At any rate, stagnation is occurring, which historically can be recognized by how different you are told things are. The iPhone and the Galaxy S 4 — what could be less alike, judging by the Super Bowl ads to which we will no doubt soon be subjected? Except they perform the exact same tasks, using almost identical interactions, access the same 10 or 20 major Internet services, and, in many important ways, are as physically indistinguishable as two peas in a pod.
The aspects in which we are told they differ, from pixel density to virtual assistant quality to wireless speed, are red herrings designed to draw the consumer’s attention; like a laugh track or “applause” sign, they’re signals that these, and not the innumerable similarities, are what you must consider. That they are not self-evident and you must therefore be told about them is testament to their negligibility.
These parlor tricks Apple and Nokia and Samsung are attempting to foist upon a neophilic customer base that desperately wants real magic, but which will accept sleight of hand if it’s convincing enough.
Tablets, too, are this way, and TVs, and fitness bracelets, and laptops, and gaming consoles, and so on and so forth.
This isn’t exactly a problem for consumers, since generally it means things have reached a high degree of effectiveness. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everything is great! TVs are huge and have excellent pictures. You have coverage just about everywhere and can watch HBO shows in HD on your phone on the train. Laptops can do serious work, even cheap ones, and not just Excel and email — video editing, high quality gaming.
But when everything is great, people stop buying versions of things. And if you can’t do to the iPhone what the iPhone did to the Treo, you need to start putting bullets on lists.
Yet at some point, the list gets so long that people stop reading it, or else stop believing it. This is the inflection point I think we’re approaching. No one bought fridges that tweet whenever they’re opened, and no one buys a Galaxy S 4 because of some obscure networked dual-camera selfie stamp book, or whatever other garbage they’ve crammed into that awful thing.
There is a fair amount of truth to this, but there are quantitive changes resulting from gradual improvements in quality.
The tablet phenomenon is one such. Apple’s ill-fated Newtown and Microsoft’s Tablet PC were early to that war – too early, probably – and both failed due to OS problems, weight, battery life, and software availability.
Most of these problems were due to hardware insufficiencies. But the gradual improvements in hardware tech finally allowed Apple to debut the iPad, the wildly successful little machine that kicked off the paradigm shift that is still ongoing.
Those same gradual improvements in hardware and software finally gave me one of my most desired tech achievements – a personal computer that combines a light weight tablet format, and capable small laptop format, and a pluggable desktop that performs adequately for my purposes in all three form factors – along with long battery life and an astonishingly low price.
I consider it one of the most revolutionary machines I’ve ever owned.
I expect to see incremental improvements in it over the next few years as well – faster processers, more ram, lighter weight, more capabilites – refinements, in other words, that will make my “perfect machine” even more perfect.
I expect the next paradigm shifter to be to wearable computers with improved production input interfaces, but those are still five years or so down the road for the ordinary consumer.