Coming Next: Useless but Absolutely Intriguing Technologies

Over the past several months some of the most active conversations in this space have involved companies seeking greener solutions to their supply challenges. So it was with some befuddlement that I observed the extraordinary size of the crowd around South Korean component maker {complink 3074|LG Electronics Inc.}, at last week’s Mobile World Congress, where an absolutely magnificent, but almost perfectly useless, piece of technology was on display.

LG chose the conference to unveil its new mobile handset, called the Optimus 3D, which the company claims can both show and record content in three dimensions. Appropriately, people stacked three deep to see a demo of the device. Presumably, if I had one on hand, I could show you the actual depth of the crowd, rather than just describing it. When one got to the front of the line, the demonstration was pretty basic: The phone could show you three dimensions without the user having to wear the bulky glasses necessary for 3D movies in theaters.

Now, yes, technology plows along, and the utility of a thing may not be so clear at the outset. One can easily imagine sending holograms will be a common and probably popular technology before long — dating Websites should patent it now. Perhaps someday in the distant future, doctors might use a 3D image sent by mobile from an ambulance to conduct an emergency, remote diagnosis. Or failing that, maybe an auto mechanic could do that, for a tow-truck driver.

But in Barcelona the LG display seemed more like the signpost marking the point of diminishing returns. Really, the phone was about gaming and social networking. All the displays were of games or personal videos. To see a demo, click here.

I mention this because, in a publication for supply chain experts, one can expect a question to arise that didn’t in Barcelona. That’s the question of why LG thinks this technology is ready enough to justify the enormous and complex sequence of supply and shipping and assembly that will be necessary to build and distribute this gizmo. For example: If you have a 3D phone, but no one else does, what do you receive on it? The press release from LG is not terribly encouraging:

    The LG Optimus 3D addresses the lack of 3D content issue — one of the biggest problems facing the 3D market — with a complete platform for a one-of-a-kind experience on a mobile device. LG’s most advanced smartphone to date will feature a dual-lens camera for 3D recording, a glasses-free LCD panel for 3D viewing and diverse connectivity options such as HDMI and DLNA for 3D content sharing anytime, anywhere.

It’s not clear I’m reading this right, but what I think the above says is that no content exists for a 3D phone, so they built a camera into the phone to create some, so the handset can have a reason to exist. Assuming you can convince one of your friends to buy an Optimus, you’ll be able to produce content, and then send it to each other.

The development of the technology generated curiosity, of course. But you can’t say honestly that anyone came away thinking they needed one of these things, or would any time in the future. After a few seconds of oohs and aahs , most drifted toward the tablet displays — those they’re ready to buy, and those they’re able to justify sourcing, assembling, and shipping halfway around the world, at great environmental and financial cost. In contrast, LG’s new toy felt like something done because we can , but something we hardly could justify.

20 comments on “Coming Next: Useless but Absolutely Intriguing Technologies

  1. Adeniji Kayode
    February 25, 2011

    Marc: This is really a mind blowing post. While still thinking about the content of your post, are you saying that the phone may not be of much use to common phone users or you think the technology came too early?. All inventions are suppose to solve a problem or invented for a purpose, with time LG will justify that technology soon.

  2. Adeniji Kayode
    February 25, 2011

    It's 21th Century,era of “strange technology”. I am not surprised at all at some of the inventions we will be seeing around soon.I feel one of the reasons for that is that all manufacturers want to stay on top and stay relevant as long as possible.

  3. Marc Herman
    February 25, 2011

    I suppose what strikes me is that a few weeks ago, I was writing about how nervous everyone was about the fate of the Suez Canal amid the Egyptian revolution, because transit through that waterway was so essential to world commerce and global supply lines. And a few weeks later I'm staring at a dazzling piece of technology that seems almost perfectly useless, at least for the moment, and thinking, “if they couldn't run the supply chain to make this gizmo, would I care?” It's a pretty odd change of perspective.

  4. Susan Fourtané
    February 25, 2011


    I doubt LG has developed a 3D phone without having content in mind. They may be waiting to see what developers come up with before exposing what they already have in mind. With 3D becoming more and more common I wouldn't be surprised that soon the LG 3D phone will become a success and some industries will even find useful uses for it. 


  5. Adeniji Kayode
    February 25, 2011

    Susan, I agree with you on that. I know they must have a goal or a target to have brought the 3D phone out in a time like this. with time, a better use for it would emerge.

  6. AnalyzeThis
    February 25, 2011

    There was a lot of debate on here about 3D due to Barbara's earlier article on the subject, but it seems to me that there are an absurdly large number of companies jumping on the 3D bandwagon despite the seemingly gigantic lack of consumer interest.

    Yes, the lack of content for 3D is a problem: why buy a 3D device if you can't view things in 3D on it? But the bigger question is… why buy a 3D device to begin with?

    I don't know about you, but I've never thought, “gee, my phone is great, but I wish it had a 3D screen.”

    For the most part, 3D is a gimmick. It doesn't largely never improves functionality or performance. So why bother?

  7. Susan Fourtané
    February 25, 2011


    Exactly. It would be absolutely pointless for a company like LG to go on with such a project, go on with manufacturing the product just for nothing, without a single goal or vision. 


