by December 5, 2002 0 comments

I have often complained on this page that there are not enough interesting products or technologies happening out there. Why is there a dearth of compelling new technology? Is it because all the innovators have moved on to something else? Or, that innovation has some limits that have been reached? 

I am able to discern some clear reasons for this dearth of innovation. The first is a familiar one. Over-hype, leading to over-expectation. Every thing that is about to come out is hyped as the next big thing, and tall promises are made of what it will deliver. Any product has a learning cycle. The first release has to be made better. But, unfortunately, by then the hype machines build up too high an expectation level. When the early model fails to deliver on the lofty promises, condemnation is swift, leading to the untimely demise of an otherwise good idea. WAP is a good example. It is only very few, like Bluetooth, that get the chance for a second coming.

Then comes the lack of compelling applications. Technology cannot survive for long as just interesting technology. It is only compelling products that make a technology click. Take the case of USB. Though Intel built USB into every one of their motherboards, it did not take off till Apple came along with the iMac, providing a compelling reason for people to use USB, and for vendors to create USB products. Intel had the deep pockets to sustain USB for a long time till the iMac came. What if USB was pioneered by somebody who did not have such deep pockets? And, even Intel’s deep pockets could not make Rambus a roaring success!

A third reason is the lack of cost advantage. Traditionally, the market has been used to better technologies and products delivered at lower and lower price points–barring from Microsoft, of course! Unfortunately, the recent trend has been the reverse. Wireless access is a good case in point. Wireless equipment, particularly for networking, is still not price competitive enough, particularly in India, to foster large-scale adoption.

The fourth reason is over competition. Traditionally, when someone launches a product around a new concept or technology, they get enough time to not only finetune the product, but also to make some decent profits before competition comes in. By then the market usually grows enough to accept that volume. But not so any more. Today, when someone launches a new product that seems like it has a remote chance of succeeding, before you can wink an eye, there are twenty me-toos in the market. Take the case of Palm. They had an interesting product. But soon, every one who was any one had a palmtop to sell. Palm itself was bought out. The founders then bought the rights to the OS to launch a competing product. No wonder that tech markets are in such a mess.

Krishna Kumar

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