Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Is hi-tech timeless?

Loyal starts a comment with: "In technology...More is law. More speed, more storage, more graphics, and so on." But will this law—more of an assumption, really—be true tomorrow, and is it true today?

Consider the fate of an industry that for centuries was synonymous with high technology. Before computers, there was clockmaking.

In clocks, more was law: more precision, or at least better price/precision. All the attributes of hi-tech were there:

  • the industry was intellectual property-driven: innovations led to success;
  • it was prestigious: clocks were presents given to royalty;
  • it was strategic, as high-precision clocks were key to ship navigation.
Here's a fact that should illustrate the importance of clockmaking: in 1714, a Longitude Prize of £20,000 was offered by English Parliament for a better clock that would allow precise navigation at sea. £20,000 is not bad today, and that's after three centuries of inflation—at the time it was a staggering sum.

So what happened? Clocks improved slowly but steadily; finally, with the development of the quartz mechanism, they became both "good enough" and "cheap enough." Quartz technology revolutionized the industry: the companies that continued to compete solely on precision went out of business, and in the mainstream market today clocks are judged on style, not performance.

Before insisting that computer industry will never suffer the same fate, answer the question: is the iPod a portable special-purpose data processor or a fashion accessory?

14 Comments:

Blogger Kelly said...

In the article I mention here, the quote is as follows: "The iPod is this era’s must-have accessory . . ."
I've also noted a shift toward sleeker-looking computers, and some with interchangeable covers. You're definitely right.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

The iPOD will suffer the same exact fate. Computers will also, as they are all being based at the speed at which a processor can process information. As we all know, all laws that we are bound by in the physical world are limited by light. Once computers have the ability to process at the speed of light, there will be no more competition between computer makers, as all of there hardware will be optimized as much as they can be.

This is all, however, relative to whether we can make anything to go faster than the speed of light. If this is somehow accomplished, then i believe this kind of market will be timeless.

Just some thoughts.

-Evan

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oooh, ooooh, I know this one!!
PORTABLE SPECIAL PURPOSE DATA PROCESSOR

first one to answer! I rock!

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree, but would you say Apple PC/Laptop is a statement?

7:21 PM  
Blogger dsafardad said...

Just because an iPod is a fasion accessory does not mean that it isn't useful as well. My ski jacket looks nice, but that doesn't mean I won't freeze my ass of without it.

Function and form are not mutually exclusive.

7:56 PM  
Blogger John A said...

With miniaturization, ultimately style may not be part of the game. I realize that ego fuels fashion, for without the desire to look better than everyone else, or be perceived as having things that other's don't, or at least being on a par with the Jones', style drops away as meaningless. If people stopped being so egomaniacal, form could be traded in for higher function: an ipod and a cell phone and a host of other techie tools small enough to carry in an ear plug, or a peel-and-stick backed disc smaller than a watch battery. Perhaps oneday the whole planet will be wireless broadband capable and we'll carry no tech toys except one: a tiny voice controlled disc we wear on our sleeves or in our ears that's connected to our home computers and has a live internet connection 24/7

12:23 AM  
Blogger SJ said...

Its really a case of when than if. Soon someother technology - robots, cyborgs, nano-mechanical-dna-trasporting whatever will be "high-tech" whereas computer will be "that thing they had in those days for like, browsing and stuff."

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Click here to see tornado pics said...

Clock makers were concerned with making a wide asortment of fashionable clocks long before quartz technology revolutionized the industry.

5:22 AM  
Blogger The Cat said...

Great perspective here - some random thoughts:

1. Will computer graphics ever require higher resolution and quality then the human eye? Could our ears tell the difference between CD quality sound and technologically superior sound? That tells how fast a 'personal computer' needs to be, whether that is my desktop, or my iPod.

2. How many songs can you functionally listen to? How much video can you watch? That is how much storage your 'personal computer' needs. Does it matter if my mp3 player holds 10,000 or 20,000 songs?

3. Geeks will always need more power. I'm a geek workin' for geeks, and when we figure out a way to generate twice as much data a month, we'll do it, and pay the bill. And again next year...

4. Evan has a point regarding c as a natural limit. There are also limits as far as how small you can make a circuit (atoms can't get any smaller!). But chipmakers still have a long way to go as far as efficiency. Chips don't really use three dimensions yet.

5. Eventually, 'personal computers' will be sold exclusively on style. Custom designer computers will be about jewel encrusting, zebra skin, solid hardwood cases. Just like a watch, all functionality will be assumed in all models.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10,000 Year Clock

2:53 PM  
Blogger Marguerite said...

Yes, hi-tech is timeless, but we are not! With all things in life I love I have hardly time to listen to my music in the comfort of my lounge and to the speakers of my stereo. Old fashioned? Well that goes with Bach. I pod I do not want, nor a dvd player. I watch only news on tv, but I do love my Apple computer, slimline without a tower.
Great blog you have,
Marguerite.

5:12 AM  
Blogger patrick said...

I am reminded of Bill Gates comment that maybe the bandwidth would be like radial tires: An innovation that lowers costs but doesnt increase demand correspondingly.

Gate was wrong, way wrong, in the 1990s. ... so far.

"Once computers have the ability to process at the speed of light, there will be no more competition between computer makers, as all of there hardware will be optimized as much as they can be."

This is a hilariously superficial comment. Actually, power is becoming the limiting factor in computation, to the point where it will be a matter of the 'mips per microwatt', or how much energy is consumed to play an MP3, as the metric of better computing.

Clocks are limited in the function: They tell time. Computers are only limited by our imagination in how we program them.
With enough imagination, there will be NO limit on how much computing we will want.

8:08 PM  
Blogger vargusvictor said...

To me the Ipod is a fashion accessory. It has so many limitations as a music player, in terms of DRM, that I can see no reason to buy it other than to make a status or fashion statement.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Michal Migurski said...

I'm late to the comment party here - great site, one nitpick. The Longitude Prize was not offered for a better clock, it was offered for any method that would reliably establish longitude to a given precision. Harrison's clock ultimately won the prize, but only after much hassle and among many non-clock proposals.

10:54 PM  

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