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Why luxury technology is an oxymoron

Tech needs to constantly come up with the next best thing, so timelessness is off the books

brunch Updated: Oct 27, 2018 22:30 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Luxury Tech,oxymoron,jaw-dropping innovation
It is an unwritten rule that if the device has a big name association, it’s an inferior piece of tech

There are some really good oxymorons in this world. My favourites are minor crisis, working vacation, act naturally, clearly confused and happily married! Ironically, even the word ‘oxymoron’ is itself oxymoronic – meaning, a contradiction in itself. It comes from two ancient Greek words, ‘oxys’ which means sharp and ‘moronos’, which means dull.

But the single greatest oxymoron has to be luxury technology. Let me tell you why.

Luxury is about a state of the mind – what a brand or a product conjures up as a mental image, and the feelings that go with it. The legacy of a brand, the passing on from one generation to another, the sense of aura and achievement it evokes from within.

Technology is about jaw-dropping innovation, coming up with the next big thing, making last year’s product and its features look obsolete and redundant and coming up with new blow-your-socks-off features.

Compare the two and you’ll realise that these are two extremes. One is about timeless elegance and the other about breaking time barriers. One eschews perfect stillness and the other is in a state of constant dynamic momentum.

A question for you

Smartwatches like the Apple gold lose out to a luxury mechanical watch which will continue to be a statement piece and an heirloom for decades to come

Let’s take the example of a product that actually plays within both sides. A watch. Luxury watches have been around for hundreds of years and yet, the bashful new smartwatch is trying to break through this market. Would you spend some serious money on a designer smartwatch? An all-gold smartwatch with diamonds as buttons? A watch that sets you back by Rs15 lakh? You would? Okay, let me rephrase that question. Would you spend Rs 15 lakh on a smartwatch which has a tiny, dimly-lit VGA screen, doesn’t have any of the new features introduced in the new OS, can’t read your heartbeat, can’t give you an ECG report, can’t connect to your phone, can’t receive calls, can’t reply to messages and gets laughed at every time someone sees it on you? That’s a luxury smartwatch after a year or two. On the other hand, a luxury mechanical watch will continue to be a statement piece and an heirloom for decades to come.

Those that tried

Vertu a successful luxury mobile phone maker, had to eventually surrender meekly

Almost every designer brand has tried to come out with a smartwatch. Most of them are now available at 90 per cent off and most designers have abandoned the market. Vertu, a very successful luxury mobile phone maker, had to eventually shut shop as normal Rs 700 feature phone had more features than a US $10,000 Vertu. Even Apple, which came in brandishing a large luxury sword in the shape of the Apple Watch, had to meekly withdraw because the Middle East luxury market didn’t generate much demand. When a marketing master company like Apple has to surrender, you know there is a major problem.

The mistake

There is another example of failed luxury tech. When normal mundane tech companies slap a designer luxury brand name onto a device. A Ferrari laptop, a Lamborghini phone, an Armani headphone. This basically guarantees a truly terrible product. In fact it is now an unwritten rule that if it has a big name association, it’s an inferior piece of tech. Not the best way to sell luxury.

The con

Brands are able to sell speakers and audio equipment as luxury ‘high-end products because, at its core, speaker tech hasn’t really changed much over many years

There is one category in tech that has been able to pull off luxury. Unfortunately it’s mostly a gimmick played out as a con. That’s the audio business, where brands are able to sell speakers and audio equipment as luxury ‘high-end pay-a-king’s-ransom’ products. That’s because, at its core, speaker tech hasn’t really changed much over many years. The audio industry has very successfully been able to camouflage that simple tech as a complex, very intricate technology. Adding jargon and convoluted set-up procedures, they sell simple things as god’s gift to mankind. Speaker cables that are jewel encrusted, connecting cables that have nitrogen filled, audiophile experts that come and set up your home theatre are all part of the con played on us. Fortunately, it’s times up for most of them as new audio technology delivers fantastic sound with no set-up required.

Is there a category of tech that may be able to break this luxury tech jinx? Let me know if you think there could finally be a category to break this oxymoron once and for all.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

Techilicious appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, October 28, 2018

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First Published: Oct 27, 2018 22:29 IST