The Feedback Loop

NOTE:This is a non-technical post about a technical topic. If interested, keep reading. If not, move on, I won’t be offended.

We all know that one of the best reasons to learn from history is so that we might not repeat it, yet another fact of life is that history has a notoriety for repeating itself. Consumer level technology is a fun place to watch these axioms at work. The world of technology moves at an fast pace, for many reasons, and as a result those of us who are both into history and technology get to watch history cycles loop very quickly. With technology, the trick to not failing as in the past is to make slight enough adjustments that the concepts that once inspired the great ideas are still there but the actual application has altered enough to become more feasible.

There are many factors that come with high-tech trends that make the history cycle particularly difficult to predict. First off, ideas, especially hardware ideas, must be marketable. Technology is still expensive enough that it must be mass-produced to succeed, or the producer must be big enough to take the hit (like Microsoft and Sony who both take initial hits with the video game console launches). Ensuring marketability is a difficult task though it significantly helps if you have a cult following such as Apple or Nintendo or Sony, as it is early adopters and those living on the bleeding edge who are willing to take a chance and eventually lure in conservative consumers.</p

Your product must also be feasible with the technology of the time. Software guys face very real limits when it comes to hardware, such as CPU clock speeds, battery life and whatnot. Over time, these limits have been more than spacious enough for modern-day programmers, but I predict a rise of failed attempts as there is a return to relatively-limited programming environments thanks to the emergence of smart-phones as mainstream platforms. Developers have to be really good to milk your hardware for whats it’s worth. In fact, your developers have to be Elite. Hardware guys go up against Mother Nature. Has anyone every won a battle against their Mother?

There have been some recent trends in the tech sector that have been tried and failed in the past, but companies are hoping slight variations on their inputs will result in better outputs. I thought I would take a look:

First up, Apple is at it again, trying to control completely their entire ecosystem, both user-facing and internal. Steve Cheney makes a compelling argument initially about a recent software development scuffle at Apple, that manifests into the bigger picture. Apple tried this once before, attempting to close up their ecosystem in the 90’s, leading to a financial roller coaster ride, until the re-hire of Steve Jobs. Now it’s Job’s turn to try his hand. Will he bring enough change or maybe even too much.

Smartphones are already proving their marketability, and I bet Handspring was still around to see this happen. Handspring created what was arguably one of the first mass-market smartphones, but was later re-absorbed into Palm (from which it had split), which is yet again…

…failing. That is right. Palm is once again on the auction block looking for life support. Poor guys can never cut a break, even after opening the whole Personal Digital Assitants market wide for everyone else to exploit decades ago. It just sucks that, like Sega, Palm seems to be the company that fails while everyone else succeeds, and then gets a few glory years in the lull between tech shifts. I will be curious to see what animal wears the Palm face next. It has just never been big enough to weather the technology transition storms like mega-corps such as Apple and Microsoft.

Tablets. Since when were tablets cool? Especially since modern day tablets (read: iPad, Adam, etc.) actually act more like yesterday’s slates, which were the less-cool of two product-types that came out in the late nineties and early oughts. Let me see if I read this right: in the beginning there were slates (no keyboard) and tablets (keyboards). Slates died away but found happiness in Disney (the only place I ever saw one in the wild), while tablets went on to enjoy moderate success amongst the geeks at engineering schools and some medical offices. Here comes round two, with slate-like products now calling themselves tablets while the word slate not even registering with Joe Everyconsumer. Let’s hope the new input from the feedback loop (a somewhat functional on-screen keyboard), is enough of a foundation for this slate, er, tablet revolution.

Finally, Web 2.0 technology, which I will classify as any site that out-sources website interaction onto the client machine and can also send information without needing a reload. Genius, but it’s been tried. I have a lot more faith in the AJAX and HTML 5.0 stack backed by some of the big standards groups than I ever did in Java though, so I am having high hopes for this round. Next, all we will need is guaranteed security in the pipes (no, SSL is not a guarantee people, sorry).

Yet again, history is repeating itself at one level. The trick will be to see if enough changes are being made to alter the course of round two. Also, wear the heck is my wearable computer?

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