Finding design in Unlikely places….

Its that time of the year again – when we realise we have been away from our blog too long – and also that the new year is upon us and we can get away with putting together a quick “happy new year” message.

I thought I’d do one better – I’d also talk about how awesome music on my iphone sounded on my car’s audio system – which the brochures proudly proclaimed were “designed” to be iPhone/iPad compatible. What this meant was that I could simply plug in my iDevice and fiddle around with the steering audio controls and hey presto they would work!

Except that it didnt. Let me explain. The guys who designed the contraption on my car apparently designed it for iPhone 4 which came with a 30 pin cable. The guys who designed the iPhone 5s decided that 8 pins was good enough. So here I was with a devil of a choice – I could use an old phone or a new car – not both.

Or could I? A quick visit to let me know there were tons of people out there who faced exactly this problem and to alleviate their distress, a new product had been invented – the 30 pin to 8 pin converter cable – and to procure this I repaired to my favourite accessory shop. Post the necessary greetings, the shop man unveiled a gleaming box with lots of important looking symbols and extracted a shiny white cable. All problems seemed solved now – until I plugged the cable into the phone that is – for it wouldn’t work. The reason, the cable was not apple “certified!”. A cable requiring “certification” – now isn’t that “insane”! (ok thats a crazy attempt at humour!). Turns out that apple had decided to put in a chip into every cable that would detect if it was certified for use with their new devices – for the 8 pin model had design features that made charging “lightening” fast!

This got me thinking – I had just discovered the new world of “cable design” a field I never knew existed. I guess this is why there’s that proverb about “God being in the details” – and I started looking at the other cables shipped with devices I own trying to figure out if they had some stories to tell as well – and here’s the report:

All charging cables happen to be very short. You can buy the most expensive iPhone or the most “value for money” nokia – they all come with ridiculously short cables. Why is this? One article (again post a quick search on google) proclaimed that this was because speaking on phones while charging was very, very dangerous and could result in burns – and shorter cables ensured that you couldn’t speak while charging unless you happened to be 2 feet high and loved speaking attached to a wall. Several articles debunked this article as but a spam. However the charging cables continue to come short, so if you figure out why, let me know!

I then proceeded onto the kindle. Now my kindle cable is very long – at least thrice as long as the standard mobile charger cable. Kindle as you know is a reading device not a listening device, so this doesn’t invalidate the above observation – indeed Amazon patently encourages you to use the device to shop and read while charging.

The kindle cable also doesn’t come with the plug at the end – perhaps their designers figured that anyone who buys a kindle already has several usb chargers at home and would appreciate a longer cable instead of yet another plug for their money. If this is true, that designer has a standing invitation for a dinner from me any day!

And now we come to the most important part – if you have a samsung, an apple and a nokia (not the smart one), you’ll discover that you need three chargers by conventional design. And if you happened to buy one in the UK, one in the US and one in India (and I am not even talking about Australia), you’ll figure you need as many converters – to make sure they fit. Some have flat pins, some have rounded pins, some work with 110 V, some with 240 V – you get the scenario. Well not anymore – all devices now work with both 110 and 240 volts, all new homes are fitted with universal switch boards now allowing any charger to be plugged in. Also all the charger plugs have usb plugging capability, so no matter what type of pin goes into your device a usb pin comes out the other end effectively solving the compatibility problem brilliantly!

Which brings me to the last point. The new Nexus comes with a charger that looks like a pod on which your mobile can lounge on – no wires at all. That takes the logic on the earlier para to a whole new level huh?

So here’s my point. Some wonderful accessories’ revolution (especially in cables, chargers and plug points) has been silently happening – and these revolutionaries perform a largely thankless job. While we appreciate newer, groovier devices – seldom do we take the time to look at and appreciate equally important work on cables and such that make it possible for us to live the life we do today! Thank you folks – you have my everlasting gratitude.

Let me close with a wonderful quote by Robert M Pirsig (from his Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values) and a wish for a brilliant 2014:

“The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha – which is to demean oneself.”

Now who can better that huh?

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