Rhodri Marsden: Cyberman
Everything's converging whether you like it or not
Wednesday 14 December 2005
It's been a superb week for those of us who not only love music, but are also regular users of the domestic toilet. Japanese sanitary company Toto has launched its newest model of toilet seat, the Apricot, which features a built-in MP3 player - allowing us to synchronise our own movements with those of, say, the Brahms Violin Concerto. The product website features an image of a girl staring down the pan in horror, and as well she might, as the Apricot is another head-scratching example of convergence: two or more products merging into a new hybrid with the features of both but, all too often, the advantages of neither.
Convergence is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. The camera phone has kept family, friends and rolling news channels liberally supplied with our latest snapshots, and the integration of digital radio into MP3 players provides a sumptuous audio bonanza. But many examples seem to exist purely because we adore anything with an LCD display. Integrated digital clocks are almost inevitable in home appliances - I have six, all out of sync with each other - and LG Electronics has pushed kitchen technology to the realms of absurdity with its internet-ready fridge-freezer. "MP3 player, e-mail, video mail... check the latest news and weather - all without leaving the kitchen," LG boasts, ignoring the fact that leaving the kitchen is a blessed relief for many of us. "And it's great for storing food, too," it adds. Meanwhile, Fender has produced a guitar with a Hewlett Packard laptop crammed into the back, mobile phones have thermometers built in, and we're increasingly confused as to whether we're better off experiencing television via the internet or vice versa, forgetting that, for the time being, we're better off watching television on, well, a television.
Convergence reaches its absurd zenith with the "portable entertainment hub", where an MP3 player, telephone, PDA, radio, camera, games console, video, e-mail and the internet try to squeeze into one hand-held device. The Nokia N-Gage phone pitched itself as a serious gaming platform, but it took untold manual dexterity to insert a game card, and in order to speak to anyone you had to hold the thing at a preposterous 90 degree angle to your head. As the race for seamless integration hots up, we're sold complex gadgets with endless sub-menus that almost require their own satellite navigation systems to guide us through, and they're not always good value for money; blogger Ben Metcalfe recently observed that Motorola's ROKR mobile phone, trumpeted for its integration with Apple's iTunes, is more cumbersome, more expensive and has fewer features than if you'd torn up your warranties and glued an iPod nano to a Motorola RAZR. Perhaps, then, it's best to let others find out first which gadgets are compromised by their extra features - but as far as the £850 Apricot toilet seat goes, I'll be expecting perfect performance, and ultimate convenience.
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