[AI] Can gadgets be too small, cheap or powerful?

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Sun Apr 18 10:54:21 EDT 2010

Progress is wonderful - but at what point do things get out of hand?  Mike
Elgan investigates

We all know technology gets smaller, cheaper and more feature-rich over time.
But is that always a good thing?

Too small 

Take netbooks, for instance.  The original idea was that they are tiny enough to
slip into a bag and use on the move.  But a recent product launch by a Chinese
company makes us think they can actually be too small.  uSmart showed off a
netbook with a 4.8 inches screen at the Hong Kong Electronic Fair.  The mini
netbook is powered by an Intel Atom processor and, unlike many full-size
laptops, has HDMI support for audio and video.  What makes this a netbook,
rather than a PDA, is that it runs XP, Vista, Windows 7 or Linux.

Small, portable netbooks are great - provided you can see the screen and use
the keyboard.  Users complained about the cramped screen and keyboard of the
first-generation netbooks with 7 inches screens; how can a 4.8 inches-screen
netbook running Windows be anything but miserable to use?

Even devices without screens and keyboards have become too tiny for their own
good.  USB flash drives are a good example: the iDisk Diamond is about the size
and nearly the thickness of a fingernail.

Elecom, meanwhile, offers a MicroSD MRSMC03 card reader that's nearly as
small.  The tiny device lets you insert your own MicroSD Card and read it on any

Both the iDisk Diamond and the Elecom MR-SMC03 are small enough to swallow. 

Drop either, and finding it will be like searching for a contact lens.
Fortunately, both have places to attach a strap, which secures the gadget but
triples the bulk.

Too cheap 

While it's fairly straightforward to make the case that some gadgets can be
too small, is it possible for gadgets to be too cheap?  We're about to find

The ukp300 netbook was big news last year.  But at press time, you could get a
full-size Toshiba laptop with 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and Windows 7 for
ukp299 at Tesco.

The problem with such low prices is that, if everybody gravitates toward
zero-margin products, quality will suffer.  Just look at the airline industry;
people now use the internet to book flights based exclusively on airfares.  The
result is lousy service, no food and overworked, underpaid pilots.

Too feature-rich? 

IoSafe offers a waterproof, fireproof external hard drive called the IoSafe Solo
($499 or around ukp297, iosafe.com/solo) that holds 2TB of data.  That's 2,000
gigabytes of storage space.

What are you going to do with all that storage space?  If you fill it up,
you'll never be able to back everything up online or anywhere else.  If you
have a hard-drive crash, that data is gone forever.

The iPhone is famous for its accessories.  You can buy just about any peripheral
device you can think of.  But a new product called the 8X Telescope with Hard
Case for iPhone is an accessory too far.  The case attaches to the phone, and
the absurdly large telephoto lens attaches to the case.  You put the whole thing
on a tripod that comes with it, because the telephoto lens will exaggerate any
movement and make your pictures blurry.

But if you're going to carry a bulky case, tripod and lens, why not just carry
a separate digital camera?

Meanwhile, the Apple Magic Mouse is getting a lot of (bad) press.  It attempts
to make all functionality invisible, using multitouch gestures rather than

The opposite of the Magic Mouse is an over-engineered pointing device called the
OpenOfficeMouse (OOMouse) which has 18 buttons.  It also has an Xbox-like
joystick on the side.  Those buttons are highly programmable with key commands,
macros and what the write-up calls "default profiles" for OpenOffice

What's the point of so many buttons, and so much programmability?  It will
probably take you two years to master all the time-saving features.

We never thought we'd see the day, but here it is: some gadgets have now
become too small, too cheap and too complex.

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