Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Commonplace technology like cruise control, automatic doors, and the silicon chip make us feel like modern day wizards as we navigate our daily lives yet we still dream of magical technologies that might help us escape the everyday. Many of us watched Star Trek and The Next Generation in awe, wishing that our closets might moonlight as holodecks. Virtual reality, the ultimate escape, has long been on our collective technological radar and it seems we are closer than ever to really achieving it. Modern tech guide, MakeUseOf, claims that virtual reality technologies aren’t “twenty-years-off” fantasies anymore. These are viable concepts for startups.” In 2013, Google glass was launched and paved the way for wearable technology that had the potential to usher in a new virtual era, though it was discontinued in 2015. A well meaning, but painfully awkward predecessor to Google Glass reminds us that not all advanced technology is magic. 2004’s Eyetop Wearable DVD player was one such example. How did this seemingly state of the art technology end up ranked #25 on PCworld’s list of the Top 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time? The magic, or lack thereof, is in the interface.
In 2004 consumers experienced many technological advances. During this year sales of laptop computers exceeded sales of desktop computers, Bluetooth technology was just becoming mainstream, and the iPod dominated the portable music scene. Then enters the Eyetop wearable DVD player. The big selling feature is that the user can now watch movies anywhere, at home, in the car, or on an airplane. The stylish glasses contain a movie screen in the right eyepiece that simulates a 14” screen. In addition to the viewing glasses, the set comes with a carrying pouch that conceals the portable DVD player and battery pack for movie watching on the go. But wait, there is more! Each component can be used separately. The DVD play can be hooked up to a TV screen, the earphones can be used with other devices, and the glasses can connect to a video camera—creating a versatile and portable entertainment system. The bundled system retailed for $599.
Theory Inflected Analysis
Just as today’s cell phones are a nod to the telegraph of the past, the Eyetop DVD shares a connection with cinema. The older media has been refashioned to answer the challenges of new media (Bolter, Grusin 15), allowing users to view movies on the go.
Affordances are a key component of design. “An affordance is a relationship between the properties of an object and the capabilities of the agent that determine just how the object could possibly be used” (Norman, 11). Norman goes on to explain that in order for affordances to be useful, the user must be able to identify them. The Eyetop Wearable DVD player offers the user many affordances. Not only can it be used for viewing movies on the go, but the components can be used separately adding to the value of the bundle.
According to David Bolter and Richard Grusin, “Immediacy is supposed to make this computer interface “natural” rather than arbitrary” (23). The immediacy should create a “virtual reality” allowing the user to forget about the interface and “accept the graphic image that it offers as her own visual word” (Bolter, Grusin 22). This wearable technology was designed to enhance immediacy. Atika Elsayed, Eyeneo’s general manager explains this in his description of the product, “The Eyetop DVD provides the best of both worlds: an immersive private multimedia experience with a large, crisp image magnified from a tiny Kopin CyberDisplay, and the simultaneous ability to see your surroundings while you’re on the go” (mobilemag.com). The user’s ability to maintain a line of site with their surroundings was intended to make the interface itself more natural. The ability to watch movies on the go allows the user to seamlessly integrate this technology into their daily routine.
All of this immediacy sounds great, right? Watch a movie while completing household chores, running errands, or walking the dog. However, the product’s immediacy may have actually led to its failure. In the case of the Eyetop wearable DVD player, users complained of motion sickness. The motion sickness was a result of the one-eyed viewing design. The right eye viewed the movie, leaving the left eye free to view surroundings. There is no doubt that this technological side-effect left users frustrated, creating a negative user experience. Additionally, in order to use the technology on the go, users were forced to tote a DVD player and battery pack in a carrying case, adding an inconvenience to the user experience.
It seems that this product was poorly designed because it was not user centered. The designers did not take into account the physical effects of viewing a movie with one eye, the dangers associated with advocating the use of this product while driving, and the cumbersome hardware associated with this technology. According to Don Norman, “experience is critical” (10). Good design seeks to create a positive user experience. Poor design can lead to user dissatisfaction. Users of the Eyetop wearable DVD player were dissatisfied with their user experience.
