Consumer driven innovation: What a wonderful world …

As I look at personal technology in the past decade or less, something jumped out at me and most probably you see it also. The rate at which technology is evolving is phenomenal and simply amazing. We live in wonderful times. However, its usually a general feeling that I am sure we all have, but here I tried to sit down and kind of analyze it from my personal perspective. In this blog I will look at the following tech areas that in my mind has amazed me to no ends: TVs, gaming, smart phones and tablets.

As you will see, each of these areas have had accelerated innovation due to the consumers and we should kind of feel proud to be part of the generation thats driving this revolution and probably the ones that started it.

I will start with my personal experience with TVs. I decided to purchase a flat screen TV 4 years back. At the time, I had to choose between plasma and LCD and after doing my research, I found plasma to better suit my needs and I got that. 4 years later, I am trying to get a second TV for my home theater and when I looked, the choices have completely changed – LCD, LED, OLED, 3D, HD, Smart TV, Google TV…. Are you kidding me???? It s just been 4 years !!!!! It took 55-60 years for the industry to move from commercial CRT TV to LCD and another 15 years for LCD TVs to get mainstream. And now we have moved on to 3-4 completely different tech in 4 years???? Wow!!!!

The CRT TV - a monument. This is what my 1st TV looked like. Wikipedia already talks about the demise of CRT in 2000.

This is probably what my next TV is going to look like. 0.11 inch thick !!!

Next up, Gaming. I fondly remember my first video game.

My first video game

It was a small Nintendo hand held with Mickey Mouse trying to put out the fire. It had a small keypad to control the game. And the video game parlors I went to (Wonderland in Patna) had big games with similar controllers. Next came the generation of ATari games with the same type of controller, and for next 20-25 years, the controllers with direction pad and action keys stuck on all leading game consoles including the PS2s, DS, PSPs XBoxs and PS3.

But then came the iphone and the Wii, the game changers – literally. iPhone allowed you to control the game by tilting your phone and Wii had wireless controllers that let you more realistically interact with the game. I was planning to buy the Wii and I kept putting it off. Now, after a year, when I finally made the decision to buy a gaming console, voila – I have 3 choices – Wii, PS3 Move and XBox Kinect !!!!! Are you kidding me ? With no changes for almost 30 years, we go from a keypad to motion based to wireless controllers to NO controllers in 3-4 years????? Wow !!!!!!

Modern Day Game
Controllers – Wireless and controller less !!!

Next, the cellphones/smartphones. If you have read my blog, you know I was an early adapter and I got an HP ipaq, the smart without the phone, 6 years back. I was probably the only one in the office with that class of device. I then got the HTC 8525 phone and again I was one of the few with a smartphone in my circle. Then,came iPhone and rest as they say is History. 4 years after it’s launch, iPhone is one of the many many smart phones that’s available in the market and almost everyone I know has a smartphone. That was fast !!!!!

1st Cell Phone

iPhone4

Lastly, the Tablets. For almost 35 years, a few tablet PCs were released in the commercial market without much fanfare and all of them died a slow death. And then came the phenomenon called the iPad. A year after it’s launch, there will probably be 50 models of tablet computers that will available in the market with the cheapest one costing you $100 !!!!! 50 models ???? In 1 year??? You have to have to be kidding me.

Capt. Picard using the PADD in Star Trek: TNG , predicted
to happen in the 24th century
My son
with the iPad, the day it was launched in April, 2010.

And I am pretty sure, similar stories can be told about various techs (e.g CPUs & memory – remember 15 MHz and 500 MB hard disks? Cameras etc). So what happened ? We happened. In the 1960s and therein, most of the innovations that happened in the tech industry had to be funded by the government, mostly in the defense lab. There was never a consumer base big enough which would adapt to a new technology and thus it never made fiscal sense to innovate in the consumer space. Defense was where the money was and most of the tech developed there became the Country’s strategic asset and took a long time to reach the consumers.

Contrast this to today where the consumer base has evolved to such an extent that a relatively new technology like an iPad sold more than 10 million units in less than 1 year !!! 10 Million early adopters??? We have come a long way and in all the examples above, it was the success of the products (LCDs or Wii or iphone or iPad) among consumers that drove the innovation and is going to be the driver for future. Of course, the advancement in hardware technologies plays a big part, but at the end of the day, its the consumers who are driving that too.

So expect great things to emerge in near future and be thankful for this Wonderful World for the gadget lovers …..