Sony's $900 picture frame

The company's new memory cards are ultra-cool. But are they really good for anything?

Topics:

In Sony’s flagship San Francisco electronics store a salesman in a pressed black suit is initiating me into the mysteries of Sony’s $899 digital picture frame.

The photo frame consists of a small LCD screen surrounded by a granite-colored border, with a protective glass facing. The salesman picks it up and presses a small button cleverly concealed in its side. A control panel flips out.

He presses three or four buttons in quick succession and pulls up a number of small thumbnail images. This is how I am to select the digital photo that will appear in the frame. “Oh yes, I understand,” I say, not understanding at all.

And this, the salesman demonstrates, is how I display a slide show of all the images. “Mmmm …” I say knowingly. Meanwhile I’m thinking to myself, “But it’s a $900 picture frame!”

Here, in one small package, are all the sins of the big electronics companies: great technology and beautiful design combined with scant attention to usability or practicality.

Sony’s CyberFrame, introduced earlier this year, is one of a range of products intended to showcase the company’s new Memory Stick technology. The others include a line of digital cameras and, coming in January, the “Memory Stick Walkman” — a $400 digital music player that will be able to play MP3 files.

The Memory Stick is Sony’s name for a line of small storage cards, much like the compact flash cards used by portable computers and digital cameras. The company hopes to have a whole line of devices that use interchangeable memory. Thus, one can take photographs with a Sony camera, then take the Memory Stick out of the camera and plug it directly into a computer, a photo printer or, yes, the CyberFrame.

You Might Also Like

The idea is beguiling. There’s no good reason, for instance, why one should have to mess with a pile of cables to transfer images from a camera and a computer. The good idea, however, suffers from three key problems.

First, Sony is basing its new line of products on a storage technology that’s incompatible with existing formats already in wide use. “Memory Stick is built from the ground up to hold images, audio and data,” says Sony spokeswoman Dulie Neiman as she tries to explain the advantages of the format. OK, but other formats do a perfectly good job of storing all those, too. That’s the great thing about digital storage — once you’ve turned it all into bits, the hardware can’t tell the difference. One would imagine that Sony would have learned from years of trying to sell Betamax video recorders in a VHS world, but apparently not.

Second, as the world’s premier electronics company, Sony seems infected with the dangerous assumption that its products will sell at any price. The upcoming Memory Stick Walkman is to be priced at $399. Meanwhile, Amazon.com is selling a basic model of the Diamond Rio, a competing MP3 player, at $139.99 — $89.99 after a $50 manufacturer’s rebate.

Finally — and in this Sony is little different from virtually every other electronics maker — lots of great new digital appliances are afflicted with user interfaces that are virtual studies in unusability. Buttons that are impossible to push invariably call up menus that are equally impossible to navigate. You know the saying about having to get your teenage kid to program the VCR? With the new generation of electronics, things haven’t changed a bit. The control panel on the CyberFrame is cleverly concealed, looks wonderfully sleek and is impossible to manipulate.

Admittedly, the CyberFrame is something of a loaded example. Sony knows it will never be a mainstream product. “We have a long tradition of developing products that are really innovative to help consumers see the possibilities of the new technology,” says Neiman.

Fair enough. Auto manufacturers develop concept cars that will never even make it to market, and we still find them interesting or even innovative to look at. But it would be awfully nice to see a company like Sony, which devotes a huge amount of attention to turning neat technologies into beautiful objects, devote a little more thought to how they are to be used.

Mark Gimein is a staff writer for Salon Technology.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>