Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: Technology

When monochrome should rule

I was in a deli near work yesterday, and used my debit card to make the purchase. So far, so ordinary. But then something caught my eye. The payment machine was new, shiny, and had a colour screen.

Now that may not seem like a big deal, but what is the demand for colour screens in a device like this? Let’s think about a card payment machine.

– It doesn’t belong to anyone (unless the business owner also runs the till)
– There is no experiential upside – you don’t stop using it because of the interface
– It’s not a “loved” device, like a phone, mp3 player or tablet
– You enter a price (till operator) or a Pin (customer) – that’s it

So why the hell does that need a colour screen?

Is this the end of the monochrome world? Happily not. There are still a lot of basic screens around, in stereos, on the phone in front of me (a Cisco IP phone), on bus stops. There’s a lot of virtue in keeping things this way – these devices convey simple information and have no need of the advantages that colour screens can bring. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to change in the next round of upgrades – the march to colour screens feels inevitable.

However, there is one device that seems to be resolutely black and white: the Kindle (and obviously, it’s imitators). I don’t have one, but I like the fact that it started in black and white, and is staying that way. It has a certain old-school charm to it. Plus of course it helps hugely with battery life, which isn’t a concern for the things I mentioned earlier (desk phones, stereos etc).

Amazon don’t release Kindle sales figures, but they are clearly in the millions. This seems to me to be the last non-colour big product release.

And although reading text has a certain logic of staying black and white, television, you would think, has left that all far far behind.

Except according to BBC figures (p22) there are 24,000 black and white TV licences registered in 2009 – from over 200,000 only 10 years ago. It’s an astonishing decline, although I suspect it will be a long tail that could drift for years.

So who are the B&W TV holdouts? I can only think of one group of people for whom it makes sense: the blind. You can get 50 per cent off the licence anyway if you are blind, but half of the full price – £72 or so – is a lot more that £24, which is the half price for the B&W licence.

Except… try buying a black and white TV. I’m sure it’s do-able, but it’s not easy. Currys don’t sell them. Nor do Argos.

How skiing is missing a trick

Disclaimer: I’m skiing this week.

Skiing is an expensive sport. There’s the clothes, equipment hire, the ski pass, and the travel to and from the resort. And that’s before you see the prices on the restaurant menus.

Skiing is also quite a high-tech sport. The equipment and technology changes almost every year, with different types of ski, cleverer glasses and goggles. I’ve seen Russians wearing what looks like kevlar body armour, skis of all shapes, all sorts of clever kit.

But one area where the whole experience is failing to keep up is in data and mapping. There are two things that are just screaming out for a bit more thinking. If these exist, I’ve not seen them.

First – congestion maps. In every ski resort, there are big boards with a map of the area, showing lifts and runs that are open and closed. Would it be so hard to also show which runs or lifts have the most people on? Queuing at lifts is a pain. Why not show the congested parts of the resort, so that skiers as a group can regulate their movements? If you can do it for cars, you can do it for ski resorts.

Second – give skiers their own data. Every resort now issues ski passes that contains a chip to get through the gates and on to the lifts. For a small surcharge, why not give skiers the option to download which lifts they have been on in their holiday, and map them to show where they have skied?

This would be a fantastic addition to any holiday for competitive skiers. How many miles did you ski? How far did you get? You could share maps, create groups and league tables – the possibilities are vast. It’s such a missed opportunity.

The technology is in place, all it would take is just making the data available to the user. Each pass has an ID number, and each issuer has a record of who bought it  – just make it available online. A ski pass costs anything from 30 to 70 euros per day – and a week pass is almost always in three figures. Just add on 15 euros for the data administration – or build it into the price. Everyone would love it.

The only argument I’ve heard against it is that anyone who cares can map their runs using GPS on their iPhone or similar. Except – who wants to incur mobile phone data roaming charges abroad? They can run into the thousands.

Give us our ski data! I know, I know. I’m sure there won’t be a big campaign for ski data transparency, but if there is, let’s say it started here.

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