Posted on: December 8, 2015
The Death of a Technology … Or a Lesson in Better Decision Making
Posted by: Phil Stalnaker
There appears to be a growing obsession with death in our culture these days. For example, the zombie fan base, a long-time sub-genre of horror movies, has now become mainstream with the extreme popularity of television shows like “The Walking Dead” and movies such as “World War Z”. This phenomenon with death and similar dark subjects is on the rise in other ways as well. Our local area of Fort Myers, Florida is known as a hot spot for zombie culture with its yearly festival/downtown weekend party called Zombicon.
Does Technology Really Die?
Though I would prefer to write/talk about lighter subjects, the recent news of Apple’s CEO Tim Cook proclaiming that the iPad Pro would be the death of the PC has me thinking a bit more morbidly. “Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones…” That is quote a bold statement. While I do think tablets are gaining in their usefulness and growing to better hit their vertical, it seems a bit crazy to proclaim the death of a long-standing and trusted appliance. Then again, every piece of technology eventually dies to make room for the next idea. Right?
Then again, Maybe not. Do you remember Betamax tapes? They lost out in the first of the home video wars to VHS during the 1980s. Fairly quickly gone and long since forgotten, Betamax was actually a superior product to VHS but could not capture the market share and thus died out without much fanfare. It was certainly a much less publicized war than Blu-Ray vs. HDDVD. But, since no one wanted it anymore, unused tech dies out. Oh wait. It’s not quite that simple.
According to a recent article from c|net, Betamax videos are still in production, though Sony did officially declare that the final production on them would conclude in March of 2016. According to the article, “Sony said it would no longer produce its cassettes in Japan, the only remaining country where they are available. The company has not produced a Betamax recorder since 2002. Sony said it has sold more than 18 million units of Betamax devices worldwide since their debut.” This is well over 30 years since the “death” of Betamax in the public eye. Why are they still getting made?
Technology Developments and the Markets They Were Designed For
The obvious answer is because there has still been a market for them; at least up until now. It may not have been quite the world-wide market, but there was still demand for Betamax, so to fulfill the economic tradition, supply was created to meet the demand. It’s an example like this that makes Tim Cook’s claim sound so unbelievable and, as Anurag Harsh of Ziff Davis said, makes him sound like a used car salesman. Anurag’s quote says it best:
“I am writing this article on a PC with dual 27” monitors and unable to comprehend how a larger screened iPad, even one with a keyboard and a pencil, could ever compete with the vast space that I have for multiple tabs, notes, etc. A quick look around the office and I see a handful of MACs and a sea of PCs so I think it’s fair to say that on this occasion Mr. Cook is coming across and forgive me for saying this – like a used car salesman or an outrageous rock star!”
Mr. Cook’s choice of words notwithstanding, tech evidence does not favor his statement. Not only is Betamax technically still around, but Windows 10 recently released its first patch—yet XP is still the 2nd most used operating system according to market share! This comes from an April 2015 article from Popular Mechanics. Why do I site these examples when operating systems and video cassettes have very little to do with the launch of Apple’s newest tablet? It is simple: proper technology management is not just about the technology used. Proper tech management has to do with the understanding of the end users, the desired outcomes from the project/situation, and the finances/profitability involved in purchasing and management decisions. In other words, where technology is concerned, there is no perfect model for end user success. Since every person is different and has different tastes (along with the time tested fact that people, as a whole, hate change), decisions will be made on a near, if not completely individual level. And where individuality is the endpoint, various choices are required. Basically, as long as people can still choose what they want, people will hold on to things they like (such as Betamax and Windows XP) and seek to buy them no matter how old they get—after all, that’s pretty much the whole reason ebay exists, right? One person’s trash is another’s treasure.
A Personal Example of Bad Technology Decision-Making
A few months ago, a construction company client of ours came to us and asked for iPads to give to two of his general contractors out in the field. With the new apps available in iTunes, the ease of use and light-weight design, he thought this would be a perfect solution for them to keep the notes and files up-to-date and provide the office the information it needed in real-time. Unfortunately, his plan did not go that way. After about three months, he noticed that he was not getting what he wanted out of the investment and had to know why. He went to one of his generals and they told him they liked using the iPad, but it ultimately slowed them down because of how much more time and effort it took using the touchscreen and the corresponding keypad. Being that they were smaller, it took him a long time to get used to the different sized space and eventually gave up, resorting to handwritten notes until he could get back to his PC and type them into the system. The other general never used his because he was afraid of breaking it while at a construction site. Since he was already using a laptop in his car, he just kept with the same habit. That same client is now asking for replacement laptops for those two generals (the ones they have now are over five years old).
It’s obvious the better choice for this business would be to have never gotten the iPads to begin with and just purchased new laptops originally, but thankfully this was not a huge financial burden on them and they will be better off now after learning this lesson. Technology is not useful because it is technology. Technology is useful because it makes a certain process easier and quicker. Why does this matter in your business?
Technology Decisions and Your Business
It matters because your profitability comes down to processes and time. The faster, easier, and more correctly an employee can get a specific task completed, the more profitable that company. Technology was developed to make those processes better, but the consumer electronics market has warped the sense people put into technology today. Beta software is released to the public, but often without certain patches that end up making them less useful than their previous versions. With every piece of hardware comes a new learning curve. While new tech can be a huge boon to your business, it matters that you take a moment to make a smart, critical, thought-through decision that does not only incorporate what the tech can do, but also what your people will do with the tech.
No, Mr. Cook, PCs are nowhere near their death. Instead of trying to push people into what you want them to use, how about instead developing products that augment and advance their life? And by this, I do not mean adding a new color option.