Rinker's Opinion - What is your projection as to the long-term collectability of electronic devices such as iPhones and iPad?
inApril 26, 2012 - 11:18am
Icon status, displayability, and multi-generation usage are keys to establishing long-term collectability. The mobile phone, iPad, and game box formats such as PlayStation and Wii have reached icon status. They are “before” and “after” landmarks that help define generations.
However, icon status is not sufficient in itself to assure long-term collectability. While the personal/pocket calculator and Atari are icons, their collectability is limited. The number of collectors for these objects is in the high teens or low hundreds. They are saved more as curiosities than collectibles.
Displayability is a complex concept. Variety is one component. Is there enough variety to create an appealing display of 50 or more examples? Display consists of the object as well as the packaging. Most electronic devices fail as collectibles on both points.
In the case of game boxes and iPads, variety relates more to the games played on the first and the downloaded apps logos on the second. The physical case housing the object has minimal appeal. I can envision an example of a PlayStation and Wii appearing in an exhibition of hardware on which video games were played. I cannot imagine an attractive display of 50 variations of the PlayStation or Wii.
In fairness to Steve Jobs, who sought union between aesthetic design and functionality, the various reincarnations of the Apple computer and iPad look surprisingly similar. Admittedly, there are variations in case thickness and case cover motif. These differences are minor rather than major.
Color and pattern cover variations do occur on mobile phone, iPhone, and iPad cases. A display of these cover variations might have appeal. However, the basic surface shape remains the same. A good display offers variety in two as well as three-dimensional space.
The mobile phone has experienced multiple generation usage. I am old enough to remember life before the mobile phone. The iPad is still first generation. The difficulty is that technological change is more rapid in the twenty-first than in the twentieth century. I used a candlestick telephone with a rotary dial, a rotary dial phone, a push button princess phone, and a mobile phone that resembled a miniature World War II walkie-talkie. While the candlestick, rotary, and Princess phone designs lasted for several decades, the walkie-talkie phone design lasted for less than a decade. Today’s younger generations embrace change. They desire to own the “latest” model because of its advanced features, not its design. The modern electrical device has dozens of features its owner will never use.
Packaging and accompanying material also has changed. Simple cardboard boxes or blister packs now house product. Cardboard boxes no longer feature colorful surface art. Blister packs are designed to fit predetermined sale shelf space rather than attract an undecided customer. Buyers know what they want to buy before beginning the shopping process.
I do not own an iPhone or iPad. My excuses ranged from I am waiting for the next generation technology to I am too cheap to pay that amount for a product that will be obsolete within two to three years. Having written the above, I wonder if my deep seated resistance is not wanting to own something with limited aesthetic appeal.
Just as there is no long-term collectability in hand-held game devices, the same holds true for most electronic devices of the digital age. While the Game Boy is still around, its future is in jeopardy. Games such as Angry Birds can be downloaded to a PC, iPhone, iPad, or dozens of other hand held devices. The need for a Game Boy has vanished. My four year old grandson Marcelo plays his electronic games using his mother’s and father’s mobile phones.
Change and collectability are inevitably linked. New has to replace old to foster nostalgia. Rapid change is the enemy. Long-term use is critical. It is possible that future generations may not be able to think of an intelligent answer when asked: “what is your favorite _______?”