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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Half-Life of Technology

I can remember when my parents last bought a new TV, they had the old one for more than 10 years! With the new TV installed and in use they actually only then realized that everything looked better in HD! I share this with you as I have been thinking about the speed, at which these days, we are refreshing our technology devices. Think about it, what is the “half life” of your technology devices these days and by that I mean, at what point, are you already starting to think about upgrading your devices from the moment you purchased the last one? Half-life is the moment when you could continue to use your device but it is either so far behind the functionality of other devices or because of performance issues, it is increasingly unusable – both points, which would normally take 3-5 years, are now more likely to be only 1-2 years.

Historically, we would see significant forward leaps in technology or that our current devices, of “x” years, had simply given up to validate the half life point when we were considering a new device. However, today these changes are brought about, not by leaps forward in device functionality, but merely by the controls put on us by vendors seeking to sell as much hardware as possible, as frequently as possible. We have all seen the leap forward in functionality and speed for mobile phones, laptops and tablets over the past 20 years, however, we are seeing this definitely slowing. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great developments in recent years, but many of these are software related. We have to ask ourselves how many of these updates, whether they be related to mobile, media or network, could actually have been made on the existing hardware or upgrading what they already have. Do you really have to buy a new device and/or network to gain the functionality through a potential software upgrade?

I am increasingly amazed to see so many new software releases on home and mobile devices being limited to a particular selection of devices – if you don’t have the latest phone, TV, media hub or home router, then the update might not work on your device … oh and by the way even if you do, it may only be applicable for the coming three releases (usually within a year). At this point, you will most likely start to reach the Half-life of your device, without even realizing it, and as you consider a new device, in order to realize the benefits of new upgrades and performance. We have all experienced hitting the well known wall of functionality or been in the position of receiving the last available upgrade designed to stretch your devices performance. This is the time they want to “educate” us in looking at new devices to realize performance gains once again. This is definitely not a circle of life (okay technology) that I was not looking to be a part of.

So, why is there a drive against reusing Hardware and the rapidly decreasing half-life of our devices? I thought everything was supposed to be in the cloud – i.e. accessible to all through your devices so that we didn’t need all of these upgrades? What happened to the services we wanted using the devices we wanted and simply accessing these in the cloud as and when we choose?

There is an exciting opportunity here to the emerging device and software manufacturers to partner and develop solutions which simplify the end device to being only a terminal and all of the smarts and computing in the cloud resulting in an upgradable system without having to change your handset – oh hang on that was called Virtual Desktop, something which can work on everything from Computers to Mobiles to Media devices. BUT, why would manufacturers want to do this when it would result in potentially selling less Hardware and more software … woah isn’t that a potential environmental benefit as well? The improvements in networks to businesses and the home mean we are ready for this change, however hardware vendors would need to change their business model, something which obviously will be difficult, as hardware results in quick revenues and software can mean lower revenues to start with but more sustainable and adjustable to the market needs

In all seriousness, something is going to need to change. The half-life of technology devices has dropped rapidly and in order to realize sustainable benefits, once again, we as the end user community and technology evangelists need to be driving a change in approach. Lets realize this push into cloud services! This will enable all of us to extend the life of our existing devices whilst leveraging new capabilities, pushed to us from the extensive number of data centres and internet platforms, that are already out there. I enjoy testing new devices but I would much rather be testing how different software solutions could maximize my device as opposed to restricting its functionality and more importantly limiting its life span to less than four seasons.

I look forward to a generation of platforms which shift the focus back to the needs of the end user experience, separate from device and platform, yet central to defining multiple scenario experiences for the end user, i.e. we decide how we want to view content, applications and services depending on the device or platform we choose to use, rather than being limited by them. Maybe this is wishful thinking but it’s my Birthday so today I should be allowed to ... right?

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