Electronic Design

Technology Adoption—Many Roadblocks Slow It Down

As each new technology is developed and moved into the mainstream, the push to bring more new products to market just seems to accelerate. Some technologies have succeeded beyond many of the original creators' expectations—VCRs, pagers, cell phones, personal computers, MP3 music, and many others. At the same time, due to various self-created roadblocks, other technologies never garnered the necessary momentum to become mainstream. So, they either languished in niche applications or died. Speech recognition and synthesis is one technology that comes to mind.

What causes one technology or product to succeed and another to fail? Although there might be a single key element, usually it's the confluence of several factors that end up making or breaking a technology. User appeal and acceptance (either business or consumer) are potentially the most critical factors. Without a readily apparent reason for having a technology, the market pull from the users may never reach a high enough level to increase the volume sales of a product. High volumes are necessary for manufacturers to obtain the lower component prices that would allow them to cut the cost. As product prices drop, frequently the product will continue its momentum into still more price-sensitive markets.

So, convincing users that they want or need a product presents a major challenge. That's especially true for the latest crop of high-tech items. Why should someone spend a few hundred dollars to replace a $10 pocket appointment book? Does anyone really need a portable MP3 player? The big question that should be asked is what benefit the product will provide. For example, time-shifting television programs became one of the most popular reasons for owning a VCR, while staying in touch drove the trend of cell phones and pagers. Consider how as the price of the basic phone dropped to zero and the cost of calls plummeted, the appeal for cell phones skyrocketed.

In consumer markets, the price of a product can greatly impact the appeal of the item. In many cases, the goal is to reduce the price to a level below what studies call the whimsical purchase threshold of a family member. Such a purchase, typically below $100, will usually be made without first consulting a spouse.

The last major concern in product appeal is the ease-of-use factor. Numerous products are designed based on the limited amount of intelligence that can be embedded. The lack of "smarts" may cause developers to give up on using the CPU to perform complex functions at the click of a single button. Many a product has been tossed into the closet or ended up underused when its owner found the features were hard to control.

In all of these areas, we must take charge to ensure the rapid adoption of our products by offering the best mix of features. We must also make sure that they are the easiest to use for the lowest price. Are you ready?

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