I travelled yesterday on a French TGV from Bordeaux to Poitiers. Next to the plug socket there was a little metal holder for your mobile phone, so that you could charge your phone without either putting it on the floor or trailing a wire across your tray table.
This astonished me. In fact it was, as far as I can remember, the first instance I have come across where anyone in environmental or furniture design seems to have noticed that there has been a technological revolution in the last thirty years. (The second instance, come to think of it – the tablet holders on LCY-JFK flights are the other exception).
Recently I wanted to buy a comfortable chair for my home, which would have a small laptop table built into the arm. Now, broadly speaking, I find that in internet shopping a simple rule applies: “If you can imagine it, it probably already exists.” There is nothing so strange that an American has not tried to market it. In the past this rule has allowed me to find non-metallic “airport-friendly” braces (suspenders to American readers) which allow me to go through x-ray machines without setting off the metal detectors; it has allowed me to buy a clip-on cup-holder which holds your hot drink safely beneath the level of your laptop; it has allowed me to buy a kettle which I can switch on from an adjacent room.
Does such a chair exist, however? I have been intermittently searching for several months and found nothing.
Are architects and chair designers – rather like lawyers – spectacular luddites – or do they use equipment which is so different from the equipment the rest of us use that they simply cannot see the problem?
Every train or aircraft journey could be made immeasurably better if seat-back tables simply included a small lip or flange to allow you to prop up a tablet against the back of the seat in front, without the risk of its collapsing into your meal. Stations, underground platforms and departure gates would be greatly improved by the addition of small ledges along the periphery, where people could stand up, retrieve items from a bag, or use a laptop. The advantage of these ledges would be that people would stand at the edges of the building out of the way, rather than milling around blocking the centre of the concourse while staring dumbly into their screens.
I am loath to criticise the Club World seats, which are in many ways a work of genius, but even there the addition of a mesh pocket to stow your “electronic crap” would be a marked improvement. The popularity of the Upper Deck on 747s is largely explained by the little stowage locker by your side.
I am sure a good designer (think of my cup holder) could come up with ten or more of these tiny improvements. In cost terms, when an airline seat can cost over six figures, they are a rounding error (and they may additionally speed the happy day when wired-in IFE can be abandoned altogether). But the difference they can make to a journey is spectacular. That little phone holster was the most memorable part of my journey: I almost forgave SNCF for the Gare du Nord.