2016 could be a boring year because the industry and the products it produces have all become adequate. The only way out is by taking risks.
There is a growing chorus of people who are saying that 2016 will be, quite frankly, a boring technology year. They talk about no new or exciting products coming along. They talk about a lack of imagination, a lack of new product categories and quite a few failed categories from the past couple of years, such as wearables. It all comes down to the fact that products have not managed to make us wonder how we lived without a certain feature or capability and how much better our lives will now be once we acquire the new gizmo. While wearables seemed to hold promise, they have seen little traction outside of the fitness market, although there is still long term hope for them in the broader medical space.
Most of the recent developments have been incremental improvements over what was there before, but none of them change the way we think about them as devices. It happened with the desktop first. We reached a point where it did everything that a normal person would need, and I can’t think of a single ‘must-have’ feature that has been introduced over the past 10 years. I don’t need more processing power. I don’t need more memory and I don’t need more connectivity. OK, I do need more storage, but that is about it. For some, this may not have been the case – particularly for the gaming community that continues to seek better graphics capabilities, but I rarely ever hear about people overclocking a system these days. Interfaces also have become faster, but not in a way that it will make me buy a new machine.
It’s the same with cell phones. A new color, a larger screen – but not so large that it no longer fits in a pocket. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for the apparel industry to align with the technology industry and work out how to incorporate larger pockets. This would be particularly tricky for women’s clothing that only incorporates tiny pockets in the front. In fact, most women have to resort to placing them in their back pockets. A cell phone does not require large amounts of processing power if it can gain access through the radio interface and tap into cloud resources. I have only downloaded a few new apps in the past year and I can’t think of any reason why these would not have been available in the past, except that they just hadn’t been written. The only reason I bought a new phone was that the battery was no longer good at holding charge.
Smart TVs are a really dumb idea. I was conned. I bought one and it is the dumbest piece of half-baked technology I have ever owned. Save your money, buy a dumb TV and a Roku or similar type device. This is a much cheaper solution that allows independent upgrade. This is one example of continued integration being a bad idea. We have heard for so long that integration is good for us and provides better, cheaper and faster products. That’s not always true, and we are beginning to signs of this no longer being the case for semiconductor chips either.
I have enough pixels in my camera (always room for better glass), will not buy products that force me into buying a monthly service that adds no value, or promises to be the gateway to incredible home automation capabilities until someone defines a reason why I need one. At this point my router and WiFi are perfectly capable of providing the connectivity I need and, yes, I have recently bought a WiFi connected thermostat for my home.
Is the industry really going to rely on weakened batteries, dropped, lost or stolen products, or even the lack of reliability in advanced semiconductor technologies that we can expect from consumer grade electronics to generate a replacement cycle?
The devices I own are adequate. To make me willingly replace them, there has to be something considerably better, or different, or unique. This clashes with recent corporate culture, which has become risk-averse. Risk directly relates to testing new ground, putting something into the market that has not been tried before. It is much easier to copy what everyone else is doing.
With the wave of corporate consolidation, I also see the industry becoming worried about the future. Technology scaling is not going to provide any easy answers from this point on. It will still provide tremendous value to certain products and certain companies, but most companies are going to have to make do with what they have. The underlying semiconductor technology has also become adequate.
If 2016 is anything but boring, it will be because people start to think outside the box and get creative again. Integration is no longer the right mantra for the industry and if 2.5D and 3D ICs take off as some expect, silicon disintegration and package integration could be the next wave. I hope I am wrong about having nothing to buy over the next year. I like buying new toys. But there has to be a good reason to justify them.