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July 2014The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Unwanted Technology

Not everyone wants the latest and greatest when it comes to technology. While there are a few people who get each piece of new technology when it first becomes available, the vast majority of people wait quite a while before adopting the new technology and some people don't need it at all. One reason why most people wait at least a while is that only a small fraction of the new technology that comes out makes it into the mainstream. Often two or more alternatives are initially produced and only one alternative survives past the initial period - those who adopted one of the variants that didn't make it are then left with technology that is not as useful as it could have been.

Let's consider a few of examples where rushing into the latest technology turned out not to be the best idea. One example where we can see the entire history of the technology from start to finish is video recorders. These are now obsolete technology which out everyone has abandoned but when it first came out the system that was used was called Beta. This produced high quality recordings and was adopted by the television industry even before units were produced for sale to the general public. Due to the high quality of the recordings the system was relatively expensive to produce and while the industry adopted it as their new standard for video recording it was not very popular with the general public. Soon a cheaper alternative called VHS came on the market and soon overtook Beta as the choice for home recording. A new industry then developed to sell or rent videos to the public. As VHS was the popular choice for home use it soon became impossible to buy or rent videos in Beta format and this format effectively died out (at least for the general public). When DVDs became available these were of a higher standard than VHS and cheaper to produce and VHS itself became effectively obsolete. Meanwhile the industry itself continued to use Beta as that was of a higher quality than the the DVDs and Beta ended up having almost twice the lifespan of VHS.

A more modern example also relating to video was regarding the successor to DVDs. Again two alternatives entered the market at about the same time - DVD-HD and BluRay. In thi9s instance there was nothing really to choose between the two in terms of the quality or the price and it was even possible to produce disks that would work with both formats (as the recordings were made at different depths within the media). You might have expected that these differences would allow both to survive but this didn't happen and now only one of the two formats exists.

To provide a computer related example let's consider operating systems. The original IMB PC was only released using the processing chip that it had because the one IBM wanted to use was,t quite ready and they didn't want to wait. Also the owners of the operating system IBM wanted to use refused to sit down and discuss anything with IBM because of the conditions IBM wanted to apply to those discussions. This resulted in IBM getting Microsoft to provide an operating system and Microsoft purchased one which they modified slightly and released as DOS.IBM then asked Microsoft to develop a new operating system (to be known as OS/2) that would run on what IBM intended to be the real version of their computer which they released as the IBM-AT). This pc was capable of multi-tasking and so the operating system was designed to allow true multi-tasking. Unfortunately a lot of people had purchased IBM's initial PC and XT computers which were never actually intended to be around for very long and few understood the benefits of the new operating system. Meanwhile a lot of companies worked on graphical interfaces that would run on top of DOS. Initially none of these was even remotely successful. IBM and Microsoft even combined the best features of each of their offerings - again without success. It was only a few years later when Microsoft tweaked their third attempt at such an overlay that a graphical interface finally became popular. This popularity and the rise in the number of alternatives to IBM who actually paid Microsoft for the operating system led to IBM and Microsoft parting company with both having the rights to further develop OS/2. It then took Microsoft a further four versions and three significant name changes (first to Windows NT, then to Windows 2000 and finally to Windows XP) before Microsoft was able to get everyone to move from DOD (designed to run one program at a time on the IBM PC) to running a multi-tasking operating system. Meanwhile those who chose to follow IBM's upgrade path with OS/2 (eventually renamed eCommStation) eventually found that their source of new software had disappeared as 32 bit versions of programs for Microsoft's version were not compatible with IBM's version.

So rushing in too soon can result in you ending up with technology that is effectively obsolete because most people chose an incompatible alternative (or decided not to adopt the new technology at all). Even when the majority decide to adopt a new technology though, not everyone will do so. After the early adopters who use the new technology because it is new, the next group to adopt it will be those who really need it.

When mobile phones got to this second stage it was mainly tradesmen who were purchasing them. These people spend most of their day on the road travelling to whoever needs their services and the mobile phones made it possible for them to be contacted during the day (perhaps to let them know about another job close to the one they were at that they could squeeze into their schedule and so make more money). It was quite a few years after this before mobile phones became something that almost everyone has and part of the reason for that is the way that other useful to have technology has been incorporated into the same device making it multipurpose. Now you can take pictures or navigate to your destination using the same device as you use to make phone calls. Not everyone has a mobile phone though because there are some people who only purchase the technology that they actually need and some who actively avoid technology.

Sometimes technology is forced on people by those providing the product. For example it is now impossible to get a debit card that does not have wave and go technology built into it - whether you actually want that technology or not). There are only a small number of debit card providers and they have decided that they will now only make debit cards available that have this technology built in. So for those who don't want this technology the only alternatives are to either not have a debit card or to make modifications to the card yourself to remove the unwanted technology.

Apart from those who actively avoid all modern technology (but who are generally quite happy to use technology as long as it has been around for a few hundred years) there are those who look on technology as just another range of tools. Just as they don't buy a concrete mixer unless they have a significant amount of concreting to do, they don't buy a mobile phone unless they have an actual use for one that makes it worth the cost of having one. The widespread use of technology by those who don't really need it but who got one because they think everyone else has one means that the expectation comes about that everyone does have one and so they start to get used for additional purposes (such as requiring a mobile phone number for identification purposes). While this does provide an additional reason for needing one, it will not be enough to convince everyone that they need this particular tool and again (as with the mandatory but unwanted debit card technology) people are denied a choice in one area based on their choice regarding something completely unrelated.

Sometimes the inappropriate tertiary use of a given technology can make it extremely difficult for people who don't have any need for the primary or secondary uses of a given technology (eg. not needing to be able to make phone calls from anywhere or to be able to take pictures using a mobile phone but needing to obtain information from a bank with regard to a bank account). Of course in a case like this the bank will provide an alternative for those without the particular technology as they want your business and realise that they will lose it if they don't provide an alternative but not every provider is smart enough to realise that their inappropriate technology requirements (which are not in any way really required to be able to use their product) might actually be losing them a small but significant part of their possible market.
 

On Site

As planned I created a number of CSS forms articles during the past month. To give a bit more variety to the articles and given that a lot of accounting software is now appearing 'on the cloud' I have decided to start yet another category of articles on the site to deal with setting up some of the new cloud accounting software.
 

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