Thursday, March 1, 2012


Every so often, new electronics products enter the market and when the product refresh cycle is usually in the 5-6 years range the change from the previous generation to the new one is usually a big deal.
The recent launch of PlayStation Vita, the brand new handheld gaming console from Sony, is quite a big gaming event for me due to the strength and versatility of the device, but it also gave me one chance to sit back and think about an aspect of modern products many people still take for granted even here in Europe where the problem should be much more apparent: packaging and paper waste.
Let's start with the console box: we have our usual "get up to speed with/what's new" leaflets, warranty, and not much in terms of manuals. Sony quite wisely preferred to let you the user take advantage of the console's built-in web browser to read the manual online. So far so good you'd say, but "not so fast" I would promptly answer back.

PS Vita® games come in tiny cartridges and not optical discs anymore, so it is a good thing that they reduced the size of the packaging, but as you can see from the following picture, the difference in size between an otherwise empty box and the game cartridge (you can see the slot in which it was housed) is not trivial. Of course, a tiny box would make the box art less and less useful as you shrink the game box, it would certainly not be as pleasing to look at as before, but this beauty does cost a lot of plastic. Still, not too rage inducing because the decision not to go below a certain box size is not completely unreasonable and so it does not feel like a pure and worthless waste. With PS Vita® buying packaged games is not the only option though, all retail games are also available on Sony's PlayStation® Store and you can reduce your collection of plastic boxes while saving about 10% compared to buying it at retail and saying goodbye to the concept of "owning" your software too though (you are allowed to download it and use it according to specific terms, but re-selling your purchased game is not allowed or contemplated).

Say that you felt the need for a decent travel pouch for PS Vita® though and that some of the other accessories bundled with it made the official Travel Kit desirable. Well, you will see one big and definitely upsetting pile of paper grow taller and taller as you open the travel kit's box and take its contents out.
Each single item (travel pouch, game cards carrying case, car USB charger, micro-fiber cloth, etc...) comes with a lengthy instructions manual. Of course, there is not much to say about the above items in terms of actual instructions, but EU member countries' inability to accept either a widely used and relatively easy to learn lingua franca (English) be used as default language for instruction manuals, warranties, and other official documents for EU products manage to turn what could be one little page of text into a thick folded manual for each of those items. Maybe a thousand years from now they will use these manuals as a Rosetta stone like device to learn "ancient" Earth languages, who knows :)?
It is strange to say the least, coming from the same company who reduced the paper waste of their newly launched product by directing you to the online manuals for the console itself,  that Sony did not think about a QR code, a URL written down somewhere to find all the instructions at, to transfer all that waste of paper for each Travel Kit sold into a few sections of text on a webserver somewhere. Maybe Sony did think about it, but apparently either this is not really the case or we as society are not ready to transition to electronic documents with most of the products we purchase yet. All the more upsetting when you take some time and actually read those manuals and find that experience quite patronizing.

The icing on the cake, and the element I kept for last, is the PS Vita® official memory card, a custom Flash memory format which is even tinier than the already small game cards. This incredibly compact card is sold surrounded by a ridiculously massive package inside of which you have yet another thick and useless manual. Just to add insult to the injury, I guess.
You might believe the squared hole in the middle of the packaging is another attempt of mine at carefully unpacking the memory card, but in my defense I did not cause that... it is where the memory card was located. If you take the 32 GB memory card you would get a card of the same dimensions which is pretty amazing.
Looking at that the first thing that comes to my mind are the old jokes about the original Xbox's size.

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