A daily bulletin of news & opinion

20 April 2012

I am not a particularly pious person. And religious education always struck me as an odd subject to include on the national curriculum. Schooling atheist teenagers must be an unrewarding job. Perhaps because it was such futile task that the lessons often veered into philosophy and ethics.

Something must have stuck, though, as I recently recalled a particular lesson in which we discussed the philosophical puzzle “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”. Apple, I noticed recently, had made a similar metaphysical announcement in introducing their iPad 2 screen. The new technology apparently featured “pixels so small your eye cannot see them”.

Does the tree make a sound and, if the pixel is too small to see, can I see it? The tree puzzle is about perception – how do we truly know if something exists if we cannot see or hear it. Of course, the tree does make a sound – and the effect of the too-small-to-see pixels is noticeable in the improved sharpness of the picture. But how much sharper can the picture get and how mega or micro does a pixel have to be? Frankly, who’s counting pixels these days anyway?

Megabytes, megapixels, high-def… these have become meaningless bullet points on the packaging of all gadgets. The real puzzle for technology is: if we have reached a point where improvements are unnoticeable, how do you convince your consumers to buy your product? And if innovation is innocuous, why bother striving to improve it? If we can’t see or notice it, do we want it?

Soon we may not be able to discern the differences between the products of Apple, Samsung, Sony and the rest. And taking away price and production line ethics, it will predictably be design and content that determine whether we can perceive the value in a device. Fortunately for Apple they excel at both of these things, which is worrying for the competition. However if any tech giant’s next product only has invisible features, then even their most pious fans may be questioning their desire to acquire.



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