But, the Norpro device opens cans beautifully, and the Graves machine does not. The Norpro version allows one to clamp the rim of the can tightly between the blade and the serrated drive wheel as the blade does its work. The blade rotates along with the drive wheel, helping the process and delivering a rotary cut. The Graves version requires that the can be held rather skillfully against a stop as the smaller drive wheel drives the can against a stationary blade. My wife has learned the necessary skill to hold the can in exactly the proper position in the Graves can opener so that the can will behave. I have not learned the necessary skill, and have to put up with re-starting the cut several times as the can is rejected, hopefully into my hand rather than onto the floor.
To me, two great lessons are apparent from these two can openers. The first has to do with the power of the more emotional aspects of product quality discussed in my Good Products, Bad Products book. For my wife, these are more important than the crummy can opening job the Graves model does. The second is that good performance should be required before a product can be called good. Designers are often justifyingly criticized for exciting and beautiful products that don’t do their job well. For me, the Norpro can opener does its job so well in comparison with the Graves can opener that it is an excellent product, independently of its lack of sophisticated form. Furthermore, the Norpro model costs less and has fewer parts to break.—and it opens bottles to boot.
Finally, why do we need electric can openers? Years ago, cans were heavily used to preserve and distribute food, but now we have gone toward plastic containers and packages, frozen food, and rapidly delivered fresh food. We use much less canned food than we used to, so the can opener does not see nearly as much service. The hand-operated device can easily be dropped into a drawer when not used, dropped as a unit into the dish washer, and does not require an outlet plug or use electrical energy (not that energy for electric can openers ranks high among global problems).
I have an old electric lunch box in my office. It is made of aluminum and shaped like a standard lunch box, except it has a heating element in the base and an electric cord coiled in a compartment. Above the heating compartment is a chamber with a lid to heat soup or other hot food, and a small surface to make toast or grill a sandwich. I show it to people because most of them have never seen such a thing, and it invariably makes them laugh, because it seems like a foolish thing. But I don’t think it is as foolish as an electric can opener.