How Technology Grows Up

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There is an important observation to be made about the life cycle of technology. It relates to how a technology is born, goes through predictable stages of development, then reaches maturity. With the coming of the Apple Watch, it seems a good time to shed light on how this process works.

As we look back at the earliest computing products, from PCs, early tablets, cell phones, smartphones, and more, we often take for granted how much evolution took place over many years as the product took “baby steps” over the course of time to get to where it is today.

Think about the first PCs. If someone was to launch a PC that looked like this today, no one would take it seriously.

It would be a step backward, not a step forward. However at the time, in its context both of the maturity of the technologies and other circumstances, it was a huge step forward.

The same is true of the first iPhone. Compared to today’s smartphones, the first iPhone looks rudimentary. If someone was to launch a product exactly like the first iPhone today, it would be viewed as a step backwards, not forwards. Yet, at the time, it was a huge leap.

Just to add some perspective to this, here are a few things the first iPhone did not include:

– Front facing camera
– 3G
– Customizable Wall paper/backgrounds
– Ability to rearrange location of apps
– Copy/Paste
– Exchange server support
– Searchable inbox
– Turn by turn guided navigation
– Gyroscope
– App store/downloadable apps
– Third party notifications
– Many more

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Each of the products I mentioned grew up. All the things I mentioned above were not included in the first iPhone, but are table stakes today in a modern smartphone. The iPhone grew up over time. It took many iterations, using the best in microprocessor architecture, software design, and other hardware components available. Like all things, technology doesn’t stand still. It paves the way for the development of each next stage.

The Apple Watch will similarly abide by this process. It will come out as an immature product. It will evolve over time as technological capabilities allow. The software will get better and more refined over the process of its maturity. Developers will evolve and grow as well. Not only does the product grow up, but so does the ecosystem around it. The Apple Watch, its technology, software, and capabilities will, in 2020, look dramatically different than the Apple Watch of 2015.

It is easy for many to look at the Apple Watch today and demand it be released as fully grown up product. However, what that viewpoint overlooks is the necessity of the growth process. We as humans don’t skip grammar school and go straight into college at ten years old. We know there is a process to growing up. Like human developmental stages, this applies to technology as well.

The Market Grows in Parallel
There is another thing that goes along with the growth process of a specific technology. As a new technology grows, so do our expectations grow with it. This is why products a decade old, or even four years old, look rudimentary to us today. Not only has the technology evolved but we have evolved with it and our expectations change over time.

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Imagine the iPhone 6 was released in 2002. How would the market have reacted to it? Most consumers were just getting their first PCs or cell phones around this time. Would they have even been ready for the iPhone 6? There is a good chance it would have been too advanced and ahead of its time for where the consumer tolerance for technology was at the time. This is why we must respect and appreciate the process of a technology’s and market’s growth.

This is simply how it works. There is a process. There are observable stages of growth. I, for one, appreciate the process and enjoy studying and documenting how innovations, and the markets for those innovations, develop at each stage of their growth cycle.

In 2020, when we look back at the Apple Watch, it will look rudimentary. Yet, we will also realize, what it seems is so hard to internalize today, that is also a huge step forward.


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