, the iPad will rock it. And it’s highly unlikely that the others will be as intuitive or have the app development force. No one is buying an iPad for the frame.

  2. I own four Macs and, yes, am a Jobs fanboy. But I think as another writer noted recently the iPad will be remembered an end point, not a revolution, in gadget design. It is a frame. And if consumers get truly comfortable with content in the cloud, push-button apps, simpler OS and touchscreen keypads, we won’t need backlit rubbery black keys or aluminum shells to entice us anymore. We’ll be looking inside the window, the windows will be everywhere, and the device design will fall aside like the old competing key layouts for the QWERTY keyboard.

    Could be wrong, though. There’s still money to be made in aluminum.

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