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Picking the Winners from the Losers

Category: Andy Marken's blog Published on Monday, 06 December 2010

Choosing the Next Great Tech Product Boom…or Bust



Trying to figure out what tech trend (necessity) to buy is one of the biggest challenges people face today.

Finding fads is easy…just look in the rearview mirror!

Or, for people who know us, when we believe something is sound, logical, that it’s gotta’ win…they bet on the other horse!

Picking the winners from the losers is even more difficult for the boss who has to invest his company’s time/money, his reputation.

In the early days of the computer/communications/consumer industry, it was easy.  

Directions came from engineers.

What did “ordinary folks” know about the mysteries of technology?  

They stumbled through the installation/user’s guide.

But the smart folks sometimes came up “a little” short:

-        Tom Watson of IBM said there was probably only a market for four or five mainframe computers worldwide.  They sold millions and are still used as the backbone of organizations and governments.  The industry is now having a hard time finding talent to manage/maintain the hummers.

-        Ken Olson, the founder of DEC (Digital Equipment), said the microcomputer was a fad, a toy.

-       Larry Ellison, Oracle, dismissed the cloud as vaporware. And while companies,          individuals struggle to define it, figure out how to use it/make it safe, he’s now got the biggest, baddest cloud in town.

You get the idea.

As you drive around the Silicon Valleys of the world, you can tick off thousands of carcasses of next-trend-companies and millions of product engineer/CEO reputations.

These folks found a foolproof solution…crowdsourcing:  use the power of the Internet and get a ton of input from consumers.

Then, incorporate the best features (most votes) in the next-generation product…guaranteed success.

Not quite the way the hottest kid in town sees it.

Jobs is fond of borrowing, embellishing, improving so we’ll borrow one of his quotes which he borrowed from Henry Ford, "If I'd have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse!' "

New, Old – We’re constantly looking to move on to new, better, more fun technology; but somewhere deep in the recesses of our mind, it is tied to what we know and are comfortable with.  It’s becoming more and more difficult to hang onto the past and move forward.

The problem is everything folks want is based on past experience.

You can’t move forward looking back.

Did you really want:

-          A cellphone?   There were phones on every street corner.
-          A TV?  You could visualize everything that was on the radio…and in living color.
-          The Internet?  You had the phone, planes/trains, postal person, meetings.
-          Facebook, Twitter, YouTube?  You were always telling your best friends everything, making a fool of yourself in your crowd was easy.
-          Game systems?   You had cowboys ‘n Indians, monsters under your bed.
-          Flatulation apps?  You had natural body functions.

Really smart, weird folks came up with these ideas.  They convinced you that you would be naked without them.

Organizations/individuals thrive on rolling the dice hoping the next introduction will be a trend, not a fad.

To nudge consumers, companies form industry organizations like the CEA (Consumer Electronics Assn).

Market research firms like IDC, iSuppli, Gartner, Forrester, McKinsey have really smart people who are hired by hungry companies to help them spot consumer dissatisfaction, ideas, brain freezes that can be turned into products, trends.

Their goal is to develop things you can actually use with other things.

Of course, that’s the theory.

Unfortunately,  I tend to hang onto “new solutions” a little longer than I should; but I did just upgrade my cell phone.


But it’s hard to be as innovative as our kids.

Like most Gen-Yers, they’re part of Geoffrey Moore’s (Crossing the Chasm) innovators.

We’re more of a late early adopter.

Product Penetration – Innovators, early adopters will buy darned near everything that’s new, cool, different.  They’re on the leading edge, bleeding edge of everything!  Getting the rest of the folks into the 21st plus century takes a little longer and a lot more education/handholding.  Source – Geoffrey Moore

Kids forget or ignore the other side of Apple:

-          If it weren’t for MS dropping a cool $150M investment into Apple, Jobs would be an employee…somewhere.
-          Got a problem with your iPhone reception?   Hold it a different way.
-          Got a problem with the glass on the iPhone breaking?  Don’t drop it.
-          Got a problem with the walled garden?   Buy an Android or Win7Phone.
-          Prefer Flash to standard-in-progress HTML 5?  Get over it.
-          Like your OS support to be way back backward compatible?  Go with Windows, they still support DOS.

Right now, Apple sure has no problem eating their own.   But is Apple delivering the revolutionary products or just insanely great evolutionary products?

They’re fertilizing a lot of trends.

Cautious firms see what resonates with consumers and they’re forced outside their comfort zone to stay competitive.

Apple has juiced up their thinking.

In every sector, companies are imagining the impossible…they see early/late majority consumers incorporating the solutions into their lives like never before (translation – they upgrade faster).

You listen to the presentations and forecasts at the CEA Industry Forum and it’s obvious that companies are tracking each other’s wins/loses, strengths/weaknesses with more than passing interest.

It’s getting tougher for Apple to play the underdog card, but spotting and refining/redefining trends is something they’re doing very well.

The challenge is for them not to believe their own hype.

Taking Moore’s Chasm explanation of what’s wrong with the fads of our industry – we almost universally assume “everyone” knows when the early adopters are on board.

