With this post, I'm introducing a new category called "Thriller!" Over the last couple of weeks a couple of separate moments led me to this idea.
First was a post by Microsoft's Robert Scoble titled "Beat Google? Wrong Question", posted a little over a week ago. He said:
"Randy Holloway (who works at Microsoft): why Microsoft can best Google.
That was in response to a Tim O'Reilly post.
Personally, that's the wrong question.
What's the right question? "How do you thrill audiences?""
That stuck in my head...not about thrilling audiences, but thrilling in general...i.e., tech products/gadgets/software/services that thrill with a capital "T"!
Make your jaw drop...make you a believer in technology (or even more so of one if you already are a geek). It's the one thing that has driven my passion to become a continually self-teaching geek over the last 25 years or so.
The second event that crystallized the Thrill idea was Apple/Steve Jobs' introduction of the iPod Nano, something I've already posted about in passing. This introduction occurred on September 7th, a couple of days before Scoble's post.
This is clearly a product that has thrilled the mainstream, judging from the adulation by reviewers like Walter Mossberg, the media, and people lining up at Apple stores to get one, as can be seen in this Google News search. Technorati indicates close to 60,000 mentions of "Nano" in its blog index.
Don't worry...this is not another drooling post about how much I like the Nano (I do...I already got three, one in each color and one as a back-up).
It's about formalizing the notion of companies that "thrill" over time, and doing on-going posts on them, kind of like an on-going honor roll of companies that have managed to do so.
Some self-imposed ground-rules.
1. The "Thriller" category is for companies that have and/or continue to introduce "thrilling" technology products/software/services/gadgets (called "product" here on in for brevity), not about a one-off thrilling product.
In other words, no "one-hit-wonders"...they've got to have managed to do at least two, and hopefully more. So for instance, Sonos, a wireless music product by the company of the same name that I really like and have reviewed positively would not be categorized as a Thriller just yet. Let's see what they do next.
By the way, if you're interested in gadgets that I do like (although may not necessarily "thrill" like a Nano, see the "MyGadgets" category on this blog.
2. To Thrill, means a product has to have fairly mainstream appeal, along with the obligatory (and qualitative) make "one's jaw drop" characteristic.
I'll use Apple's iPod Nano as a clear example of this, given that this memory should be fresh in most readers' minds since it occurred less than a couple of weeks ago.
Generally it's a product that shows how something can be done a totally different way, that's really, really cool. Becoming a cult product over time helps.
3. The thrilling product has to hit a threshold of at least 7 on a 1-10 qualitative "Thriller" scale, where 10 of course is the best.
4. Although this is my list of companies that introduce thrilling products, you're more than welcome to suggest ones that you think meet the above criteria and more. As usual, feedback is more than welcome.
5. Finally, just to make the whole thing harder for me, I won't post OBVIOUSLY thrilling companies and current favorites like Apple and Google, at least for a long while. My last post on both these companies can be seen here if you're interested.
HP obviously has a long history of technology innovations, as starting in the 1930s, as you can see here from its website. I'm just going to focus on three products that over the couple of decades have thrilled me the most.
1. 1982: I'll start with my first favorite "Thriller" HP product ever, the HP 12-C financial calculator, introduced way back in 1982, the year I started work on Wall Street, with my first and only employer.
The 12-C is a product that has remained evergreen to over the years. Although HP tried to introduce successors to this product, none has ever surpassed the standard-bearer in the financial industry.
It's still sold by HP with the same name, look and feel, something that is of course highly unusual in the world of technology and gadgets.
Now I admit this product is not of appeal if you're not in the financial industry. But it the best and longest selling calculator made by HP, as HPmuseum.org describes it:
"Why does it continue to sell so well? Here are a few theories:
- It's a pure RPN calculator with no algebraic options to confuse the buyer or user. The HP-17B and 19B were algebraic calculators that were rather quickly replaced by BII versions with optional RPN.
- Business buyers are somewhat conservative. (Old business models out-selling new ones is not entirely unique to the HP-12C.)
- The average business buyer, is perhaps, less inclined to read the spec sheets and more inclined to buy based on word of mouth.
- It's good (and expensive) looking.
- Like all 10C series calculators, it has a nice solid built-like-a-brick feel that clamshell models can't quite match.
- It has become part of the well-dressed business uniform - easily distinguished from cheap calculators due to its layout.
- Perhaps it really does provide just the right functions in the right form factor at the right price."
I'd agree with all of the above, and give the 12-C an 8 on the Thriller scale.
"The HP 95LX, HP's first palmtop personal computer, was roughly the size of a large pocket calculator, but possessed as much computing power as a desktop personal computer system. It weighed only 11 ounces. The machine had a financial calculator, a telephone and address program, Lotus 1-2-3, a simple text editor and an infrared link for transferring data.
The 95LX is widely considered HP's first PDA (personal digital assistant). It was the first palmtop computer with built-in Lotus 1-2-3."
To this day, when I think about handtop computers and what they could/should be with all of today's features, the 95LX comes first to mind. This one like Apple's iPod, did improve with different versions, with the HP 200lx being noteworthy as well. I'd give it a 9 in terms of the thrill factor at the time.
"At the time of its introduction in 1993, the HP Omnibook 300 was the smallest and lightest PC on the market to feature a full-size keyboard and full VGA (video graphics array) screen. It weighed only 2.9 pounds and was based on the Intel 386 processor. It included Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word and a pop-up mouse."
Even though there were many laptops out there around that time, this product was the equivalent of the iPod Nano today in terms of rocking people's notion of how light and portable a laptop could really be.
You pressed a button on the keyboard, and out popped a rectangular, plastic mouse-on-a-stick on the right. You were out of luck if you were left-handed. It was very, very cool.
The series was upgraded over the years, and I think I owned at least three of them over as many years. I would rate this a 9 as well in terms of its thrill-ability factor at the time.
There it is...yes indeedy...there was a time when HP was almost as cool as Apple in terms of its ability to think different and be cool and cutting edge...admittedly these are but a few anecdotal personal examples, but hopefully you get the idea.
Again, thoughts/comments are welcome.