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Diamon in the Breeze

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I took a couple of days off from posting, so let’s get back into the swing of things with some vague thought waving.

I spend far too much time reading tech-centric news and forums.  And one of the things that strikes me, is how often the tech pundits, professional journalists, and industry insiders so completely miss the mark in so many ways.  Let’s take a look at a couple of recent examples of how almost everyone got it wrong, in ways that directly affect both the industry, and the consumer.

First off, the NetBook revolution.  A few years ago when Asus released the first iterations of the “EEE PC”, which can largely be viewed as the precedent for all NetBooks to follow, it was widely and almost universally derided.  It was seen as, at best, an underpowered “niche” product with no real future.  The screen was too small, the keyboard almost unworkable, and in terms of processing power, it couldn’t handle much beyond basic web surfing, email, and word processing.  Steve Jobs famously quipped “We don’t know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk…” In short, they viewed it as a trinket, a toy.

And then sales took off.

So how did they get it so very wrong?

Because the pundits and industry insiders aren’t the average user, and they don’t use computers like the average user.  Often, they’re just a bit too savvy for their own good.  In this case, they completely missed the point of the device and the entire category.  For these people, and people like me, we’re constantly looking at how to get MORE from our systems.  We need them to edit video, handle complex software, and to do it quickly.  What we all failed to see was that for a lot of people, a simple, small and lightweight device that could handle a few basic tasks was actually incredibly useful.  It was something you could take with you anywhere to accomplish those things that most people actually spend 90% or more of their computer time doing – basic web surfing, handling a few emails, and maybe working on the odd spreadsheet or document.  And put that into an attractive price point (under $500 – and for as little as $300), and Asus was suddenly able to fill a niche that no one knew was even there.  It transformed the market.  And that transformation lead to another great innovation that no one saw coming.

When the iPad was announced, it was met with a great deal of skepticism, to say the least.  What’s the point?  An over-sized iPhone that still can’t play Flash?  Not to mention, it wasn’t exactly as revolutionary as Apple (and Steve Jobs) would have us believe.  Tablets had been around for over a decade, by this point, and they had simply never taken off.  They were a niche product, useful for very specific purposes in certain industries.

But they weren’t the iPad, and what was revolutionary about the iPad wasn’t the hardware.  It was how Apple put the hardware to use.  All previous tablet computers had essentially been a keyboard-less laptop with a touch screen, with an operating system on it that had never been designed to be used without a keyboard and a mouse.  They were kludgy, difficult to use, and they also tended to be outrageously expensive, usually on the order to 1.5 to 2 times as expensive as a similarly powered laptop.

The iPad wasn’t released with a desktop operating system.  If it had been released with a “customized” version of OSX, (or if some other company had released it with Windows or Linux), it would have failed in much the same way as all previous tablet computers.  The iPad came out with a slightly tweaked new version of IOS, the iPhone operating system that was designed from the ground up to be used on a touch screen, and had been tweaked and refined after being in actual consumer’s hands for a couple of years.  And it came out at an attractive price.  Instead of pricing the device in line with other tablets, they priced it in line with what it really was: an over-sized smart phone.

And again, it flew off the shelves, leaving competitors to come up with competing products in an ad-hoc manner, and they still haven’t caught up yet.

In both cases, the pundits, analysts, and insiders missed the point for the same reason.  They (or should I say we, because I was as wrong in both cases as so many others), were wrong because we were all entrenched in our way of working.  So intimately immersed in the details of individual trees that we completely failed to see the Forest as a much larger, more complex and diverse ecosystem.

And it can be very difficult to break out of that myopia.

So the next time you read an article about someone predicting “The Next Big Thing”, the “Imminent Demise” of a technology, or the “Destined Failure” of a new product class, take a step back, and remember who’s making the prediction.  And then try and look at the technology or device as it is, how it relates to you, and whether it might make a difference to you.  Then come to your own conclusions.  To be honest, an outsider has as much a chance of being right (or wrong) as so many experts.

Something to say?


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