There is a theme running through the questions that I have been asked lately about some aspects of technology and that is the questions as to if a new technology will “dominate”. Now, I’m not talking new tech of the class like “the mobile phone”, but I am talking about some new gizmo, new software structure, or new web-based service. In this article I want to comment on this phenomena and what I think of it:
It might seem that I am avoiding the subject when I waffle around but thats because I don’t believe there can be a straight answer any more. Really, has facebook dominated the world? Not really, OK it has about half a billion users but when you consider that in 2007 there were 3.3billion mobile phone subscribers and that numerous facebook accounts are fake or idle and that the global population is about 6.7billion it sounds good but not “dominant” on a “must have” scale. I think I am saying that to me, unless more than half the population in the world uses a technology it isn’t “dominant” or unless almost the entire developed world uses that ‘thing’.
I was recently asked to speak at the Westminster eForum on the subject of “beyond 2020: a vision for the future of TV” and when it came to the subject of 3D, unlike my colleagues I was very down beat about it. I don’t think people really care, I mean really care about 3D, I think that once people get used to it they will accept it but I don’t think more than a few percent of people will actually go out and buy one without the current investment in their TV being already a serious factor in that purchase. The fact is that most IDTV manufacturers are using “3D” as a means to prop up sales margins because the IDTV market has had seriously damaging price erosion over the past three years and frankly in some cases I don’t know how these guys are making any money on those things. (A 42in plasma TV from £379 is silly money). So, I mean it when I say it will take at least fifteen years to become the dominant presence in the home because most people won’t replace their TV for at least five to ten years and I am sure that many people still feel they want to keep their TV for twenty years like my mother did. Combine that with the fact that 3D TV currently carries a premium that the manufacturers will need for at least three years the entry level consumers will continue to buy non-3DTVs for at least another five years. But it is worth noting that I haven’t said 3D is bad, I haven’t said it won’t happen, I have just said it will take time.
As for web technology, I was asked recently if I thought that Google TV or the Android set-top box would become the dominant platform and if Android was proven to be good would European territories harmonise their interactive TV standards to match. This is a really interesting proposition, could a technology be so good that it would change the technological direction of a market? Could it dominate? Frankly I don’t believe that in this day and age it could. We have too many good technologies and it is only concepts that dominate not technologies. There are probably a dozen different mobile phone standards in the World but the ‘concept’ of the mobile is the same. There are dozens of ‘smart phones’ such as the iPhones and Android phones, but neither technology is dominant and in fact despite what fashion would tell you I believe Blackberry is still more dominant than iPhone or Android. Also there are more Symbian phones sold every month than any of the dominant smart phone brands because the most basic phones are still more accessible for the billions of people who earn substantially less than the GDP per capita of a developed nation.
When it comes to Canvas, GoogleTV, MHP, HbbTV and anything else I think anyone should be careful where they invest themselves. You might have relative success, but remember there is always room for others in a market and you cannot achieve more than fleeting dominance (IBM and Microsoft have both seen this). You are lucky if you can ride the wave, but in the end that wave will break, that bubble will burst and that boom will at best be an echo.
Enjoy that technology while you can, try and make it last, for everyone’s sakes.
As always, I welcome comment.