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Revolutionary vs. Evolutionary Design – The 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle

Posted by Steve on March 18, 2009

I am sure many of you have seen the new 3rd generation iPod shuffle, as seen here. What really caught my attention was this line from the VP of product marketing:

“The new iPod shuffle is the world’s smallest music player and takes a revolutionary approach to how you listen to your music by talking to you, also making it the first iPod shuffle with playlists.”

What catches my attention is that they state that their new ‘revolutionary’ VoiceOver feature;  the ‘revolutionary’ VoiceOver feature will tell you the song titles, artists and playlist names. To me the fact that the shuffle talks to you is not a revolutionary change in the way people listen to music.I think they need a little lesson in what constitutes a revolutionary design and what really is an evolutionary design.

The terms evolutionary and revolutionary may seem very similar but there is an important difference, I’ll start by describing both. Evolutionary designs are ones that simply take a design to the next logical step, for example the first iPod nano with video support was an evolutionary design, it brought video to a small portable device but it did not really change how people watch videos. Revolutionary designs are those that fundamentally change how something is done, a classic example of a revolutionary design is the printing press, it fundamentally changed how information was desiminated and possibly led to the prevalence of literacy.

It should be obvious at this point how the new VoiceOver technology is not a revolutionary step in the way that we listen to music. The VoiceOver technology simply provides the same information that a visual display would, just through the auditory channel, thus not really changing how we listen to music.

To me, an example of a revolutionary design for a new music player would be one that could sense our moods and then auto create playlists based on them, or one whose controls could be operated based on our thoughts instead of the current tactile interface. Now obviously I know that these ideas are a little far fetched and currently infeasible, but one can always dream!


Do you agree or disagree with the arguments made above? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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An upgrade to the mechanical pencil

Posted by Steve on October 29, 2008

As a foreword, I am aware that this is one of those ‘out there’ ideas that may never be feasible, but despite that I feel it is a good idea!

The idea came when I was studying for my image processing midterm. I was making notes with my trusty mechanical pencil when I realized that every 3-4 words the lead in the pencil would become dull, I am using 0.5mm lead, in case it matters. When the lead becomes dull my writing becomes very unclear, so I would spin the pencil around about 180 degrees to where the lead was now sharp, and then another 3-4 words I would again spin the pencil to get to the sharp part of the lead. After doing this for a while, I thought to myself, why should I have to spin this pencil 20 times a minute! This is when the idea struck.

I propose that new mechanical pencil designs have a system that results in the lead rotating on its own so that the lead is always sharp. There are a few implementations here, the pencil could have a mechanism where the lead is always turning slightly, the actual amount would have to be ascertained through some calculation in how quickly lead dulls. Another implementation would be for the lead to ‘know’ when to rotate; if the pencil was smart enough it could know how long a person had been writing and the pressure with which they were writing. With this information it would be possible to know when the lead would become dull, therefore at the point of dullness the lead would automatically rotate. A final implementation idea, and probably the most feasible, is to place another button on the side of the pencil that would rotate the lead 180 degrees for you.

The drawback is obviously that it would cost more money to implement this kind of system, and mechanical pencils are meant to be inexpensive. That being said, if there were an automated lead rotating mechanical pencil that did happen to be more expensive, I would definitely be the first to rush out and get one!


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