  8. Marc Herman
    February 25, 2011

    I thought about possible applications. The most obvious one I thought of was that when Darth Vader takes the princess captive, she can call for help. Other than that, my bet would be gaming. I also wonder how this will parallel with Hollywood's 3D experiment, the reaction to which seems very much mixed. Which is all to say, I agree that developers have to be designing toward this or similar devices. But it's not at all clear that anyone actually wants this.

  9. AnalyzeThis
    February 25, 2011

    @Marc, haha, how silly of me to neglect to mention such an obvious use case!

    Now while I will reluctantly admit that perhaps 3D will have some staying power in movie theaters… I am skeptical as to the amount success it will have in the gaming industry.

    The problem is — echoing what I said earlier — 3D usually doesn't increase functionality. It's just a cool visual thing. If you take a boring game and give it 3D graphics, it's just a more gimmicky boring game. Just making something 3D doesn't improve the gameplay, and may in fact detract from it.

    Of course, we will find out soon enough if 3D in gaming has a future with Nintendo's 3DS. Who knows? It could flourish and be a raging success. But I'm not betting on it. Even if the 3DS system itself does end up overtaking the DS, success-wise, I wouldn't be surprised if a few years from now the 3D capabilities were largely ignored.


  10. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 26, 2011

    Whether a new technology is immediately useful or not is not a question. But it surely shows that the company is engaged in advanced R & D and will be the among the first to commercialise such new technologies when they become affordable for mass production. Honda of Japan keeps on announcing a lot of breakthroughs in their lab . Once they announced  a car which gave 1000 kms in just one litre of gasolene. Such car never came to the market but it enhanced the brand image of the company , that it is engaged in  R & D to increase the fuel efficiency of its cars.



  11. Tim Votapka
    February 26, 2011

    And equally important, they demonstrated a real desire to produce something of benefit…based on what the market might actually want.

  12. Tim Votapka
    February 26, 2011

    Hey I enjoy new technology as much as the next guy, but when it comes to gaming tech, I'm a little less enthuasiastic. If you want a 3D experience, don't play ball on an X-Box, go out and get hit in the noggin with a ball. Leave the 3D simulations and imaging tech in the industrial applicatons where it can do more good. Surgical training, diagnostic imaging, etc.

  13. Himanshugupta
    February 26, 2011

    I guess 3D is a crowd puller. Sony Bravia got a huge interest from people because people liked Avatar movie in 3D. I am though not sure how many TV sets did Sony manage to sell. i think 3D is the new HD. HD has/had the same problem as 3D. The content is quite limited and most of it is expensive.

  14. saranyatil
    February 27, 2011


    I agree with your point but, what is the point by engaging in R&D which will never be put to use it is just going to remain on the shelves. it will give wrong notions about the company it may even lead for people to change their opinion on brand.

  15. Ashu001
    February 27, 2011


    We all need products which do absoultely nothing in our homes…Otherwise how else are we going to fill our Gigantic Mchomes with clutter???

    Think of all those poor Tech salesmen who will suddenly go jobless???What about all those landfills which suddenly go empty???

    Seriously,Nobody thinks much about the effectiveness of recycling all these gigantic piles of Electronic Junk we produce every single day…

    If we just look at the Supply Chain that goes into Recycling electronic products (especially the part where they start stripping all items apart to extract precious metals and the likes from circuits)-The whole experience is extremely toxic for most people around us.



  16. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 27, 2011

    That is partly true Saranyatil. Not all that high tech R & D goes waste. First, it encourages creative and unrestricted development by the R & D think tank. Secondly some of the side products of such inventions are usable in the commercially viable products. The technologies developed in the NASA's space programs , though not directly usable in our day to day products ( too costly), have given birth to new materials , new medical aids and what not.  Slowly such advance technology seeps into our day to day products, for sure. Hence for any corporate having sufficient R & D funds it is very much essential  to invest in such cutting edge product development.

  17. Backorder
    February 28, 2011

    Investing resources in products that will never be put into mass production can hardly be the agenda for any R&D team anywhere in the world. And if it is, the aim is mostly to enhance company image, more of a marketing driven effort than the market itself. In this particular context, I think developers of 3D products genuinely believe in the experience and maybe five years down the line, if it does not have a major dis advantage that is, we could have moved to an all 3D eco-system.

  18. Backorder
    February 28, 2011

    Couldnt agree more with tvotapka. I dont understand how 3D could attract me to a game, which I dont want to play otherwise.

  19. Ms. Daisy
    February 28, 2011


    At first view of the LG Optimus 3D phone demo, I agreed with you on the silliness of the technology. But the more I pondered on its possibilities in the health industries, the more I see hope for its 3D capability in training medical students to view abstract basic science topics. It may also have success in the not too distant future as you stated “doctors might use a 3D image sent by mobile from an ambulance to conduct an emergency, remote diagnosis” in trauma care. I believe there are endless possibilities and the absurd and intriguing may actually become a best seller with more refinement and more apps. Who Knows!! 


  20. Ariella
    March 1, 2011

    I agree with prabhakar's observation about technologies finding their uses.  But I wonder what it says about society's values that today's advances are designed for recreation while yesterday's was done in pursuit of scientific exploration.

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