2010’s Most Useless Item

Thanks to my friend Olaf I can now answer the question “What do you think is the most useless thing that went on sale this year?”, because he pointed me to Playbutton. It’s an anachronism which reminds me of these maddening beeping birthday cards. Its purpose: It’s sort of a read-only MP3 Player to wear like a button, because it has a pin on the rear. What sounds like a neat idea at first, unveils its downsides at further consideration:

  • single function device: play, pause, skip. Can have image on the front. “Yeah, but it’s a conversation starter.” Sure, but:
  • sharing not possible: You have to go to a store and get your own. Or order online, wait for the mail to arrive. How lame is that? Obviously (young) folks who are “on” 24/7 are not the target audience.
  • not user-editable: It’s read-only, so what’s stored on it when you buy it will stay there forever.
  • very pricey for the consumer (~$20): A lot of money to ask for a device that when taken to its pieces cost nothing. You get buttons and music for free. The flash chip holding the music is too cheap too matter. The conversation it allows me to have is not enough of a Free Prize to make me pay this much extra.
  • audience: people who are into buttons. Well, I might be wrong here, but I suppose that some who is not into buttons will suddenly become a fan.

Newspaper reports say that the record industry is “very interested” in this device. No surprise here. The point is they like it for the wrong reasons. Instead of seeing the added benefit a design icon like this, no matter how small its audience, might hold in terms of connecting a tribe, make it easier for people to spread stuff they care about, they just see “works like a vinyl disc, but smaller and with even better profit margins”. Sorry guys, this business model’s retired from business years ago.


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