18 March 2006

At the sharp end

When I was little, it was standard for men to carry a pen-knife, along with pocket handkerchief, fountain pen, wallet, Letts diary and (perhaps) comb. Times have changed and the standard accoutrements men (and women) aspire to include mobile phone, iPod, PDA, and so on. It's not clear to me what need a pen-knife catered for in the '60s, which is no longer relevant now.

Manufacturers of Swiss army knives, Victorinox, must have been pondering the same question. They've launched several innovative products in the past few years. I thought the USB memory knife, launched in 2004, was clever, although there was potential for incompatibility in combining electronic memory device with tool for taking the stones out of horses' hooves. But they sold well and Victorinox were smart enough to produce a special version combining pen, torch and memory stick for air travellers.

This month Jonathan Margolis's 'Silly Street' product in the Financial Times comic 'How to Spend It' is Victorinox's latest launch, a knife including MP3 player, radio and voice recorder. Again the air-travel issue is resolved by being able to detach the digital component from the knife itself. But like Margolis, I'm not quite convinced.

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