The limits of tech writing

For some time now I have been struggling with the idea of writing new tech articles every day. When I say for some time, I probably mean the past 3-4 years.

This is not because manufacturers are not developing good products, on they whole they are, but because we have reached a point that we should all be delighted with. We have phones that makes computers of the past look like mere toys and usability that makes computers of the past look like, well, computers.The future is now for those of us who remember the past and tech is just another part of living in 2017. New phones cause some excitement, as do tablets and computers, but ultimately they are mere products that we use to get through the day. We are not quite at the point where a phone is considered as much of a commodity as a washing machine, but it will happen and at that point websites like this one become so niche as to not be noticeable.

Many talk about the lack of innovation in recent mobile products which was always bound to happen, but imagine a future where there is almost no innovation at all. A future where you walk into a store and there is a selection of phones that are all very similar in design and which vary so little in terms of features that there is almost nothing to choose. Like fridges and washing machines, they will be standard items that you need and that you do not cherish.

This is obvious of course because it happened with the television until flat screens became a thing and it will happen again. I remember my father saying that stereo systems were all the same in the 1980’s and thus his tech of the time became normal.

New products will appear and old ones will become normal before they die off, and I believe that we are closing in on the normal phase for phones. Take a look at the websites dedicated to mobile tech today and the trend is clear. How many ‘these apps have been discounted today’ articles are there every single day? How many articles offering advice on how to do very simple things and how many articles are backed by excitement from the author. An author who likely feels like he has written the same thing over and over for the past 3 years.

I am trying not to be negative, I really am, but this is why so much content on Lost In Mobile is about other things. There is only so much that can be written about mobile tech in 2017 that is truly original because there are only so many products that tick the originality box. I am left wondering what the next big thing will be and I am pleased to say that I have no idea what it could be.

Categories: Articles

6 replies

  1. There is still a ton of innovation that can be done. Either the manufacturers are afraid to break outside the known for fear they’ll lose customers, or else they just lack creativity. I have faith that there are huge changes in store even though we seem to have stagnated lately.

    • Not sure I agree, at least in the context of phones. The “fondleslab” form factor introduced by the iPhone is so flexible, it moves the problem.

      Lets look to Star Trek.

      William Gibson left out cellphones from Neuromancer, because that kind of communicator sounded too “Captain Kirk”-ish. And now voice communication is the oldest, most boring, and generally reviled function our phones do.

      So our phones have the communicator and even the tricorder. (Ok, its scanning is a little weak, but still- it does GPS, motion detection, video and audio…)

      So the Star Trek next generation invented the “LCARS” display. Now in some ways that was just a cost saving measure, so they could easily and cheaply make up different operator consoles, but still; that’s what we have today with phones and ipads. Stuff appears on a virtual screen, reconfiguring itself as needed. Software and virtual screens have a much lower cost for innovation, and while there’s a small trend to make things tactile again (like Microsofts twisty knobs for artists) that’s where the innovation is. (Maybe haptic feedback is the next thing… I might be talking out the side of my neck here but what if focused audio waves could give push back somehow? Just a thought)

      What else does Star Trek offer? The Holodeck. The Replicator. The Teleporter.

      What do we have? VR/AR. 3D Printing. And uh… self driving cars I guess? All weak sauce versions of the TV versions. But, baby steps.

      Much like Stereos in the 80s meant you could then think more about the music played (actually come to think of it it moved to formats – LP to tape to CD to MP3 to streaming) the innovation should be seen in apps, at least for now (though even there you’re up against people’s expectations of how a given app “should” work)

      • Think bigger. There are other ways to input and display data as well as interact with it. There are other ways to link that data and manipulate it. There are also other ways to think about all of this.

        • Well, I tried to think a bit bigger: like haptics. (Either sonic waves (tho maybe a bit too Dr Who) or surfaces that have some limited ability to raise part of themselves) Holograms would be nice… it’s pretty cool that there’s the Nintendo 3DS with some 3D without goggles, but that’s pretty limited.

          But you’re speaking of data – I mean input and manipulating and linking might have physical elements, but what are you thinking of? More Graphic Design and UX challenges? Or network/cloud stuff? (though again both of these don’t necessarily need hardware changes that would be fun for the tech writers to get into)

          (Oh, and regarding inputting data— Voice Recognition and Synthesis- that’s another Star Trek element we have in crude form now. Now when Scotty sat down at a Mac, “Hello, Computer” wouldn’t be quite such a laugh)

          But it’s one thing to urge people to “think bigger” and get all meta about how there are other ways of thinking about this, but what are some concrete examples? That’s where the rubber meets the road…. and I still stand by my earlier point, I think now that we all carry around little blank canvases, it’s not surprising the action is what goes on in those canvases, and not on the canvas itself…

  2. Shaun, whether or not you write tech articles every day, this site is still one of my favourites. There is always something interesting, whether it’s from you directly or one of the other community members.

    To the topic, I think at the moment, we are in a bit of a plateau as far as mobile is concerned. And I would include wearables. But computers and computing devices have always been enablers. Enablers for things you might not have thought you needed or wanted, but things you find you can’t do, or don’t want to do, without.

    I believe there will be a surge of new mobile “things” over the next few years. Just look at what companies are working on. And don’t be put off by the size of prototypes. Remember how big mobile phones once were. First the tech is created and developed, then engineering makes it practical.

    I think medical applications are about to take a big leap. At some point we will all have access to our own medical tricorder. It may be that the biggest barrier is not the tech, but the bureaucrats trying to decide what’s best for us. AR would be of great interest in the fitness industry, especially with some way of doing a heads up display without wearing glasses or a contact lens of some sort. There are lots of other examples.

    So who will be first with the next big thing. I’ll bet it’ll be a small to medium sized company that isn’t bogged down with existing product. That is unless a company like Apple or Google allow a small group some time and freedom.

  3. Yeah, I am getting all meta to some extent. I’m sorry I didn’t reply right away – was on the road all day yesterday. I think there are other ways to get data in and out of our computers/phones. Why do we have to have a rectangular slab? How about ideas like Google Glass or other shapes of slab or ways to wear it. What about brain interfaces? How about better ways of connecting and manipulating data – like ways of retrieving addresses or articles and embedding them in documents? There have been better paradigms in computing in the past that have been superseded by simpler designs that the masses could understand. Look at the chord keyboard or apps that combine relational data and databases with hierarchical structure and linking. I’m trying to think of other concrete examples. (Come on, brain, think!) I’ll think on it and come up with several good examples. May have to do some research into other ideas I’ve seen over the years in papers and sci-fi. My aging brain is none too sharp lately.

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