16th Century Japan and iPods

For three centuries, starting in the mid-1500s, Japanese society consciously took a step “backward” after having made two in the other direction. As Noel Perrin wrote in Giving Up the Gun, the Japanese knowingly gave up the “advances” they’d made in firearms. Instead they “reverted back” to swordsmanship. It was probably for the better, since Akira Kurosawa movies would have been a lot less awe-inspiring if ALL his characters finished one another off with a bullet from a distance. (Remember that scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?)

I haven’t thought of that piece of Japanese history–perfect fodder for a sociology thesis though it may be–for years. But it came bubbling back to me today when I was [catching up on] reading the 9/20-9/26 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Arik Hesseldahl wrote a review of the new iPod units. As it turns out, the updated Nano is taking a step backward.

After launching three previous models with video capability, Apple’s latest Nano eschews video in favor of a strictly musical bent. Per Hesseldahl, “Apple rarely reduces its products’ capabilities.”

The author then goes on to rationalize that the Nano’s video capabilities were always limited by the size of the device’s small screen. With the sharp resolution–and larger screen sizes–available on the iPod Touch, iPhone 4.0 and iPad, Apple made a strategic decision to let Nano do what it does best (i.e., audio). While it’s a decision that flies in the face of the convergence crowd, I think it’s hard to argue against.

It proves that Apple is capable of changing course with its products midstream. And it could lead to the conclusion that ridding itself of firearms technology might have been an advancement for sixteenth century Japan as well.

Bad Design Can Floor You

Design is a big deal.

It’s what makes those clothing and fabrics mavens so cherished once their creations are showcased on catwalks.

It’s what leads a chef to place that little extra spritz of chocolate sauce along the rim of your dessert plate.

And it’s inarguably what helped Apple last week dethrone Microsoft as the number one tech stock (thanks to iAnything).

But design does not just describe how something looks. It also can dictate how something (or someone) behaves. It can direct you to drive a certain way, hold a bottle differently, and flat out do something a certain way.

Sometimes, done wrong, design can make you shake your head in disappointment.

My hotel offered me such an occasion tonight: