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My First Prototype Post
August 1, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Prototypes are usually the missing links in the evolution of human technology, the dead-ends of ideas that give way to the refinement of the final physical product. Prototypes aren't just for Darth Vader. While the legal back and forth between Apple and Samsung continues, a treasure trove of prototype designs for Apple devices has been released to the public, showing insights into various design approaches and feature enhancements, including larger form-factor iPads with and without kickstands and landscape ports and iPhones that parody the Sony logo, show a different layout for camera elements, and look remarkably like fourth-generation models, as far back as 2005. On the other hand, some have made prototypes into the end goal itself, such as the folks at Dangerous Prototypes, a site which features a new open-source electronic hardware project each month. Some are just gratuitous fun, while others are a bit more practical, such as one project that recycles old Nokia displays and another that provides access to infrared signal, useful for hacking together remote controls for all sorts of IR-based devices. Other prototypes of tomorrow's technology are less concerned with shrinking down the guts of the invention itself, to make it disappear, but rather on how we interact with and integrate physical representations of these ideas into our daily lives. Above all else, prototypes are always forward-looking and are therefore inherently optimistic expressions of human creativity: Even children are getting into imagining the world of tomorrow.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (14 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also best get plenty of pictures at an early stage, given that Apple is probably going to sue you later on.
posted by jaduncan at 3:17 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Always good to see prototypes based on actually possible ideas and not the usual design student masturbation with flexible glass, zero volume batteries, antigravity etc. Wankers.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:20 PM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's some great prototypes and demos for multitouch devices here.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Always good to see prototypes based on actually possible ideas and not the usual design student masturbation with flexible glass, zero volume batteries, antigravity etc. Wankers.

Seriously. And how was Darth Vader supposed to steer if he couldn't see anything other than what was directly in front of him?
posted by The World Famous at 3:30 PM on August 1, 2012


Nice post!

The "interact by smell" concept has been raised time and time again, but never seems to get off the ground. It's kind of nice to see people thinking about it in a constructive way, with a focus on folks who are visually impaired.
posted by zarq at 3:30 PM on August 1, 2012


If you get the urge to tinker and prototype your dream appliance: Arduino is a palm-of-the-hand-sized microcontroller kit programmable in a subset of C++ (actually, all of C++; it's just that the IDE inserts a lot of includes so the environment is clean for beginners) that comes in one piece.

I built a spinning robot that had a set of "comfort" constraints built-in a hacked up "dynamic PID controller", then started building something much larger with a metal robotic arm (no wires inside, just places for gears), and then my manic phase ended. My first robot was alive until about a month ago, when it pulled a wire that was soldered to a board on top of its servo, and I've been too lazy to fix it since.

But anyway, you cal build anything with an Arduino; robots are frustrating because they start involving mechanics; building a presence sensor on a breadboard using an array of photovoltaic cells and thermistors is fun because you're constantly tweaking the algorithms. And there are people who have optimized the hell out of their washing machines, dealing with the mechanical relays and so on.
posted by syntaxfree at 3:37 PM on August 1, 2012


Prototypes are usually the missing links in the evolution of human technology, the dead-ends of ideas that give way to the refinement of the final physical product.

This is where documenting lessons learnt from failures or rabbit holes becomes critically important. Physical prototypes exist, as do sketches and concepts in their myriad tangible forms, but when we're testing new business models or payment plans or some such intangible, the loss of lessons gleaned and learnt is even greater.

Thank you BP. Wonderful post.
posted by infini at 3:41 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sort of interesting to see some of those Apple prototypes, because in hindsight it's obvious that they would never get made that way. "No good, screen's way too small. Smooth out those corners and dial back the chrome, it's too busy. That button sticks out too much, it's going to get pressed in peoples' pockets all the time." That stuff seems incredibly obvious and Apple (for all its faults) is generally great about not letting those kinds of mistakes go to market, but it's amazing how how many companies can't grasp that stuff.

I mean, I love my Android for its own strengths and I'm not going to trade it for an iPhone, but aesthetically it's a mess compared to every Apple product since the original iPod. It's got all these pointless curves and doodads and all this fake chrome that chips off over time, and it's got too many seams and the screen has this annoying pointless black border around it and it's got no less than five different brand logos (for three different brands) plastered on it here and there. That's all stuff that it seems obvious should've been chucked (along with, probably, the designer who thought they were good ideas) but those kind of design mistakes are absolutely endemic to just about every tech hardware company other than Apple.

The only exception that comes to mind right now is Lenovo. They've got a very different aesthetic going on, but Thinkpads are immensely satisfying machines to use. They look functional rather than beautiful, almost militaristically so, and despite looking like something that was simply built rather than designed you find when you work with them (or on them) that they have thoughtful little touches all over the place, like a little space between the keys on the keyboard so that you don't make typos, or a little dip and a bump that helps your fingers find the arrow keys, or a textured trackpad, or panels on the underside with labels showing you what's underneath and screws that don't fly away when you undo them. They have probably as little logo-cruft as the marketing people would allow (though actually I count five again – two "Lenovos", two "Thinkpads", and a "T530", now that I really look for them) and all the little "intel core whatever" and "energy star approved" and "windows 7 64-bit" stickers have little tabs on them so you can easily peel 'em off. It's not perfect (you still have to uninstall a lot of pointless toothgrinding bundleware, for instance) but it's very good if you're into that plain-black, get-out-of-my-way-and-let-me-do-my-job school of design.

Anyway, it's amazing how designers for these sorts of tech gadgets manage to get things wrong way more often than right. I'm sure they must be up against a lot of double-standards in terms of production cost, co-branding contracts, micromanagement, technological constraints, etc. But it's really interesting to me how something which is always so obvious when done wrong seems so very very difficult to get right.
posted by Scientist at 3:42 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sort of interesting to see some of those Apple prototypes, because in hindsight it's obvious that they would never get made that way.

Jonathan Ive pretty much said this very same thing not too long ago:
"We nearly shelved the [iPhone] because we thought there were fundamental problems that we can't solve. With the early prototypes, I held the phone to my ear and my ear [would] dial the number," [said Ive]. "You have to detect all sorts of ear-shapes and chin shapes, skin colour and hairdo...that was one of just many examples where we really thought, perhaps this isn’t going to work."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:46 PM on August 1, 2012


"We have been, on a number of occasions, preparing for mass production and in a room and realised we are talking a little too loud about the virtues of something. That to me is always the danger, if I'm trying to talk a little too loud about something and realising I'm trying to convince myself that something's good,” he said. Respect.

I came across some links to "Apple designers obsessed with details" but now wondering, was it this article?
posted by infini at 4:13 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This post cleverly is a prototype itself! Presumably, the final version was meant to have paragraphs.
posted by gilrain at 4:40 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a Darth Vader prototype. He was in fact modeled on this Realist brand 3D streoe slide projector.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:54 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


StickyCarpet that is hilarious. I can't look at that and not see a sort of squashed, primitive Vader-head. It's uncanny.
posted by Scientist at 4:58 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's all stuff that it seems obvious should've been chucked (along with, probably, the designer who thought they were good ideas) but those kind of design mistakes are absolutely endemic to just about every tech hardware company other than Apple.

I get the feeling that that same designer probably thinks a lot of those things are bad ideas too, and that their inclusion is more the result of corporate culture. For all of its faults, Apple doesn't seem to have the sort of structural disease that lets it make things that no one person actually really likes.
posted by invitapriore at 7:29 PM on August 1, 2012


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