Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 9/10/2006 HP has been busy staking out its Vision of the Future, and it looks like a manacle. Steady on, chaps.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Monday 9/10/2006

HP has been busy staking out its Vision of the Future, and it looks like a manacle. Steady on, chaps. I know things have been a bit dodgy at the top, but there's no call for symbolic silicon bondage.

Thing is, even if you do take the device at face value, its form still follows function. The device is a wireless hub: the idea is that it contains all the radios you need to connect to different broadband services as well as the local high-speed networking for your personal devices. Which makes sense, if you want to put all your wireless Net connectivity into one basket — but the chances are that as broadband wireless connection costs fall, every device will grow its own.

What such a bracelet would have to contain, though, is every piece of personal ID you need to access multiple networks. It would be an absolutely unavoidable beacon on the face of the wired planet saying exactly where you were and what you did — perhaps not the sort of thing on which HP should overly dote. It would be a single point of access where the state or a disgruntled supplier could close you down, or use it to identify you as an undesirable not to be permitted access to places or things. As Orwell said: if you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever. Only in this case, it'll be a prune-faced bureaucrat stamping "access denied" on the back of your hand — forever.

However, don't worry. HP has taken the wristwatch as its guiding metaphor — and wristwatches are so over. Adopted in the first world war as a necessity for trench warfare — "synchronise watches, we're going at oh five four five ack emma" — the device has served as status symbol and tool to enslave the waged of the world ever since. But it's losing ground fast: now everyone's got a mobile phone with the time on it, unadorned wrists are in. Pre-WW1, the wristwatch was a girly adornment, because the fairer sex wore bracelets without waistcoats, and it's going that way again. It's certainly unthinkable for any but the most screamingly metrosexual of men to wander around with HP's confection dangling from their radiocarpal joints. Pull a Nokia out of your fob pocket, you great hairy brute.

And every big company that's tried to do big things with wristwatches has made a great nana of itself. One thinks of Sinclair's Black Watch, one thinks of Microsoft's Spot Watches, one thinks of Intel's Microma. One even thinks of HP's HP-01 "wrist instrument" (which, although no commercial success, is admittedly desperately collectable).

Thanks for the futuristic dystopian frisson, HP, but don't bet the company on it.

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