Tech columnist foresees ‘gadget apocalypse’

Dec. 9, 2016

Farhad Manjoo at The New York Times is predicting a “gadget apocalypse.” He writes, “For 30 or 40 years, through recessions and war, through stability and revolutions, they were always there, one gadget after another, from transistor radios to TRS-80s to Walkmen and Gameboys, then iPods and Flips, GoPros, and Fitbits.” There were even gadgets—3D printers—that could help you make your own gadgets.

But now, he writes, “Winter is coming for gadgets.” The chill may have begun a decade ago, he writes, when “…the Thing That Does Everything emerged from Cupertino.”

Further, he writes, “…starting a company that makes physical stuff has always been more perilous than starting a company that just makes code”—a point I elaborate on in a post titled “Software is easy, physics not so much.”

Paradoxically, making gadgets is becoming easier. Manjoo quotes Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research, as saying, “In some ways it’s much easier to be a hardware start-up than it ever was before, because the Shenzhen ecosystem gives you all the components you need. But that same ecosystem is available to everybody else, too, so setting yourself apart is really tough.”

Some gadget companies are trying to adapt. See, for example, my post “Wearable device maker seeks ‘need-to-have’ role” about Fitbit. But in many cases the dedicated gadget underperforms “the Thing That Does Everything”—the iPhone in particular or the smartphone in general. My smartphone provides a much more accurate representation of my jogging routine than would a fitness band.

In response, Fitbit CEO James Park has said Fitbit needs to improve its sensors with the goal of encouraging doctors to prescribe Fitbits for their patients for long-term health monitoring.

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