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Theo Fanning

Does ubiquity lead to obsolescence?

by Theo Fanning

Does ubiquity lead to obsolescence?

History proves that everything must come to an end—that is just the nature of things. It's a universal constant. Species go extinct, tools become obsolete and empires fall. Though until the last hundred years, successful technologies traditionally had a much longer lifespan.

The steam engine, the printing press, the telegraph. Each of these ground-breaking technologies rose quickly, became an integral part of life and were all eventually replaced by the next evolution. So with today's innovations being born and integrated so quickly, is mass-market adoption the beginning of the end?

In the 20 years of my career, the world has changed... a few times. Big players shrank to small ones, successful juggernauts hit brick walls, and technological "darlings" faded into obscurity. While many would just chalk this up to natural selection... I am beginning to think that when everyone adopts/buys something, it leads to higher stakes and much higher risks.

Pandora's box

Every company dreams of the whole world using their product. But as Jay Z eloquently put it: "More money. More problems." Once a product goes mainstream, competitors come out of woodwork, customer service can become strained, and once die-hard loyalists can become fatigued and start looking for the next latest/greatest product to fill their empty consumer lust. As Facebook's IPO looms, many wonder if the uber social platform will successful make the transition from savvy start-up to tech profit-engine, without users running screaming to the myriad of new social media options or embracing whatever next innovation is waiting in the wings with shiny new (or old) functionality.

Under the radar

Many companies, some real smart ones, have started developing products and services that aren't destined for broad mass consumption.  Companies like Square, Splunk, Polyvore, and Instagram are more specialized and focused on a smaller consumer cross-section and are appealing to them in a more unique way. While this isn't exactly micro-targeting, this narrower approach ignores courting every human need and allows not only for company focus, but consumer focus as well.

For example, most people will only by a new thermostat when the old one breaks or when the move into a new home.  This is a limited market.  Nest is counting on being the tech leader in this homeowner segment that while not limited, certainly isn't as broad or as fickle as the consumer electronic gadget audience (though Nest is smart enough to also appeal to that target).

The end is nigh 

Whether or not you agree that a mass consumer audience can contribute to today's innovations becoming next year's forgotten pop-song, there is one thing that we must agree on—because like death and taxes, it is a forgone conclusion:

All good things must come to an end.

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