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Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense: Technology Fatigue
Have we hit 'Moores Wall'?
Technology is advancing so fast but we still don't have the simple things we want. Peter Cochrane asks if the industry will ever learn...

Over the past three years everyone seems to have developed technology fatigue, with most overwhelmed by the fire hose of new products announced by the day. People can't decide whether to buy or wait a few weeks and get a much better model at a lower price. This is to say nothing of whether we will we be able to understand the myriad of new features, and whether it will all work and live up to the vision of the advertisers and promoters.

I think we have entered an IT era where almost everything is beginning to look stale. Each laptop looks a little flasher then the previous one with improvements that are largely aesthetic, while the fundamental capability is more of the same, only faster. The software and applications are familiar but more complex - and feature death has become a plague.

I can remember when it was possible to know all of the intimate corners of a word processor, graphics package and mobile phone applications. But no longer! It is impossible to navigate all the features without the use of obscenely large handbooks and complicated procedures that often defy the dexterity of my fingers and visual resolution.

It seems to me that we are rapidly heading to a 'Moores Wall' of creativity. There is absolutely no slow down in signal processing power, storage capability, display technology and software advancement. Nor is there any slow down in our ability to create fixed and mobile bandwidth for connectivity.

What is happening may be a consequence of mistiming. The sluggish roll out of broadband contributed to the dot-com crash and the hype of a digital world raised and then dashed people's expectations to the point where the majority are largely disinterested.

Is it any surprise that the demand for broadband is tailing off early? Where is the content? Where are the big life changing gains? Individuals and companies have been screaming for it for years and now it delivers so little. Why the surprise when people try the net once and never return or refuse to buy a new mobile phone when the prices have been doubled to subsidise the 3G fiasco? It should now all be about content and value.

The IT industry's biggest problem is deciding what and when people will purchase, and then supplying it just in time. If you over/under provide/deliver/sell, or mistime, the result is punishing - a downturn in demand of the form we are now witnessing.

Certainly the base technologies have not under-delivered but promises have been made that have not been fulfilled and customers are disappointed with WAP, GPRS, Bluetooth and broadband. TV and movie adverts showing people surfing the web on a mobile phone or watching a movie are a long way from reality and as soon as customers discover this, their reaction is rapid and one way.

Can the industry get out of this hole? I think so. But it will take coordinated and phased activity that sees bandwidth to the home, office and mobile device universally available alongside devices, that can exploit this bandwidth and provide recognisable services and value to customers. The really bad news is that customers are not going to pay. The old notion that you charge by the bit, minute and mile is long dead, along with the fallacy that disposable income per head can magically and instantaneously grow.

There is now an expectation that the processing power and storage capability of devices will double each year and the price will remain the same or drop a little. That expectation is being passed into the world of networks, and the biggest growth area that none of them are able to access and extract value from is peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. What has happened right under their nose is the creation of a new mobile network born of a frustration with the lack of networked bandwidth.

P2P is now responsible for moving more megabytes of entertainment data than all the optical fibre and wireless systems combined. Increasingly people are moving files of huge dimension from one device to another at close quarters and then physically carrying them across the planet to a location and sharing them. Sure this is a slow network but the bandwidth is enormous and the cost virtually zero.

All my life working in the industry I listened to people asking a fundamental question - why do people want all this bandwidth and what will they do with it? And I keep uttering the same response - it's none of our damn business. When you go to buy to car the salesman doesn't ask you what you are going to use it for and he certainly doesn't try to persuade you to buy a bicycle instead. He is very happy for you to trade-up and spend more money, irrespective of what you want to buy.

Until the networking companies adopt the same attitude, we are going to see a growing glitch in the sale of technology and the satisfaction of customer demands.

This column was typed on my laptop on BA348 flying London to Nice and emailed to from Monte Carlo via New York using my GSM phone & for some unknown network reason it was the only way I could get connected.