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Chris Heathcote: anti-mega: sand in the vaseline

sand in the vaseline · 19. January 2012, 10:38

Just before Christmas all of my credit cards magically turned into RFID enabled smart cards (I was finally able to actually pay wirelessly with them for the first time last week, but that’s another grumble for another day).

For a week, all was fine, but then suddenly, I couldn’t get into the tube with my Oyster card. I had to fish the Oyster out of my wallet to make it work. Too many computers in my wallet. I’m not sure what caused the change: did I suddenly have too many cards, in the wrong lamination? Or has the gate software been upgraded, given that soon London Underground will mainly just use credit cards for entry/exit rather than Oysters? The only UI I have is to make a physical choice.

So rather than the effortless wallet breeze through the gates, I have to use the more technical L-shaped half open. Well within my city flaneury expertise level, but an added irk, several times a day.

Experience designers love a bit of Saarinen: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” That’s what’s wrong here, an RFID card is not considered within the context of a wallet, containing multiple competing RF field creating information and ID objects, and this new, electric wallet isn’t considered within the larger system of shops and the invisible RF world.

This is starting to happen elsewhere, too. Pretty much every TV at CES had the same functionality: Wi-Fi. Gesture control. Voice control. Given your console, your TV, your cable box, your light switches, your hi-fi, your phone, your tablet will have these performative technologies, we’ve got to find ways to add direction to our waving hands and faltering voices. I’m already at the point where I have to turn the Xbox off completely before flicking to watch TV, lest the Xbox misinterpret my movements. Every utterance or movement could be met with a chorus of slavish obeyance by your white, brown and shiny goods. Badly designed hardware interfaces will be bullies – demanding their own room, with no interfering IR laser speckles and a stalkerish obsession, hanging on your every word.

Whilst the technology companies demo their living rooms of the future, they live in a dreamlike world where everything you buy is a Samsung, or a Sony, whereas the reality is a Funai next to a Huawei next to a Panasonic next to a Vizio. And it’ll probably take 10 years for them to work together to fix this mess, let alone pipedreams of creating common standards. I can’t wait for how Which? will review the interfaces of these products. Consumer electronics reviewers will have to become performance artists, and consumers alchemists, creating concoctions of brands and boxes that actually let them take control of their living, working and playing environments.


I guess you could set your tv to speak german and your kettle to speak french…

Matt Cooper    19.01.12    #

Not quite the same, but this sort of thing is only going to become more common…

Dan Lockton    20.01.12    #