In recent years I have seen an increasing trend using powerful technical terms in the general marketing activities of companies. This is combined with an increase in the number of press releases for new consumer electronics products and underlying technologies. At the same time I have also seen an increase in the misuse of technical terms in these news articles.
First of all, I write about technical topics, electronic displays and such, where technical terms are of utmost importance. Writing about aspects of this technology requires you to acquire a clear understanding of the underlying technology and what certain terms really mean. This field has become very murky lately, with many publications not bothering to check the facts in marketing releases, just to keep up with the rising amount of new technologies and products. I am very aware of the time pressure, especially during large exhibitions, that my colleagues and I are facing bringing the latest news to all our readers in a timely fashion.
When you search the web for a particular new technology or product you will see that there are many articles published about the same topic within a few hours from news outlets around the globe. You have to ask yourself if any one of these articles is including a fact checking step at all. How is it possible that a news outlet in India publishes news about the latest iPhone with an hour of its release? There is only one logical explanation, we all believe what the press release is telling us. This goes for all of us including yours truly. In this case, I am guilty as charged. We just do not have any other choice.
This is certainly justified for a press release about the new iPhone. First of all, Apple has a good reputation for not feeding completely wrong information to the media. Misleading, maybe, or pointing in a particular direction, but not entirely wrong. Secondly, a new iPhone cannot be tested seriously by a third party until it is released to the public, which happens typical several weeks after the first announcement.
A lot of other technical information, on the other hand, should be scrutinized a little more than is typical in today’s news articles. Here is an explanation of what I mean. Technical terms by themselves are not as clear cut as we often assume. I am referring to clear cut technical terms that have a definition somewhere written in a standard or the like.
Even Defined Terms can be Unclear
For example, FHD resolution of a display is clearly defined as 1920×1080 pixels. As you all know, this clear statement is much less clear when we look at different technologies achieving the same thing. First, there were 1080i and 1080p technologies and after we figured this all out, we are now learning that we are all wrong if we follow the ideas of the proponents of sub pixel rendering. I mean nothing is clear cut, black and white even in our highly technical field. If you think I am wrong, please explain to me the struggles of the projector industry to agree on the basic definition of brightness.
So what I am trying to say here is that our technology is difficult enough as it is. We already face hurdles in coming to an agreement among technologists on what is right and what is plain wrong. Now on top of this issue, we are looking at the effects of marketing units trying to position a new product in the market by telling us about the wonderful technologies that their newest product contains.
By now you have realized that I am talking about technical marketing. This is the field where science meets the artistic freedom of marketing campaigns. While technology papers are striving to communicate technology and scientific results, marketing publications have only the goal of making you want to buy one of the products they are promoting. Marketing is sometimes considered a field where reality has morphed into a realm of wishful thinking. Technical marketing is when you try to sell technical products to these consumers. As a first step, you publish technical data, so these can be verified by measurement from competitors, right? Maybe, maybe not. And this is only the easy stuff.
When is a Hologram not a Hologram?
In recent years, the use of technical terms has become even more blurred by the use of these terms in a way that misleads the consumer completely. As one of the most recent examples, I want to point my finger at the Microsoft HoloLens device. Announced as the first holographic computer device, it has very little to do with an actual holographic display as being developed by some folks around the world. I admit, the name HoloLens is ingenious. It suggests something like a holo-something display is being used. Microsoft seems to be stating very clearly that the user will see a hologram when using the headset. I don’t know, but for me the technical definition of a hologram is very clear. It involves the fact that a hologram not only carries the amplitude but also the phase information of the responding light beams. Of course this is very technical and can be easily re-written by some marketing folks at Microsoft. I assume that Wikipedia will soon publish a new article to include the Microsoft definition as well.
A similar case is the announcement from Guangzhou OED about its new graphene e-paper display. While touting the potential advantages of graphene, the company suggests that the use of graphene inside their display will make the display more flexible, stronger and cheaper. While being very fuzzy on how they use graphene in their display, it seems that they are using the material in their transparent front electrode. Nobody ever called an LCD an ITO or silver display, just because the electrodes were made from these materials.
All of these issues raise a good question: who is to blame here? Is it the writers who are being paid for bringing news to the public or is it the technical marketing departments that bend technical terms in the name of consumer interest. And more importantly, where will this trend lead? You decide.
– Norbert Hildebrand