20 January 2008

Probably True, and Both Exciting and Depressing . . .

To stay sane, any consumer needs to think of digital technology as a subscription rather than a product. In the old days, you could buy a typewriter, television or a camera, and it might well last decades. Computers have been different. Once you buy a PC, you are really signing up to upgrade it on a regular basis. Now digital consumer electronics are the same. Your camera, video disc player, and even your television are now likely to become obsolete in just a few years.

Saul Hansell in NYT from this week. Innovation is exciting, constantly having the stuff you buy get passed-up by newer, shinier, faster, and sexier models can get depressing (and really expensive if you want to stay current).

Building in obselence on a very fast timescale is part of the business model now. Durability doesn't pay the bills or increase your stock prices if you are a tech company.

Cellular service providers have gotten consumers used to the idea of "free" handsets that they 'gift' you with after a commitment of another 2 years of service. Will other consumer goods follow that pattern? Will a tech company gobble up a content provider and start offering "free" HDTVs if you promise to stay with 2 years worth of their premium HD package? Will EA offer to give you a "free" PS3 if you agree to buy 25 "Game of the Month" software items at full price (like the old Columbia House semi-rip-off)? These aren't new ideas in retailing, but the number of devices that are basically disposable seems to have increased exponentially.

It's not a good thing, or a bad thing, it's just a thing.

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