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Power To The People

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The thing about technology is that the vast majority people out there don't really care about it. Despite the fact that those same people wouldn't leave the house without their mobile phone and iPod in their pocket, they don't care how those devices work, they just care about what they can do. And it's that ubiquitous nature that makes a technological advancement great - the fact that people don't see the technology, they just see the benefit.

Mass consumer adoption is the holy grail for any technology, and can often result in the creation of a multi-billion Dollar industry. For example, DVD is the most successful consumer electronics product in history. Did DVD succeed because of its technical superiority over VHS? No, DVD succeeded because it was more convenient, more robust and most importantly, it achieved mass affordability incredibly quickly. Sadly, the massive increase in image and sound quality offered by DVD over VHS weren't actually driving forces for the general consumer - that was what drove the early adopters to the format, when it still cost an arm and a leg.

You see as a technologist, I can look at the beauty of what the designers and engineers have achieved to bring a new product to market, regardless of what that product actually does. But for everyone else, a product has to bring with it a specific benefit to justify purchase. Now, I'll admit that for many a consumer, that benefit can be as simple as wanting to show off the latest gadget to all and sundry, but I'd like to think that people are, in general, less shallow than that.

Take portable music for instance. The original cassette based Sony Walkman, and all the copycat products were a massive success, and the Eighties were filled with people, young and old, wandering down the street with headphones stuck to their ears as a result. But despite the fact that MiniDisc represented a massive step forward in quality over cassette based portable players, it never really took off. Basically replacing the cassette with something smaller, but that offered pretty much the same capacity wasn't a big enough draw for the mass market - although the early adopters like myself and Benny were pretty heavily invested in MiniDisc very early on.

In the end it took something that was perceived as revolutionary to prise the masses away from their cassette based portable players - the Apple iPod. I say that the iPod was perceived as revolutionary, because MP3 players had been around a long time before the iPod appeared, but they were limited to the technophiles and early adopters, since you needed a near symbiotic relationship with your computer to get them working most of the time, not to mention getting music into MP3 format in the first place. The iPod didn't bring new technology to the table, it brought usable and understandable technology to the table, and consumers flocked to it.

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