My colleague Scott Danish made an interesting point about the power of precedents in how people evaluate something new. We were talking about Pleo, a robotic toy introduced at DEMO 2006. Pleo is a cute dinosaur that’s supposed to be like a pet, capable of interacting with you and expressing emotions. It’s best seen rather than explained.
So why a dinosaur? Scott pointed out that, unlike a more familiar choice for a pet like a dog or cat, dinosaurs have more favorable precedents for consumer acceptance. First, we often think of dinosaurs as relatively slow-moving, stiff creatures. That’s a lot easier to represent robotically than, say, a dog, which Sony attempted with its now-canceled Aibo.
Perhaps more important, nobody has a real pet dinosaur. This lack of a tangible precedent gives people more room to project whatever they want onto little Pleo. And that matters because a key to any synthetic pet’s success so far—whether stuffed animal, tamagotchi, or robot—is the user’s imagination.
Bottom line: Put Pleo in an dog- or cat-like casing and its success as a toy gets more difficult. That’s the power of precedents.
[For a good write-up about Pleo in terms of Ugobe’s business strategy, see Rafe Needleman’s write-up.]