Mass production nurtures craving for metal

Had you noticed how small amount of metal (or wood, or leather) in casing of some computer or gadget product instantly sparks interest?

We were trained to use electronics enclosed in mass produced plastic. So we crave for original and sturdy materials instead.

Plastic

  • cheap;
  • colorful;
  • easily formed.

It is natural choice for cheap production on large scale. It is often perceived as fragile but can be quite sturdy – I had lost count how many falls my mobile phone survived.

Still consumer-grade plastic has limited lifespan, especially those kinds that loose color and are easily scratched.

metal

Photo by tanakawho

Metal

  • expensive;
  • boring looks;
  • hard to shape.

I had job related to airplane construction. One of colleagues had detail on his table – thin (like few layers of paper) ribbon of metal. I hadn’t ever seen anyone able to bend it even a little.

Such encounter with airplane-grade titanium alloy changed my perception of sturdy things forever.

Plastic may survive a fall but it is metal that enclosures things that need really reliable casing.

Overall

It is unreasonable and unproductive to expect metal used for everything where plastic fits just fine. Still being surrounded by fleeting and fragile things created habit of valuing and admiring metal.

Now the last thing we need to learn is distinguishing a bits of shiny and thin marketing metal from real metal that is part of excellent (and expensive) things that last for years and decades.

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7 Comments

  • Isn’t the idea that our gadgets are not supposed to last forever, they expect us to continually buy the latest version? The only real damage I suffered to any of my gadgets recently was when my son decided that the toilet would be just the place to throw my phone into. No amount of metal or any other casing would have helped me with that one. Thanks for an interesting post.

  • @Lyndi

    Yeah, gadgets are often expected to fail and some companies seem to engineer them for that. I had some gadgets fail almost exactly after end of warranty period.

    I drop my phone all the time but much more careful with other toys. I think it is screen size – the bigger it is the more I am aware things are fragile.

  • Companies like Nokia, Honda, Toyota etc design products that last. As for others well.. I suspect many of these are designed to fail as soon as their warranty runs out.

  • @valencio

    Yeah, I have some trust in Nokia. It takes some guts for phone to live long enough so I get tired of it (which is not in my character). :)

    Read rumors lately that they are going to get in netbook market. And push their tablets now that market is ready. Will be interesting.

  • Iggi

    On the other hand, metal cases have issues. They are not transparent for radio waves, so any wireless device cannot have full-metal case and even partial one requires thin balance between rigidity, good-look (antennas can be placed outside metal case), connection quality and battery life. Designers also need to be careful with internal wiring, since metal can cause short-circuits and insulation adds both to weight and size.

  • @Iggi

    Radio modules are an issue but without tech miracle required to solve it. Casing of my Nokia N810 is almost completely metal except upper-back where antennas (and plenty of those with WiFi/BT/GPS) are. Works fine for me. :) Only use it for few months but I had read plenty of long-time users refer to it as one of the sturdiest gadgets.

  • steel bar

    metal looks better then plastic, thus more luxury. why most plastic tvs now are silver? because it reminds you of metal. once they used to be black

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