Devices versus Technology

A couple of months ago, Google announced that Android 2.0 (their mobile operating system) will include a maps navigation service which will provide turn-by-turn driving directions. This news was credited for driving down the stock price of navigation device manufacturers Magellen and Garmin.

But really, this should really come as no surprise. GPS was once so bulky and expensive of a technology that it’s inclusion warranted an entire device be built around it. Now, I get GPS along with WiFi and gigyabytes of storage in something the size of a quarter in my EyeFi camera card1. As the cost of a technology like GPS, accelerometers, cameras, or WiFi approaches free, the uses for it will increase exponentially. Where it once was odd to include WiFi in a stationary device (an iMac or the Wii, for instance) which could be hardwired, cheap WiFi hardware does away with the need to run wires. Bluetooth does essentially the same thing, only with far less range and bandwidth. But, I think that the single best thing about this sort of device consolidation is the new uses that having essentially free hardware allows. Uses that we really can’t quite grasp until the tech is cheap enough to unleash them.

Even now, it may seem odd to think of GPS being included in to what is essentially a stationary device — like a desktop PC — but it once the cost of GPS is nearly zero, then it’s inclusion is inevitable. Including GPS allows a device to suddenly know where it is and that can be handy information; even if that doesn’t change very often. Why should it be easier to pull out your phone quickly get a map of what lunch places are around the office when you’re sitting at a desktop computer? Or insert the need for location for any other website of program you use on any given day2 Data storage is cheap. GPS is cheap. The reasons for having a dedicated GPS device are rapidly approaching zero, which is what both my wife and I have tried to explain to anyone who mentioned we should get a car GPS.

So, I posit the following: When the cost of the technology behind a device drops below a certain threshold, that device will become obsolete in favor or other common devices which can co-op that technology to greater effect. Let’s call it Coleman’s law until someone else shows me someone else previously said it or something similar3.

You might argue: what about a device like the Kindle that uses cellular networks to communicate? E-readers surely won’t replace cell phones, will they? No, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that cell phones are destined to replace e-readers. And this coming from a guy who would love to have an e-ink display reader, himself.

Another argument against device consolidation is that general purpose devices (like a cell phone4) just can’t do any one of those things as well as a special purpose device; and surely that’s true. However, I never hear anyone complain that their low-budget GPS device doesn’t work as well as a high-end mapping system by Trimble used for construction. Nor do I really think most people care that the quality of video on YouTube doesn’t rival that shot on a RED camera. As a matter of fact, I doubt most people even know who Trimble or RED are. So does it really matter if your cell phone doesn’t shoot the same kind of photos or video as a fancy DSLR? My answer is no. The enthusiasts who really want that kind of quality will continue to use those device but the majority of people are taking photos for high-quality but rather because any photo is better than losing the moment.

  1. Truly, the EyeFi card is simply amazing. It is the first bit of tech I’ve had in a long time that really seems closer to magic than to science. []
  2. Of course, cell tower triangulation or IP addresses can be used as reasonable substitutes for GPS technology, but the falling cost of GPS with respect to its accuracy makes it the logical option in almost any device, now. []
  3. Though possibly an extension of Moore’s law, they are not really the same thing. []
  4. I’m not using the phrase "smart phone" here as I simply now consider non-smart phones to simply be last-generation phones. []

One Hundred Year FUD

Nate Anderson at Ars Technica takes a trip down memory lane for the content industry’s century-long fight against technology. Every step is a fight against the conveniences we enjoy everyday (and these fools later learned to monetize):

The anxious rhetoric around new technology is really quite shocking in its vehemence, from claims that the player piano will destroy musical taste and the “national throat” to concerns that the VCR is like the “Boston strangler” to claims that only Hollywood’s premier content could make the DTV transition a success. Most of it turned out to be absurd hyperbole, but it’s interesting to see just how consistent the words and the fears remain across more than a century of innovation and a host of very different devices.

So here they are, in their own words—the copyright holders who demanded restrictions on player pianos, photocopiers, VCRs, home taping, DAT, MP3 players, Napster, the DVR, digital radio, and digital TV.