To sanity check things, Gartner gave us a longer view of the industry with their Hype Cycle analysis of the industry.

Or course, if you look carefully, you’ll see tablets are way out there on the cycle in the plateau of productivity section.

Holy cow…they aren’t new, hot, sexy ideas ???

Source:  Gartner

Ups, Downs – Products always seem to go through a rollercoaster excitement, acceptance cycle.   We start down the road with enthusiasm and hope.  When the technology/products don’t meet glassy eyed expectations, it was obviously their fault, not ours.  Once the noise disappears, the selling, implementation, education begins and volume sales occur.  Source - Gartner

They take a longer view, studying thousands of product categories and plotting them on the cycle.

It’s not just last year, this year, next year; but how our expectations go from high to low to neutral as technologies, products become commonplace in our work/personal lives.

Some folks just get to the point of enlightenment sooner than others…some never get there.

Broad adoption just takes time…too much time.

Real Sales – Dizzy industry and media excitement surround products/technology during the early introductory phases.  When the technology passes 10 percent market penetration, it is old hat and innovators/early adopters have lost interest/moved on.  By the time the product achieves 50 percent market penetration, the pre-Chasm folks are already three generations out.  Today, the period between introduction and significant penetration is shrinking…dramatically.  Source - CEA

Not our kids…they want it all, they want it…now!!!

And in a discussion with CEA’s Shawn DuBravac, he sees products jumping Moore’s Chasm faster than ever…must be the instant information distribution thing, the Internet!

Holiday Hot – Smartphones and tablets are going to be the hottest holiday gift items and they will be in short supply.  The difference from past holiday hot toys is that even when newer, faster, better, cheaper units come out, you’ll still be able to carry your mobile device with pride.

The CEA Industry Forum gave us an idea of what to expect this holiday and for the next two-five years:

-          Bloody holiday season for manufacturers/retailers, as everyone pushes to make their sales numbers (great for the consumer but…).
-          Smartphones, tablets will be the hot items.  If they got ‘em, give me an app bundle.
-          Home entertainment networks will be better, cheaper; but still a challenge to install.
-          Bundles (aggressively priced) will be everywhere – TVs, home entertainment, game systems – it’s the new norm.
-          3D TV just has a lot of work to do to be a killer reason to buy a new TV set.  But freedom of video content over the Internet is going to move lots of sets, and if it happens to have 3D capabilities…O.K.  
-          Better broadband to the home is moving “pretty fast” but man, there’s a lot of investment to be made before it’s as great as they tell you it is.
-          Auto technology is coming on fast, just can’t wait for some dude to hack us driving down the road.
-          Expect more social media “discussions” with retailers, manufacturers on your smartphone…they’re going to make you a deal you can’t refuse when you walk by.
So what will have staying power over the next five years?
  1. Four screens (no glasses) will be natural.  Your everything-contact home sets will blend with your smartphone, tablet, notebook computer screen.  The latter three you’ll use at home, school, the office (gawd, hate to be in IT support) and the content/activity will mish-mash between them.
  2. There will be an app for that.  Hundreds of companies will be formed, millions wasted, thousands will scream/holler at each other before apps settle out.  Those that don’t provide a value proposition for businesses/consumers will fail, even if they’re free.  Ultimately, people won’t care if they’re web/native, open/closed, Apple/Android/Windows, broad usage/vertical segment apps will be available.  The challenge will be finding the ones for you and how folks monetize them…that will be a work in progress.
  3. Video distribution, consumption (see #1) will require heavy investment, hammered cooperation, creative folks.  The infrastructure today can’t handle a couple of hundred million video streams in the U.S. and a couple of billion WW.  Video schedules will disappear so that you watch what you want, where you want, when you want, how you want…there’s vested interest everywhere you turn and content creators have to have monetization.  The stuff you would like is out there right now – documents, data, images, video – finding it sucks!  The dudes/dudettes who make the bucks will be the folks who develop/patent the meta data of meta data beyond a stupid search engine or EPG (electronic program guide).  The big winner(s) will be the individual(s) who perfect the solution that gets inside your head, learns your wants/needs/likes, goes out and finds it and BAM!!! delivers it.
  4. Arrested privacy.  Most of the stuff about you is already out there to be mined.   Stores, products will “talk to you” when you walk/drive by.  Information exchange will be monetized, incentivized so that it’s good (and profitable) for all parties.  iGeners already have a laissez-faire approach to their personal, public lives and are well on the way to embellishing their life logs. We’ll be using technology to gauge how much of our personal, public personas are available and to whom.  By the time some government agency figures out how to protect you from yourself and “them,” we’ll be living on Mars.
  5. Micro-trends?  True broadband everywhere.  Office-less offices.  Total entertainment – music, video, games, photos – on every device.  Peace (O.K., just seeing if you were paying attention!)


IMO, the industry is changing fast enough thank you very much.

iGen, Gen X, Gen Y folks love their new iWhatevers and the competitive “killers” folks are struggling to deliver.

We’d just like to learn – really learn – the new stuff before we have to start saving up for its replacement.

But…that’s a fad!

Hits: 2016

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