First Click: The clear appeal of transparent gadgets

May 12th, 2015


I still remember the first time I saw the transparent iSub speaker revealed by Steve Jobs in 2000. Designed by Apple and sold by Harman Kardon, it looked like a wormhole devouring a Death Star. I had to have it no matter how it sounded because I wanted to own a piece of science fiction.

There’s something undeniably appealing about transparent electronics like Sony’s new LED speaker lightbulb. See-thru cases on products like the Fx0 and Game Boy Advance give us a glimpse at the incredible magic within. It’s like watching an Olympic sprinter drop the sweats to expose a uniformed body purpose-built for the task at hand. Instead of muscle there’s silicon, instead of tendon there’s non-conductive substrate.

It happened again in 2002 as I watched Tom Cruise’s extended arms gesticulate across a transparent display in Minority Report. This is the future of computing! I thought with absolute certainty, despite the interface being a terrible idea. You can’t watch a sci-fi flick anymore without an obligatory sheet of clear glass acting as a computer. There’s Tony Stark’s LG-branded phone in Iron Man 2 (2010) and those tablets in Avatar (2009) and The Machine (2013) to name just a few examples. But Hollywood’s not alone in perpetuating these diaphanous dreams.

Sony Ericsson actually released an Xperia handset with a transparent display back in 2009 called the Pureness. The $1,000 candybar only existed because Sony wanted to flex its product muscle, yet it still found plenty of fans for what proved to be a lackluster device. It was followed by a double-sided touchscreen prototype from NTT Docomo in 2012 and that clear Polytron smartphone from 2013. Today’s industry trade shows are rife with transparent LCD monitors and refrigerator doors that never quite make it to mass production. It’s almost as if Hollywood was in cahoots with the consumer electronics industry to whet our appetites for those next-generation devices we’ll be using in the future.

Oh right, they are.

Five stories to start your day

  1. Sony put a Bluetooth speaker in an LED light bulb

    Lights and music are a time-tested combination, and now Sony finally offers them in one product. (The Rolly doesn't count.) Sony has just announced the LED Light Bulb Speaker in Japan, a Bluetooth speaker that screws into a light fitting to give your living space the gift of simultaneous sight and sound.

  2. Verizon will buy AOL for $4.4 billion

    Verizon has agreed a deal to buy AOL for $4.4 billion. That's a price of $50 per share and the transaction is expected to be completed this summer. The American mobile giant describes this as a "significant step in building digital and video platforms to drive future growth."

  3. Elon Musk denies scolding employee for taking time off to witness childbirth

    Elon Musk has denied writing or speaking a quotation in which he supposedly chastised a Tesla employee for missing an event to witness the birth of his child. The quote — lifted from an authorized biography of the entrepreneur by business journalist Ashlee Vance and published by The Washington Post — reads: "That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t."

  4. Watch what happens when Star Trek and Star Wars collide

    The fictional crossover — named by combining Star Trek episode The Corbomite Maneuver and the stuff Han Solo gets encased in — imagines that the starship Enterprise has somehow traveled far far away and long long ago, getting caught up in the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. Luke and Han are replaced by Kirk and Spock, and it's the Enterprise, at the hands of William Shatner, that finally finishes off the first Death Star.

  5. Former Apple VP Scott Forstall is 'delighted' the company is still doing well

    In an interview with The Wall Street Journal (which is his first since departing Apple), Forstall had no bad words for the company, saying he was "so proud of the thousands of people I worked with [at Apple] and with whom I remain friends," and adding that "I am delighted that they continue to turn out great and beloved products."

Aolol of the day