I am in God’s own market. At least for most techies there is no other way to describe it. This is Akihabara, a sprawling electronics marketplace in Tokyo, Japan, that is spread across thousands of small shops, back alleys, side roads, shacks as small as a cupboard – each teeming with devices and gadgets of various shapes, sizes and functions. Each sells at cut-throat price discounting, it’s impossible to ask for something and not get it, there are things here that you’ve only dreamt of and there’s a thriving trade in second hand electronics (iPad 1/16GB/Wifi – selling for Rs.6,000). I’m almost dumbfounded at the richness of the wares and the range on display. AV equipment, battery packs, USB drives, accessories, chargers, docks, ultrabooks, tablets – it’s the most concentrated per square foot retail of technology I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m in heaven!
I can see clearly now
Or am I? Suddenly, it hits me. The maximum display and sales is for add-on equipment. Things you buy after you’ve bought your main device. Products you add to your main gadget to complete the eco-system. And that’s when it really dawns on me. I wonder how I’ve missed this connection before? Maybe it’s because I’m seeing state-of-the-art technology and hard core add-ons being sold together in unprecedented fish-market conditions. All this amazing technology that we buy as aftermarket add-ons, are also the greatest proof of the failure of technology! I’ve got you confused, right? Let me explain with three examples.
Electrifying: Awesome stuff. Small, well-built little packs. Charge them on their own and they can boost your mobile phone, tablet or laptop battery when they are dying out. Carry one with you everywhere and you’ll never ever have a dead gadget again. Prices are really low and battery capacity is getting denser on them by the second. This is a great invention!
Blackout: But why do we even need it? Why is there such a worldwide growing demand for these? Why is everyone buying them in droves? This one gadget underlines the failure of battery technology. Why should we buy an add-on pack? We’ve already paid for a device WITH a battery, why are we expected to shell out more? Battery life continues to be the greatest weakness on most devices. Think about it. How many times have you abandoned using a gadget due to its very sucky battery life only to move on to something that sucked even more? This device is us paying twice to keep our gadgets running and this is battery makers getting paid twice to power up the same device. Where are the fuel cells and once a week charging phones and laptops that run a straight three days? Every time you buy an add-on battery pack – it underlines the absolute failure of battery makers.
Add on Storage
Awesome: USB thumb drives, small SD cards, Portable USB hard drives. Amazing how this market has evolved. Look at the pricing and look at what all we can store. You can pick up a tiny little 64GB thumb drive for 2,000 bucks – that’s how much we paid for a 512MB thumb drive just a few years ago. SD cards are dirt cheap and have serious storage, non-powered USB hard drives are hitting the 2TB mark. You can practically store your life on these little things. And yet they signify the collective failure of multiple categories.
The Nexus: Why are we all buying these? Shouldn’t the device have it built in? If prices for flash storage are falling at such a fast rate – then why are we still living with piddly 8GB and 16GB in-built storage for phones and tablets? Why is the price difference between a 16GB and a 64GB device almost double? Is this a nexus between manufacturers and device makers? Our storage requirements have hit an all-time high. We want our songs in HD audio like FLAC, we want our photographs shot by storage-hungry 21-megapixel cameras, we want our videos in 1080P HD. So, why haven’t storage makers kept up with the demand of technology? And don’t get me started on those little USB drives! Why should I have to have one with me all the time? Wasn’t cloud storage and 3G on-the-move mobile broadband supposed to take care of all that? Why should we constantly transfer files to fiddly little USB sticks and carry them and plug them in and keep them up to date? Why?
Whoopee: Clever little things. Our device chargers. They’ve become much smaller, very efficient, more intelligent, they switch off when your phone is fully charged, most companies have gone with a single standard plug, they do double duty as your USB cable to connect to your computer. Good stuff here!
Unplug the suckers: Is it really? What the hell are we doing with this ancient piece of technology in 2012? An unwieldy plastic box with a cumbersome wire and a godforsaken plug that needs to be found behind the table and untangled from other wires and chargers? What happened to the whole wireless charging dream we were shown? One little charging plate on one side of the room, all devices kept on it would charge automatically, you would have one in your house and one in the office, each hotel would have one, every car would have one built in! I saw my first working, fully usable wireless charging system in 1998. That was a freaking 14 years ago! 14! What happened? It’s just easier for companies to throw in a charger that costs them pennies than to work towards a real wireless solution. It needs more effort and it needs every company to sit and work out one universal standard. The only reason that you and I don’t have EVERY portable device of ours charging wirelessly today is due to pure laziness and a lack of will on the part of device makers. Nothing more!
There are many more such gadgets that on the surface seem like amazing tech but actually represent innovation failure – but that’s fodder for a future column. For the moment, I’m going to end on a much more positive note on Akihabara and other stuff. Read about that in my column next week – ‘Five things that totally blew my mind in Tokyo’. At least those five don’t have a sad twist in the tale.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, October 7
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