“Not every technology needs to be in the hands of billions of people to make a difference.” — New York Times columnist Shira Ovide
From “V.R. is not a hit. That’s OK,” in her Tuesday On Tech newsletter:
Not so long ago, V.R. was predicted to become a Very Big Deal, but instead most of us are happy to ignore it. The same goes for a similar technology called augmented reality, which mixes virtual images with the real world and allows people to check out how a pair of shoes might look with their outfit or play the Pokémon Go smartphone game in the park.
Sales of some V.R. systems like Facebook’s Oculus did increase during the pandemic, and it’s possible that V.R. and augmented reality could still make it big as Apple, Facebook and other companies keep working on the technologies. For years, though, they have remained far outside the mainstream…
I’ve written before about our affinity for cool technology over more pedestrian advances, and how this fixation can lead to overheated predictions that the latest flashy tech thing will take over the world. Our interest wanes if something turns out instead to be Not That Big of a Deal.
This pattern of hope for a cool new tech, followed by disappointment and then a possible second act is so common that the industry research group Gartner has given it a name: the hype cycle, with a low point (the “trough of disillusionment”) about where V.R. has been.
After the trough comes the slope of enlightenment, when people retool to figure out where a technology could be put to more effective use. (You either love these metaphors or you hate them.) The outcome may not be as momentous or world-changing as initially hoped, but that doesn’t make a technology pointless.
Like V.R., driverless cars may never hit the road in huge numbers— or they might! — but there are potential uses for short-haul delivery vans or fixed routes in office parks. Bitcoin seems so far like a pointless speculative plaything, but similar financial technologies could find a purpose in enabling collective ownership of communal projects like internet networks or local news organizations.
My take: Like her metaphors, but not sure about her premise. To make a dent in the universe from Apple’s point of view, a new product needs an addressable market in — if not billions — then tens of millions.