Off-Topic: Colder Weather and (Consumer) Electronics

The colder season is coming fast here in Uppsala, and it is time to bring out gloves and warmer jackets. Even if we have had some nice sunny pretty warm days (up to 15 degrees Celsius!), we are getting into October soon, a month where there is usually some day of freak snow fall.

Another sign that it is getting colder is the reaction of consumer electronics.

The plastic in the cords for my earpieces for my iPod gets noticeably stiffer when temperatures drop down towards zero, and the touch wheel tends to work worse in colder conditions. Not to mention trying to operate a touch wheel when wearing gloves. Most times, it just does not work at all.

It really makes one wonder how designers test these things, and whether they really think about common types of weather across the globe. I can see a problem with designing things in a climate like Northern California, where it never particularly overly hot or in any sense cold. The designers just do not naturally experience having to work equipment in minus twenty degrees and snow fall…I think that could lead to some different choices in materials and designs, seriously.

Case in point: last time I was on a skiing holiday, we had pretty nice warm temperatures between minus ten and minus five degrees. The iPod headphone cords were sufficiently rigid at that temperature that you could hear them rustle against themselves and my clothes. Seriously, minus ten is not a particularly severe temperature. I have some friends who design forestry equipment that works in Siberia. Minus forty in the morning. Or try living in nothern Finland or Norway — civilized areas, but you can expect many days of minus twenty (which is a temperature where you can easily be outside given sufficiently good clothing).

I managed to kill the battery of my mobile phone last winter as well, as it did not particularly take well to walking in minus ten-like temperatures while on the phone. Fortunately, the battery could be changed to a new one, which is pretty necessary when using portable electronics in cold weather. I guess severe heat can be just as bad for electronics, it is just rarer for me personally.

Obviously, most keyboards on phones are too cramped to be worked with heavy gloves.

Maybe the consumer electronics industry should think a bit like the automotive people who have to make sure things work between minus 30 and plus 80 (or something similar to that).

I guess this goes into a rant category, as electronics will keep being designed for benign environment and “normal” temperatures. Bad luck for us living in colder climates… or maybe a niche to be exploited. People still look for the classic Ericsson R310s: one of the most rugged phones ever made…

One could think of a similarly toughened music player. And accessories made to work well in severly cold weather for use on skiing trips, Arctic research expeditions, and by Siberian loggers. Huge market here, somewhere, right?

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