Audrey, Anyone?

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.
Audrey magazine advert

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.

Notes
1. Wiki­pe­dia has an entry, here.
2. A short chapter we came across in doing back­ground research on Audrey is Leslie Regan Share’s The gen­der­ing of a com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­logy: the short life and death of Audrey”, in Out of the Ivory Tower: Fem­in­ist Research for Social Change, edited by: Mar­tinez, Andrea and Stu­art, Meryn. Toronto: Sumach Press.
Wiki­pe­dia has an entry, here.
A short chapter we came across in doing back­ground research on Audrey is Leslie Regan Share’s The gen­der­ing of a com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­logy: the short life and death of Audrey”, in Out of the Ivory Tower: Fem­in­ist Research for Social Change, edited by: Mar­tinez, Andrea and Stu­art, Meryn. Toronto: Sumach Press.

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