Monday, November 29, 2010

David Pogue's Lessons from a Decade Covering Tech

On Thanksgiving, New York Times consumer technology reviewer, David Pogue, drew some lessons gleaned from 10 years of tech reviews, "The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech."

The bottom line: It's been a decade of jaw-dropping change: "Think of all the commonplace tech that didn’t even exist 10 years ago: HDTV, Blu-ray, GPS, Wi-Fi, Gmail, YouTube, iPod, iPhone, Kindle, Xbox, Wii, Facebook, Twitter, Android, online music stores, streaming movies and on and on."

Here are some key lessons:
  1. Things don't replace things; they just splinter. There are no such thing as an iPhone killer, for example -- despite all the products positioned as such. These killers may be alternatives, but they don't actually replace prior technology. A point Pogue did not make is that there has been a backlash to CDs recently, and while not a full mainstream trend, people continue to buy vinyl records because they offer better sound.
  2. Some people's gadgets determine their self-esteem. I think this is one of the most important points in the article: " Today’s gadgets are intensely personal. Your phone or camera or music player makes a statement, reflects your style and character. No wonder some people interpret criticisms of a product as a criticism of their choices. By extension, it’s a critique of them." Pogue then draws a lesson that may be more important to tech reviewers ("You can’t use the word 'Apple,' 'Microsoft' or 'Google' in a sentence these days without stirring up emotion.) while overlooking a key point to tech companies and startups trying to sell new products: that technology is like the fashion business -- driven by trends. Look at that list in the second paragraph: "HDTV, Blu-ray, GPS, Wi-Fi, Gmail, YouTube, iPod, iPhone, Kindle, Xbox, Wii, Facebook, Twitter, Android, online music stores, streaming movies and on and on." Most are all built on trends. My point is that companies developing consumer tech products, gadgets, platforms, etc. need to understand the trend wave they need to catch -- and I wonder if most realize that.
  3. It’s not that hard to tell the winners from the losers and Some concepts’ time may never come. These two points follow my point. Look, unfortunately, revolutionary does not mean necessary, and a lot of better technology has been out-marketed by lessor technology. But check out what Pogue says.
Pogue also makes very valid points about the transient nature of technology, suggesting that we understand when we buy technology that it won't last more than a year: "Of the thousands of products I’ve reviewed in 10 years, only a handful are still on the market. Oh, you can find some gadgets whose descendants are still around: iPod, BlackBerry, Internet Explorer and so on. But it’s mind-frying to contemplate the millions of dollars and person-years that were spent on products and services that now fill the Great Tech Graveyard."

His conclusion: Nobody can keep up with all the technological change, not even Pogue, for whom it is his primary job.

Some really good observations, and well worth reading the entire article.


Suzanne McGee said...

Norman, thanks so much for highlighting Pogue's piece. (Missed reading it as I was too busy eating Thanksgiving leftovers.) As for the technology that is no longer around, I think about my 10 years in tech and am astounded to think about those products, services or software that don't exist. On the other hand, I wonder what the next decade will bring...

Norman Birnbach said...

Early in my tech career, companies often handed out t-shirts to commemorate new products or partnerships. I haven't had to buy T-shirts for years -- and many of those shirts lasted much longer than the products or partnerships did. It will be interesting to see what the next decade brings, but I'm sure there won't be as many tech industry t-shirts.