Creating Technology That Matters

A New York Times article on the annual International Consumer Electronic Show (CES) featured this interesting headline: “CES: Everything Old is New Again.”

Tech writer Molly Wood’s point was that many of the gadgets on display this year were “actually technological concepts that have been around for decades, if not centuries.”

Big Ideas, But Old Concepts

Smartphones are a prime example of technology that impacted our lives.

Woods noted, for example:

  • Autonomous cars, such as those unveiled by BMW, date back to a General Motors presentation on the future at a World’s Fair in 1939.
  • Attendees of the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago saw a prototype of a home automation system, a subject of attention at this year’s CES. Even The Jetsons cartoon show foreshadowed smart homes, she pointed out.
  • Virtual reality, another CES hot topic, dates back to the 1960s.

“But the smart money says a lot of these trends won’t be fulfilled in the next five or 10 years — or maybe even 50 years,” she wrote. While last Friday was the last day of CES, Woods observed it was also the eighth anniversary of the original iPhone.

iPhone As a Game-Changer

The iPhone was once a big idea, like many of the exhibits presented at CES. What differentiated it from the intriguing products presented last week in Las Vegas was its ability to connect numerous functions — phone, email, photo/video,  iPod, games, apps and more — into one tool that impacts lives. Developers continue to leverage the smartphone on different platforms to create new apps that are personalized and life-changing.

It’s Not the Hardware; It’s the Services

Woods also references an earlier article from her colleague, Personal Tech columnist Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo wrote: “Here’s the important lesson for consumer electronics companies: The future of tech may not be in flashier, more powerful hardware, but instead in services enabled by clever software. The gadgets matter, but only if they allow for software that can create useful, perhaps groundbreaking services that work across all our gadgets.”

The iPhone singlehandedly integrated all the separate devices in our lives into one. Our cameras, music players, GPA navigators, and an array of other apps are now easier to use and at our fingertips. Manjoo writes that it’s not the gadget; it’s all the services and connections it delivers. Smartphones are now more than tech tools; they are life tools.

Time will tell whether ideas such as tech-driven cars, smart homes and virtual reality will meet the gold standard for revolutionary technology. Will they truly be technology, like the smartphone, that matters in our lives?

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