Student Analysis of the Outcome
While this product looks good on paper, and sounds great in theory, the cumbersome design coupled with the side effect of motion sickness seems to have rendered this technology obsolete. Not to mention this product could be dangerous – driving one-eyed while watching a movie sounds like a recipe for disaster!
In a perfect world, one could watch a DVD while driving their family across the country but we don’t live in a perfect world. Norman urges designers to “focus their attention on the cases where things go wrong, not just on when things work as planned” (Norman, 9). It is difficult to believe that no one experienced motion sickness in early or even later stages of product testing. Why would such a side effect be ignored? Matthew W. Seeger and Robert R. Ulmer explore responsibility in leadership in their work entitled, Explaining Enron: Communication and Responsible Leadership. When discussing a leader’s obligation to be informed they suggest that part of this obligation lies in being open to bad news yet “most organizations find warnings to be difficult to process and disruptive to established beliefs about risk and threat. In other cases, the warning may compromise careers or company profitability” (Seeger, Ulmer, 66). Addressing such an issue would mean more work and time and both would eat into profits. And why should they bother? In The Humane Interface, Jef Raskin writes, “We have slow-booting computers only because many designers and implementers did not assign a high priority to making the interface humane in this regard. In addition, some people believe that the sale of millions of slow-booting computers ‘proves’ that the way these machines now work is just fine” (7). If the designers of the Eyetop wearable DVD player followed a similar logical fallacy, they might have dismissed motion sickness in a similar fashion. Roller coasters make many people ill yet people still ride them. Ethical? Not so much but business and ethics have a complicated relationship.
A good idea fails for many reasons. The Eyetop wearable DVD player failed because it either did not take into account the way that the user would interact with the device, or discounted the effects of using the device. Thomas D. Erickson offers up a theory of what goes wrong during the design of an interface that is applicable to this situation “The multidisciplinary nature of interface design introduces problems that are political in nature. Psychologists, graphic designers, writers, industrial designers, and programmers all have essential contributions to make to the design of an interface. Yet each discipline has its own priorities and perspectives, its own methods, its own criteria for success. Often these are in conflict with one another. Whose priorities are most important? Whose perspectives are most valuable? Whose criteria for success should be met?” (3). The makers of the Eyetop device forgot to take into account the User when developing their product. The User is the most integral part of the design process, because even a well designed product will fail if it is not provide a positive user experience. “Great designers produce pleasurable experiences…experience is critical, for it determines how fondly people remember their interactions” (Norman, 10). It’s hard to imagine that anyone would relish navigating the cumbersome interface of wires and bulky hardware or that they would remember motion sickness fondly. Due to a lack of consideration for the user and, more specifically, the total experience, the designers of the Eyetop wearable DVD player not only created a product destined to fail but one with the potential for harm.
Includes product and manufacture information http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/eyetop-dvd—the-worlds-first-portable-personal-private-wearable-dvd-entertainment-system-74173212.html
More product info and pricing: http://www.mobilemag.com/2005/03/03/eyetop-now-bundeled-as-a-wearable-mobile-dvd/
Erickson, Thomas. “Creativity and Design” The Art of Computer-Human Interface Design. p. 1-4
Grusin, Richard, and Jay David Bolter. “Remediation: Understanding new media.” Cambridge, MA (2000).
Infante, Andre. “Why Virtual Reality Technology Will Blow Your Mind in 5 Years.” MakeUseOf. N.p., 10 July 2014. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
Norman, Donald A. The design of everyday things: Revised and expanded edition. Basic books, 2013.
Seeger, Matthew W., and Robert R. Ulmer. “Explaining Enron: Communication and Responsible Leadership.” Management Communication Quarterly 17.1 (2003): 58-84. Web.
Photo credit: http://www.mobilemag.com/2005/03/03/eyetop-now-bundeled-as-a-wearable-mobile-dvd/