Ok, stop snickering… I’m referring to an article (“The Technology of Tiny Parts”) that PRODUCTS FINISHING published last month in which we profiled Professional Plating, a company whose expertise is the plating of minuscule parts used in hearing aids, telecommunication devices, computers and other electronic systems.
While I applaud the fact that ProPlate is among the best at what they do, the article made me do some serious thinking about the current trene—particularly in the consumer electronics industry—towards small. It seems that every new wireless phone, PDA or handheld computer is smaller than its predecessor. At some point, this trend begs the question, “when is small too small?”
There’s no doubt that, at least for now, the trend towards small will continue. Chip-makers have had no trouble making chips smaller even as they’ve become more powerful. And manufacturers of wireless and handheld devices show no sign of slowing down in the race to see who can cram the most features into the smallest unit. But as the old saying goes, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
To be honest, my motivation for raising this issue is selfish in nature. Yours truly does not possess the most nimble fingers in the world. It’s this limitation that has prevented me from trying some of the smaller handheld devices such as the Blackberry (wireless e-mail device), which loads 32 keys and a screen into an interface smaller than a 3x5 index card. To be fair, the Blackberry owners that I’ve spoken to insist that once you master the art of “thumbing,” the devices are rather easy-to-use.
Don’t get me wrong—small does have its advantages. The gadget-junkie in me is quite fond of small (especially when it translates to “light”). When you’re walking around with a “George Costanza” wallet stuffed into your back pocket, there are only so many more items you can stuff in your pockets before the resulting weight initiates a conflict between your waistline and gravity.
I will also confess that, in spite of my concerns, my pudgy little fingers have adapted to small more easily than I thought they might. I once regarded my Nokia 8260 wireless phone (roughly the size of a deck of playing cards) as much too tiny to ever be practical. But I’ve adapted relatively quickly—my chubby digits now pound away at the buttons with a dexterity that I didn’t know I possessed.
Still, I wonder when it will all stop. I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit in which the biggest laugh revolved around comedian Will Ferrell’s use of an ultra-stylish cell phone the size of a nickel. It certainly makes you wonder what’s in store for the future.