I know it is an act worthy of excommunication amongst the congregation of inventors, innovators and technology entrepreneurs to criticise Sir James Dyson. All those stories of success in the face of huge challenges, the amazing 5,126 prototypes that it took to develop the Dual Cyclone™ technology (vacuum cleaner) and “15 years of frustration”, makes criticism heresy.
The latest product to come from the legendarily inventive stable of James Dyson is the “Dyson Air Multiplier”™. This is a £200 ($300) desk fan.
The website shows people being amazed by the fact that air is coming from the device without any visible means of propulsion. It is clever, darned clever, reportedly taking “every discipline form Dyson’s 350-strong team of engineers and scientists to develop”; clever, but dumb.
Apparently by not having any blades (I bet it does – you just can’t see them) it prevents buffeting. Buffeting? Is buffeting a major cause of annoyance in the office environment? Is that seriously an unmet need? I know that I find buffeting unpleasant, but only when my Bloody Mary ends up in my lap at 30,000ft.
Even if I suffered from buffeting at my desk, I’m darn sure that I don’t value that need so highly as to pay £200 for a solution when I can get a buffeting one for £15 (I’ve put them next to each other to help you decide). I know the Dyson effort is beautifully designed, but it is not a work of art and is not going to achieve the iconic status of an Alessi.
Remember the Dyson washing machine, the £1,200 “Contrarotator”? Well Dyson got into trouble with the UK Advertising Standards Authority over that by claiming that it outperformed the best washing machines” whereas “Which?” magazine’s research had concluded that it was no better than its “best buy” Bosch machine (as reported in The Independent 21 June 2001). The Bosch was half the price. The Contrarotator has quietly disappeared, perhaps for the same reason that the “Air Multiplier” is likely to. Why?
I believe that Dyson is out of touch with the needs of their potential customers. Coming up with cool technology is of little use unless it fulfils a real need, and at a price that is commensurate with that need. The holy trinity of technology product development: design, market need and price. The Contrarotator failed to fulfil the need of providing better clothes cleaning than its competitors. The Air Multiplier and the Contrarotator are both crazily overpriced.
But maybe their next range of products will address this. They have recently filed patents for cube-shaped kettles, toasters, juicers and food mixers. According to the Consumers Association:
The Dyson team said: ‘Due to their various different shapes and sizes, these appliances cannot be closely packed together on the counter, resulting in an amount of wasted counter space between the appliances which can’t be used for other purposes.’
Is that a serious need? I’ve lived in flats with very small kitchens and I’m not sure what value I would have put on the few square inches of space saved by a square kettle vs a round one of the same volume. When I lived in those flats, I was a poor student who could afford nothing more. So, if that need existed, it did so in conjunction with a distinct lack of disposable cash. So Dyson’s pricing policy is likely to exclude it from the market it appears to be aiming at.
Maybe Sir James needs to get out and meet some ordinary people with ordinary needs, unmet needs.