Gold Out of Dross

The Back Story


Lots of reporters can join the cheering section for whatever technology project has lately captured the fleeting attention of business journalists, bloggers, and talking heads. But it takes a special kind of writer to tell you why a project is doomed.

Harry Goldstein is such a writer. This issue marks the fourth January in which we have taken up the ”Winners & Losers” theme, and of the 20 losers we’ve covered so far, Goldstein has ­written five of the more memorable.

There was the giant solar plant in rainy Bavaria and NTT’s plan to use people’s bodies to transmit high-speed data. And who can forget Microsoft’s clunky, pricey wristwatch, which displays sports scores in tiny characters, incurs monthly user fees, and has to be recharged frequently?

It would be hard to outdo such an array of misfires, but in this issue, Goldstein sets his sights on a flexible garment display dubbed Lumalive from the Philips Photonics Textiles group in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The cloth incorporates an array of LEDs that can be programmed to flash messages and images. Philips thinks it will be irresistible to teen ­fashionistas and conference exhibitors looking to stand out in a crowd. But Goldstein’s sources took a dimmer view.

”Fashion maven Summer Hogan didn’t hold back,” Goldstein says. ”She called it a ’surefire flop.’ ”

And then there’s the history-repeating-itself angle. ”In 2000 there was a US $900 MP3 jacket wired up by Philips,” Goldstein points out. ”Hardly anyone bought it. In some ways, Lumalive is even worse: it requires its own phone number to program. And after all that, you look like you’ve been impaled by a lava lamp.”