From: Rohit Khare (Rohit@KnowNow.com)
Date: Sun Sep 24 2000 - 01:41:13 PDT
September 24, 2000
Modo: A Life Coach to Hold in Your Hand
By PENELOPE GREEN
MODO looks like a clam or a walnut or a beetle. It sits nicely in your hand,
and its rubber "tongue" untoggles from its hooked carapace to reveal a
little screen. Each Modo comes packaged in a vacuum-sealed hard plastic and
silver paper wrapper, and when you open it, you can hear a whoosh. "Like
it's sealed for freshness," explained William Lynch, a Modo promoter. "Like
a pill, a vitamin," he continued, encouragingly. "Take your Modo."
Mr. Lynch is the vice president for marketing of Scoutmedia, Modo's maker, a
two-year-old, San Francisco-based wireless company. Mr. Lynch described Modo
variously as a personal lifestyle device or a synergistic linking of
fashion, media and technology or, breathlessly, a new paradigm.
You might call Modo a rubber- and-plastic listings magazine, like Time Out
in a pager, because it displays over 1,000 reviews of restaurants, stores,
movies, concerts, clubs and bars. You don't have to master anything to use
one. There is no keypad, but little dials help you navigate. Reviews are
arranged Zagat Survey-style, by category. Or choose "Gambles," which
randomly selects listings in all categories.
Modo also has magazine touches like bylines and tiny features 100- word
interviews with random New Yorkers in random bars, for instance as well as
a horoscope, gossip and columnists. The writers are referred to as
"characters," local night life celebrities, identified only by first names.
The lone woman is, oh dear, a fashion editor. They file weekly dispatches,
stream-of- consciousness riffs about the places they're going to, the Pumas
they're buying. If things go according to plan, there might be advertising.
Modo even boasts an editorial office, with four young editors and twice as
many grape and blueberry iMacs housed in start-up squalor on West 17th
Modo has a cheeky, sometimes unfathomable, voice "Sci-fi lily pads perch
on biomorphic chairs," it says cryptically in a review of Rhone, a grim new
restaurant on Gansevoort Street. All the better to bait its hoped-for users,
"socially active urban people 18 to 34," according to press materials, or
"the 21-year-old Gap manager," Mr. Lynch said. The content will change when
you go to another Modo city San Francisco and Los Angeles by the middle of
October; Chicago by November; Atlanta, Boston and Miami by the first quarter
of next year; the year after, perhaps, the world. Since their debut in
Manhattan last week, Mr. Lynch said, over 2,800 Modos have been sold, for
$99 each and no subscription fees.
"Feh!" you say, just another adorable gadget, all gummy with information. A
Tamagotchi for grown-ups. Or worse, a new East Side Spirit? And at $99, what
if you should leave it in a taxi? (Note to sociology doctoral candidates:
why not study the rate at which all handheld gadgets are being lost
nowadays, and analyze the social costs?) Your heart goes out to the four
kids on 17th Street, and you pray that they get a nice run.
Can a wireless magazine be a player? Michael Wolff, the media columnist for
New York magazine and author of "Burnrate: How I Survived the Gold Rush
Years on the Internet" (Simon & Schuster), told me that the future of the
wireless business is in mobile phones. "To create a new device that bucks
that, that exists in a parallel universe from either a Palm Pilot or the
cell phone, is essentially quixotic," he said. Modo, its creators point out,
has no communications ability, and never will.
Still, I don't have a Palm Pilot or a mobile phone. I've been yearning for a
handheld experience, and so I was eager to forge a relationship with the
thing. I liked the Modo manifesto, as told to me by Daniel S. Bomze, 26, an
alumnus of Ideo Product Development and one of Scoutmedia's three founders.
You can see Mr. Bomze, an extreme-sport enthusiast and a star, I am told, of
the video "Concrete Powder," demonstrating 360's on a skateboard at
freebord.com. I met him at a Modo party two weeks ago, amid the chocolate
martinis and handpainted leather skirts at Nanette Lepore's SoHo store. Ms.
