I had drinks with a friend and his son last night. The son, a young engineer, has gotten R&D seed money for a haptic wearable device for use by blind people as a locator and direction indicator; for GPS enhancement; and as a Bluetooth device for smartphones (if you get a call, it vibrates, for instance.) It's an interesting proposition, although I can't imagine it's something that hasn't been worked on by others.
The fact that honestly, it strikes me mostly as a great idea for the visually and even hearing impaired got me thinking about CES and a Mashable-sponsored show I saw at Javitz last month. It's amazing how many projects at the New York event were either, a) new ways to get real-time information, data, or content you can already get on your phone or elsewhere; or b) products that one immediately knows will go nowhere because the only person who could possibly think it's a wonderful life enhancement is the developer or sales guy. I remember checking out a little 2x2 cube, already for sale, that — what was it? — oh, yeah, connects with your phone to tell you in real-time what the air conditions are in your bedroom. Listen, if I live in New York, I already know what the air quality is in my room. It sucks. If you live in Helena, Mont., it doesn't.
"Does it tell you if you have mold spores?" I asked.
"Um … let’s see. No. But we can included a Geiger counter for only $69.99 more.”
Most consumer product and service marketing involves getting people to want what they don't need, and information technology, either bolted on or native, isn’t exempt from that. I currently have five ways to know where I am and where I'm going; a dozen ways to know what time it is and what the weather is; 50 ways of ordering things; a million ways of studying things, reading content and news; and I can see the Florida house I grew up in from the street. l would even question whether any of this is necessary, except that I’ve forgotten how to use a map.
This is a world of long-tail digital innovations in an information-saturated market, where every new “innovation” brings a smaller nugget of gold to the innovator.
It is a case where, at some level, the ever-rising bar of expectation relegates every single technology product and data channel from mass to luxury, to Ron Popeil's Pocket Fisherman status, "As seen on TV."
I think that, in some sense, we are back in 1999, where there were a million ideas and no bandwidth. Except reversed: we have all the bandwidth we need (in most places), but we're tapped out on ideas. It is telling that the big news is turf wars among Amazon, Apple, Google.
I would kind of hate to be Tim Cook right now. Talk about diminishing returns. The Apple watch is cool, but just cool. Yes, it's technologically incredible, but it's another redundant product, ultimately, isn’t it? And if Apple has that problem, then it's time for another revolution. Not FitBits, or smart shoes, or music channels, even better CGI and games, or even ways to control your thermostat from your phone or from beyond the grave.
Where's the revolution? Functional, connected technology that doesn’t need to talk to you (autonomous cars); smart materials; nano-technology; space elevators; smart infrastructure and ideas like service stations where you can switch out your electric car battery for a newly charged one; extremely fast trains; new energy; new medicine (how about, to start, a new class of antibiotics); smart prosthetic limbs (and remote-control/telekinesis neuroscience); and, yes, a way for the blind to "see." Oh, forgot one: a way to create zombies, and then a really fun way to dispatch them.