Reactions to innovation

imageI’ve been watching the reactions across Twitter to Berg’s Little Printer being launched with interest in the past couple of days. There seems to be something of a dichotomous split between those in the world of consumer technology and design getting straight online to order one (or wishing for the £200 to be able to do so), and those from the more traditional IT world stating incredulity that anyone would want to buy such an expensive, low-quality printer for such a high price (my favourite barbed comment being “what the… someone wants 200 quid for a spectrum printer connected to twitter?”).

It’s an interesting example of how innovation is often rejected. Or how some crazy yet pointless ideas can gain traction within our socially networked world. My own personal jury is out.

I had the pleasure of a few hours with Matt Webb from Berg a few months ago. I had a long chat with him about what his company is all about, and what they are trying to achieve with Little Printer – I’m not a journalist, so will leave commentary on that with the professionals in their field. My understanding of the product, though, is that it’s a small thermal printer like you would find in a shop cash register, packaged in a very appealing way (to some), attached to a local proprietary wireless network (the Berg Cloud – which might well be the most interesting thing about the whole product in the long term), which is then able to subscribe to information feeds delivered via the Internet. Every morning (or whenever you choose) you have your own little single-column personalized newspaper printed out for you.

It’s an interesting idea. The design values and aesthetics are high throughout although that doesn’t mean high resolution with a thermal printer (which might fly in the face of retina display-fashion), and there is an anthropomorphism throughout which might kick off another debate in the anti-skeuomorphism crowd. Then there is the issue of using paper, which is particularly interesting given recent “paperless organisation” ambitions I have heard recently from certain tech CEOs.

Will Little Printer change the world? Well, on the one hand some of the early reactions to Twitter were that it was unimaginable that such a restrictive service would be useful in such a data-intensive world. There is also a long tradition of technological incumbents being unable to see the value of a new technology that challenges their existing world view (see Tim Wu’s book The Master Switch for a detailed discussion on that subject). There again it might amount to nothing more than a gadget fad amongst the hipster brigade for a few months before they find the next new new thing to rave about, leaving untold stocks of thermal paper gathering dust in Shoreditch warehouses.

But there’s definitely something endearing about Little Printer. There’s also something really interesting about the way in which Berg have built up so much interest in the product over the last year – something that we should be proud of coming from ideas generated by a small, high end British design shop. But as to whether it will change the world… well, my views on predicting the future are that it’s a fool’s game. But there’s something about Little Printer that taps into the past that might give it some welly.

Published by mattb

Matt has spent the past two decades helping organisations to make sense of where technology, media, content and people collide. At the moment he is helping Microsoft increase its influence across the marketing industry within the UK. Previously he’s worked for BBC Worldwide, Reuters and Imagination amongst others.

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