Smartphone Paradigm Shifts – Recognizing When Technology Advances During the Present

When looking back, it's easy to see how technology has changed throughout the years. Recognizing trends during the present isn't as easy. How things changed in our (my) parents generation is obvious. They went from radio to black and white TV to color TV. We moved onto video and now we have so many options to view media. I often tell my kids we used to have to watch TV live, get up to turn on the channel (with a knob), adjust the rabbit ears for better reception. We could miss our favorite show, or be forced to watch some stupid show if all we felt like doing was vegging out in front of the TV. In the US, we only had 3-4 channels to choose from: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and maybe something local. My kids' eyes widen and can't believe there was life before TiVo and multichannel cable/satellite TV.

Music

Thinking on other areas of technology and media, music has also changed. From vinyl to 8 Track, back to vinyl, to cassette tapes, to CD's to mp3s. I had quite a record collection. My mom's Firebird had an 8Track player (with one 8Track—Frank Zappa's “Moving to Montana”). I remember cassette tapes were easier to transport (and play), so I'd tape all my records and take the tapes to college. My little brother would listen to all my records while I was away. Mix tapes were made for our special someones. We'd create elaborate mixes for parties, recorded on cassette from vinyl or CD's. And it was ok to do all this. Now people “rip” their CD collection to listen to on their computer or mobile devices. We haven't bought non-digital music for years now. (I even remember the old Walkman cassette tape player.) Incremental change over the years has made media consumption easier.

Computing

Wow, just think about computers. My first computer was a Commodore64, but only because the Vic20 was “dated.” I typed high school research papers on my Commodore64, my younger brother typed in programs he found in magazines. The dot-matrix printers were all the rave. We first saved data on cassette tapes, then moved onto 5” floppies, then moving onto 3.5” floppies, then hard drives, portable zip drives, then CDROM. My kids now do computer work at school and bring home the data on tiny flash drives.

PDA's

I could go on, but I want to focus on one major technology paradigm shift that's advancing today, probably without many of us really realizing how much and how fast. We've gone mobile. In the past five years that trend has escalated. In 2008 we were still selling PalmOS apps on PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants). The PDA world had been strong in the early technology adopter geek-world, but had not gone mainstream. Lots of barriers to use existed. Early devices had to be connected to the computer to get software through sync after unzipping the file. Wifi was not ubiquitous in homes, nor was cellular data available. The internet had barely taken off, and what was available was very slow (remember dial-up?).

Creative Algorithms wrote software for those early PDA devices. Productivity software was more the focus, as well as usefulness, rather than appearance. As Palm released the Treo smartphone, the software focus changed. Data exchange with the internet became the hot software, followed much later by location-based features. RIM had been quietly doing well with their Blackberry, which focused on email. New players entered the attractive smartphone market. Microsoft quickly captured the market with their Windows Mobile smartphones—Palm even adopted the MS operating system on a percentage of its phones in order to survive. Developers were torn, but only slightly, on which OS to pursue. However, the market was still technophile-based, especially for software, as no easy way to get the software on the device continued. Mainstream users mostly used the built-in software, which happened twofold—because they didn't know software existed and because the installation process was still too difficult.

Enter the AppStore

Enter Apple and the iPhone and the AppStore. At first, with no apps, the iPhone was attractive—an mp3 player with a phone, and internet access. Built-in apps were helpful, like maps and email. However, when the AppStore opened in 2008, along with the “There's an App For That” campaign, suddenly everyone knew there were many other apps to be had. The AppStore also fixed the delivery of software to the devices—something I've discussed in a past blog post. Mainstream usage was all but guaranteed!

Market Disruption

Suddenly many markets were disrupted, or experienced a paradigm shift, to coin a phrase from the eighties. Games sales skyrocketed, wreaking havoc in the handheld casual game market. Nintendo DS and the iPhone touch were BOTH coveted by young gamers. Leapsters paled in comparison to the iPhone (and later the iPad) for preschool entertainment. Personal GPS standalone units were affected—the iPhone could do very similar map based operations with Google Maps and a data connection. With the improvement of the camera, digital point-and-shoot cameras were in trouble. The addition of the video camera took away sales from the Flip video camera. The print publishing industry, from books to newspapers to periodicals, is quickly being substituted by digital e-reading. The iPhone became many more things than the old “traditional” smartphone used to be. And all this happened in less than four years, not in a generation!

Change is Ongoing

As the iPad released, mobile computing continued to explode. The traditional desktop computer and laptop computers are slowly being surpassed by mobile devices. Computer usage is changing. Casual use of the computer for internet surfing, checking email, receiving texts, taking and sharing photos and video, listening to music, shopping while mobile, and casual gaming is decreasing, moving to these smaller and simpler devices. Desktop and laptop computers could eventually be relegated to heavy-duty work like programming, desktop publishing, and other work-intensive related duties only. We're in the midst of this change. As the phones and tablets become more and more powerful, even more uses will be added to the list.

The Future

What will be next? What will replace smartphones and tablets in our children and grandchildren's lifetime? Will they make fun of our old-fashioned iPhone like we do the cassette tape? What we we look back and see of this time period? Will our grandkids say, “Grandma, why couldn't you just communicate with your mind?” rather than use a silly virtual keyboard or {shudder} a stylus?