I just dug out my old Audrey, a computer appliance designed for the home released in 2000 and then canned in 2001. What a shame to think a device with such thoughtfully designed software and hardware was so quickly relegated to the dust-pile of e‑history. Anyway, seeing Audrey reminded me Laurel Swan and I presented a paper on Audrey at 4S in 2005 titled “Audrey, Anyone?” The abstract is below. We did manage to interview some of the original designers on the team including Ray Winninger. However, things got the better of us and we never wrote it up in finished form. Here’s the abstract we wrote:
Billed as the first digital home assistant, Audrey was released in November 2000. Jointly designed by the famed design firm, IDEO, and the tech industry’s then flavour of the month, 3COM, Audrey was praised for its industrial design and innovative appliance-like approach to home computing. Six months later, Audrey was on her way to the proverbial glue factory.
Named, somewhat incongruously, after Audrey Hepburn, the domestic appliance was conceived in response to the heavyweight computing paradigm prevalent in the day. The premise was a computer designed for the home; a simplified device with limited input mechanisms, a basic feature set and a softened aesthetic (available in five ‘kitchen matching’ colours: meadow, linen, ocean, slate and sunshine).
Interleaving interview transcripts recorded with two of Audrey’s design team with written materials available on the appliance, we consider why a technology failed that on the face of it was thoughtfully designed and strategically targeted. Self-reflection from the designers will be set against the hyperbole surrounding the product’s release and its cult status achieved in subsequently spawned online forums. Overall, the collected materials will be amassed to critically reflect on the sudden demise of Audrey. Given the lessons learnt from Audrey’s history, thought will also be given to whether it may be time to revisit the idea of an information appliance for the home and what form this appliance might take.