Have you heard of the zCover iSAglove Armband Set? No? Well, it’s a strap that attaches an iPhone “conveniently” to your forearm - conveniently, one imagines, for muggers. I have just returned from the Macworld Awards at London’s O2 Arena, where zCover’s product won one of the top accolades in the Accessories category. That’s correct: a prominent IT industry award has just been handed to a strip of Velcro.
I am reminded of that episode of the sci-fi TV comedy Red Dwarf in which one of the most successful consumer products in the future will be a stress-relief device called the Tension Sheet. On closer inspection, this turns out to be a sheet of ordinary Bubble Wrap, painted red.
No doubt the iSAglove is a quality piece of kit, and no matter how much people like me might scoff, it must be selling by the, er, armload.
To try to understand why IT-savvy experts are happy to rate a piece of fabric as having greater importance than actual computing products based on technology that’s considerably more innovative, take a look around.
Like animals, people do the funniest things. For example, at the gym I attend, one of the other regulars trains on the punch-bag while wearing not just boxing gloves but a padded head-protector too. Why? Is he afraid the punch-bag might hit him back?
We all make lifestyle choices that other people might find rather odd. I, for one, have decided that the only web browser that offers all the features I need is Apple’s Safari. However, the web browser that I actually use is Firefox. The only reason - and I cringe to admit it here - is that I can’t stand Safari’s drab, dark-grey interface, but quite like Firefox’s orangey logo. Yes, I really am that shallow. And so, I suspect, are many readers out there.
This kind of reliance on gut instinct rather than hard fact to determine buying choices was evident again earlier this year when Taiwan Lung Meng and Natural Source Printing, plus a handful of other companies, publicised the availability of paper that is made more or less out of stone. Consisting of limestone powder held together with a non-toxic resin, this substrate is naturally white, so it requires no bleaching during manufacture. It consumes less energy to produce and leaves less waste material. The paper won’t get soggy when it is wet, and setting fire to it simply burns the resin, leaving the white limestone powder behind.
But if you think about it, how much friendlier is it for the environment to dig up limestone than chop down trees? At least with trees, you can plant more of them. Also, the limestone paper is so bio-degradable that there’s a risk it might actually disintegrate more quickly than wood-pulp paper, making it useless for archival purposes such as receipts and hard-copy documentation.
This could lead to more paper waste, not less, as documents may end up being printed again and again just to ensure they are not lost through degradation. And just because the substrate is environmentally friendly, the same cannot necessarily be assumed of the ink that is printed on it.
The production of “stone” paper is a technical marvel and wonderfully innovative, but probably needs further analysis to judge its real environmental worth. An armstrap to hold a mobile phone is neither a technical marvel nor innovative, but it does do the job nicely and a lot of people seem to want one. Perhaps, as IT buyers, we should let our heads be ruled by what is in people’s hearts.