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Confessions of a technobiophiliac

Mike Elgan | March 2, 2015
I'll admit it: I love tech with natural elements like wood, and I don't think I'm alone.

These can be less interesting because they're not created and designed by the consumer electronics manufacturer itself and often have an unsophisticated look -- like wood-shop projects or art-show crafts. There are exceptions, but many products that try to combine wood with tech fail to do it right.

But some win, and win big.

Turning up the volume on nature-oriented technology

Bang & Olufsen recently introduced a product called the BeoSound Moment, a unique tablet for controlling one of the Danish consumer electronics company's high-end home music systems. On one side of the tablet is a glass-and-metal interface with a touchscreen and control wheel for navigating your music collection, adjusting the volume, choosing tracks and so on.

But the other side of the tablet looks like a piece of wood about the size of a computer keyboard. In fact, it's oak. On the right side of this slab of oak is a circular indentation that is the industry's only "touch-sensitive wood interface," according to the company.

Swiping around the circle controls volume. Tapping in the center toggles the music on or off. Swiping horizontally advances the song selection to the next track. There's no screen, no letters or any other cues to the interface. Just a slab of wood that, inexplicably, responds to touch.

Even though the BeoSound Moment uses wood, it's in a special class of device that's distinct from wood-backed smartphones. The reason is that the wood itself, as a material, is part of the technology. It's not merely decorative -- Bang & Olufsen managed to create a touch interface made of oak.

Another example of this phenomenon is a multipurpose bedside device called the Wooden Qi Wireless Charger. It's a wooden box that functions as a wireless charger, a hands-free speakerphone and an alarm clock.

The charging part is like any other Qi charger, but the electromagnetic field passes right through the wood to charge the phone. The alarm clock isn't visible on some screen built into a wood housing, and the time and temperature are actually displayed on the wood. The light shines through the wood, making it a kind of computer display or monitor made out of wood.

With everyone bracing themselves for the coming Apple Watch, it's interesting to ponder the appeal of a less-than-smart watch made with wood from a company called Grovemade. (Grovemade is new to the watch business. Most of its products are wooden accessories for Apple products, such as iPhone stands and cases, or keyboard and iMac stands -- that sort of thing.)

Rather than just replacing metal components like the strap or casing with wood, as other watch makers have done, Grovemade actually uses wood for the watch interface. It's not behind glass, either. When you touch the watch face, you're in direct contact with Oregon Claro Walnut or Eastern Hardrock Maple.


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