Cloud And Thirty Three screens

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There are devices that are generally loved or vilified – I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think the HTC EVO 4G is great, or someone who doesn’t think the WikiReader is terrible. Then there are some that seem quite polarizing, and these are the ones that usually interest me the most – listen to Joshua Topolsky and myself on the Engadget Podcast, for example. The last of these polarizing devices is the Sony Dash. The dashboard is difficult to categorize. It is a connected screen based in part on the venerable companion. Nilay Patel was a bit lukewarm about it. Ross Rubin likes him, and the Wall Street Journal was a little ambivalent. Here’s what I learned from a few days I lived with one on my bedside table.

1. The Vision is quite true. There is a lot to improve on Dash, both from a marketing and implementation point of view, but the basic idea is solid. Microsoft likes to talk about “three screens and a cloud” and I agree with this Vision – my phone number is 408-3-SCREEN – but it’s really a statement about consumption, creation and communication. Count the number of personal computers, televisions, telephones, gaming devices, media players and navigation devices that you have in the house and interact with – it’s more like 33 screens. The idea that there will be several connected screens with which consumers interact is real.

2. Paradigm shift. One of the arguments against Dash is that consumers are looking for a device that does not fit into the three-screen model. Maybe. But there is a lot of evidence that contradicts this. When the iPod was first presented, many experts said that it was doomed to failure. Why would anyone spend on a device that is basically the same as a CD player? Of course, this Analysis was as wrong as possible. Consumers will pay where they see value. I’m not sure that the current iteration of Dash has reached this threshold, but I don’t think it’s a product currently aimed at the mass market. In the longer term, Sony will have to think less about adding features and more about how to limit them. When it comes to consumer electronics, less is often more.

3. Clear Information is the Key. I like the Idea of glanceable Content. Microsoft has tried to do much of what is crucial for Dash with its SPOT Initiative. The information should be easily accessible and searchable. I don’t even need to make an Argument here, really – glanceable devices are all around us. Look at the watch on your wrist or your clock radio. Both are designed to quickly transmit Information: The Time of Day. The dashboard of Your Car gives important Information such as Speed and Fuel Consumption. At the moment, no one has figured out how to extend more information-rich views to these glanceable screens, but the dashboard is starting to do it. For example, when I wake up in the morning, I want to know both the time and the weather.

If I use Dash for a while, I can see why the product is as polarizing as in the current incarnation. Sony may or may not deal with current issues, but I expect connected screens to become an integral part of our lives in the future.

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