Technology and Design are funny old games!
Design (both in-print and online) is usually about working up an idea until someone signs it off…
…and you would expect to find that it ONLY goes live when it’s being checked, proofed and approved by anyone with an interest in the thing.
Yes, you’ll find a few exceptions (and opinions!) but, by and large, a first draft isn’t thrust in front of the public with promises that this ad or website or magazine will look a ‘lot better’ in a few weeks time when, erm, we’ve actually finished it.
Now, the technology sector is a bit different (we won’t cloud things with the industrial design side of technology development) – our concern is with the way new technology is shepherded in to the mindset and ownership of consumers.
Not waiting for the gift of sound and vision
It seems that getting the latest technology advances ‘out there’ is the overiding concern of the majority of the firms in the more commoditized areas of the industry. And because you can probably update and tweak and improve things with firmware updates, it’s seen as fine by all-and-sundry.
In fact, the ‘business’ is full of people bemoaning that such-an-such technology is not used in this or that item, even when the technology is simply not ready for ‘prime-time’. New tech sells magazine and blog ads and no one seems to mind that many of the new gadgets are not up to scratch (often for their primary task). It leaves you wondering if everyone just hates accessible technology so much that they are willing to suspend critical and functional analysis just to hype a feature promise?
Too Little too LTE?
Just look at LTE phones – super fast internet connections on the move – GREAT! But they are BIG, to accommodate the new chips, and currently the batteries last only a few hours when used. Phones can even drain when plugged in and CHARGING in the car. Amazing. Not ready. And not even a firmware update will improve the fact that the underlying chips are too power hungry and the technology is NOT READY for public use.
So what do the critics do? In many cases they’ll just ignore the battery issues and pretend the very ‘bigness’ is now THE feature that matters the most. Firms even invent categories like SUPERPHONES to hide the fact that they have basically being saddled with a HUGE flat battery eating early concept phone.
Anyone buying this item will impress like minded ‘geeks’ for a few weeks (with the ‘newest’, ‘fastest’, biggest phone) before going back to dreaming about a firmware update… and then pretty soon they will focus on the next thing that basically fixes all the stupid errors on the current product. (I know this. Been there, done that, hacked the system!)
In the meantime a community will develop around the item, and they will hack and ‘root’ and mod the thing to run a webserver or flush a toilet . And they’llalso decorate the OS with a gaudy teenage-bedroom-like set of backgrounds and icons that make you want to vomit.
You say you want a revolution?
And also cast your mind back to the CD-Rom revolution.
Cartridge consoles were almost killed overnight as this great new technology appeared. We gasped at the promise of the new format that allowed you to store 650+MB of date. THINK of the possibilities? The only problem was the CD-Roms were 1x and 2x speeds (i.e REALLY SLOW) so games suddenly went from being instant-on arcade game in your house, to you sitting and waiting and waiting and waiting… for the crummy CD drive to load.
It took about 3 years for the technology to be acceptable and cheap enough for mass market, but anyone refusing to join the CD-party was technologically slaughtered.
Can we work it out?
So we have a inglorious circle of design, function and finances.
The early adopting sector of the market will cajole, fund and cheer these hapless unfinished early releases all day long. It’s enough to keep everyone in jobs and constanly waiting on the thing that will do EVERYTHING perfectly. And it is a nice bonus for firms as they keep developing the technology until it IS actually good and cheap enough to be used in ‘comsumer’ grade technology. (Think of it as someone paying extra for your early sketches and designs. You’d be delighted – but it would eventually cloud and confuse the quality of your output).
But what has this done over the years? Basically it has detroyed the ‘average’ consumers ability to trust and believe in what technology should do. Everyone is now used to the ridiculous way new technology and PCs need to be mollycoddled with updates and virus checks .They’re used to having to ask a gadget savvy kid or relation to help them set up this or do that, too. It’s certainly not the Jetsons version of an easy tech-filled future.
But there will always be some companies that benefit from ‘doing things properly’ – waiting a bit to release a fully working product (even if some functions are missing in a bid to make the product more ‘useable’ straight out of the door).
Apple (obviously!) and Nintendo (now and again) are the best examples of running assymetrically with the above thinking. Even things like Sky+, XBox360 and PS3 show the benefit of constantly improving a platform. Often these companines may take a bit of a price hit early on to allow them to get something that is better than ‘good enough’ (but expensive) to market. And then they stick with a few models to make sure there is a larger market and unfragmented ecosystem for the future.
And we can only hope that the success of some of these companies will drive players like Samsung, HTC and LG to up their game and look to innovate and polish rather than copying, hyping and shoving it out the door.
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