Where is all the fun tech hardware?

Phones and computers are so boring. I want something a little more wild with wings for those heavy days and ribs for her pleasure.

The beige-box computers of the 80s and 90s gave way to Apple’s colourful revolution. These iMacs were like a “holy shit” moment in the tech industry.

“Computers can be useful *and* fun?”

But a few months ago, after Apple’s March event, I tweeted this:

It seems they have no trouble being playful with the watch bands and, as an Apple Watch guy, I appreciate this. I started with the classy black band but I find myself more and more reaching for the more “fun” sport band, which I have in green and white. I would have ordered a new nylon band but after seeing them in person they didn’t look very nice to me. (Maybe this is why I’ve yet to see one in the wild. Or maybe that’s because I don’t go out much.)

I was also a huge fan of the iPhone 5C. I had a green one, and it was amazing. No confusing my phone with anyone else’s on the table! The only reason I upgraded was speed – I like my phones and computers snappier than the audience at a jazz concert.

My old phone, lovingly named "Frog in my Pants"
My old phone, lovingly named “Frog in my Pants”

But perhaps my favourite Apple product of all time was the clamshell iBook in the tweet above. It came in orange, it was weirdly shaped and translucent and they STILL make me want one. I never had one. I did have the first white iBook G4 and it was okay, but I don’t see pictures of them and still want them.

It’s not just colour though

You can’t paint an Asus green and call it fun. The software, the marketing, the packaging – a tech product is a whole spectrum of personal touch points. Apple was one of the few companies who hit the mark, and made us go “I want!” like a kid at Christmas. And a big part of that is the other important aspect – the unexpected.

The colourful iMac was a HUGE change. It’s the equivalent of today’s iMac being released with wings. The next one, even though it was white, was even more playful with the craning neck on a hemisphere.

Weirdness + practicality. So much better than the iMacs of today.
Weirdness + practicality. So much better than the iMacs of today.

So cool.

An example with cars

A Mercedes S-class is a damn fine car. It’s sexy, well-built and has a ton of fancy new tech on it. Lots of inventions – like the seatbelt, and the airbag – debuted on the S-Class years ago. That car is, and always has been, an impressive piece of tech.

But I would never buy one.

I drove a MINI. And a tiny white motorbike. And a “Tsunami Edition” Celica, a car with the unfortunate timing of being released right before the 2004 Tsunami. These were all very nice things and fun ways to get around and no one would mistake them for being serious.

Fun ways to get around.
Not the most practical means of transport, but fun!
I still see this car in my dreams. Our time together was short but precious.
I still see this car in my dreams. Our time together was short but precious.

I like quality, but I have no interest in luxury. And that’s what Apple is turning into – a luxury brand. And the rest of the tech hardware world is chasing them.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my laptop to be a $3000 metal powerhouse as much as the next guy when I gotta get shit done. But when work is over for the day, and I want to stretch my creative side, I whip out my 12″ and wonder, “why the fuck isn’t this thing bright yellow??”

My 12". I do love it even if it doesn't have lasers.
My 12″. I still like it even if it doesn’t have lasers.

Modding

You of course can always mod your stuff to be more fun. There’s a company that’ll paint tech hardware for you. You may also say, “well, you can add your personality with a case or covers or stickers.” And that’s fine for some, but to me it still feels like slapping an “I love boobies” bumper sticker on an S-Class. I want the personality to permeate. I want the computer equivalent of the MINI’s giant middle-mounted speedometer and airplane toggle switches.

Note the switches behind the shifter and above the mirror. What a funky car this was!
Note the switches behind the shifter and above the mirror. So different from the black plastic squares of most cars.

Where are the computers with symbols on the screen bezel that light up for certain events so I can stay full-screen in-app? Where’s the e-ink display on the cover of my laptop so I can read a book on it when the screen is closed? Where are the different mouse concepts? I miss the once-ubiqitous mouse nipples.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that 20 years ago I saw a see-through blue iMac and thought we were heading into the Dr Seuss era of personal tech and I was damn excited.

(Editor’s note, which is weird b/c there’s no editor: Angus was a hardcore Microsoft user when the first funky iMacs were released. He would have cursed you into the ground for buying one of those. He’s projecting his current preferences upon his younger self.)

Now it seems everyone wants to ignore their inner 13-year-old and pretend to be “classy.” They wear nice clothes and put on their nice suits and drive their boring-but-nice cars to their boring-but-nice homes. And that night they watch their spouse pegging a stranger from 3nder.

Let’s be the weirdos we are deep down. And let’s design devices for those people.

So where is the fun tech hardware?

I think all the interesting and fun and wacky tech projects are coming from Kickstarter now.

I’ve backed a Spotify player in my favourite shade of green:

Lovely!
Lovely!

I also backed a German puck that controls … things. I’m not even sure what I’m going to use it for but I couldn’t resist, because although the design is more on the classy side, it’s definitely an odd thing.

And a remote-strap-on, an amazingly simple concept to fix the living room remote problem that I jumped on immediately when I saw it on Kickstarter.

There are other funky things I haven’t backed also, like rolling luggage with giant wheels, a ring to control stuff, and a bike helmet that like lights up and shit.

This is why I really like Kickstarter. These products may not appeal to those of us who want to appear classier than we actually are (a phase I’ve certainly gone through!) but they’re allowing the exploration of ideas. Ideas for those of us who’d live in a purple house covered in fur.

I’m sure there are some mainstream manufacturers making high quality interesting tech things outside of Kickstarter, but nothing comes to mind. Do you know of any?


Header photo: Unsplash / Benjamin Child