Lepore is a fashion designer and, now, a Modo retailer. You can buy
glittering denim Modo bags appliquιd with a bronze sequined heart here for
$25. "Modo is about improvisation and overcoming inertia," Mr. Bomze said,
vibrating ever so slightly in his pale- blue polo shirt. "This is not a
personal productivity tool, and we'll never make anything like that."
I gave a Modo to Chee Pearlman, a design consultant and the former editor of
I.D. magazine, the design industry bible. She loved it. "There is something
about it that's sexual," she said. "It has a really nice hand interface. It
feels good, like a polished stone, which the Palm does not. I would say
that, given the sort of intellectual property that's being delivered, this
is a smart form factor." We discussed the Modo's tactile quality: you don't
just click it open or snap it shut, but really have to engage with it in a
physical way, stretching the rubber tongue toggle thing into place or
sliding it back out again with your thumb.
"That soft rubber feels organic, even anthropomorphic a soft creature
thing, like a clam," Ms. Pearlman mused. "Or maybe it's an eye, opening up.
So this is a fashion object, too? That's a very interesting trend."
It's true. Modos will have seasons. New colors will appear. And its little
"clothes" that tongue and a plastic strap you can use to attach the thing
to your belt will change colors, too. David Shearer, the owner of Totem,
the modern furniture store in TriBeCa and a Modo retailer, sees an
opportunity here. "They should do the Swatch thing and have limited
editions," he said. "You could buy two and keep one in the plastic, as an
investment." Totem was sold out of its first shipment of 35 Modos by last
I've been using Modo like a divining toy the Gambles feature makes it a
sort of updated Magic 8 Ball. My friend Bob asked it for a boyfriend, and it
told him to go to Shea Stadium: "Biggest scoreboard in the majors," it said.
(I swear I'm not making this up.)
One hot and rainy night last week, it sent me to Hell ("no brimstone, but
lots of red velvet") for a drink, with this koanlike preamble: "Eighth
deadly sin. Thou shalt not drink chocolate martinis." I haven't yet, but
people keep offering them to me. Then it suggested Rhone for dinner. ("So
very Y2K." And: "Go while it's still hot enough for a mention in the next
Bret Easton Ellis novel.") Hell was very nice and clean, though empty, at
9:30 on a Tuesday night. Rhone was mildly unpleasant and not at all clean:
the table was sticky, and a waitress wore a grubby white stretch tank with
no bra and draggy, dirty khakis. (Note to Rhone: $30 steaks and $9 glasses
of wine require clean tables and servers.)
The next day, it sent me to Cherry on Orchard Street "mod mod whirl.
Secondhand heap meets airy boutique" which was heaven. I tried on fringed
leather jackets for half an hour and fondled the Puccis, which were too
expensive, at $300 and $400 for each skirt and shirt. (Note to Modo editors:
Cherry is not "at Stanton." It is between Stanton and Houston. You might
write, "nr Stanton," to save space.) Modo tried to send me to the Apartment,
"just like your pad, if it was featured in Surface magazine," and then to
Ellis Island I can't remember what Modo had to say about Ellis Island: my
pen ran dry for a moment, and I haven't been able to retrieve the listing.
I started to balk at this point and went instead to buy fabric at Zarin's.
Modo wanted me to visit the Shaolin Temple, see "Dark Days," at Cinema
Village ("male mole-del Mark Singer spent two years in New York train
tunnels for this gritty documentary") and go bowling at Bowlmor. ("Those
pins are Day- Glo, baby they scream for late night partying.") Bowlmor is
two blocks from my apartment, so I took that as a sign to go home.
I checked my horoscope ("Brutal Astrology") while meandering down University
Place. "Your soul has been sad. Paint your toenails and speak Spanish while
rolling all over yourself in semi-darkness." Hmm, that doesn't seem like a
social activity. And then it hit me: personal ads.
That's what's missing. I called Ken Miller, editor in chief of Modo New
York, to tell him my brainstorm. He was charmingly Sphinxlike when I asked
if there were any plans like that in the works. He explained that in Japan
they really had adult Tamagotchis, which you could program with all sorts of
"If you get close to someone who is also carrying one, and who's programmed
it with the same sort of affinities," he said, "both Tamagotchis will beep."
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