Is the pace of technology adoption really speeding up?

One of the most popular stories in the world of tech today is "The Pace of Technology Adoption is Speeding Up".

The problem with this idea is it is based on a fallacy. The fallacy being mobile phones miraculously appeared in the 1990's - when the history of mobile communications clearly indicates mobile phones have been commercially available since the 1950's. The principle also applies to the networked computer.

It's a bit like the TV is dying meme. TV isn't dying. It is just fragmenting. Time shifted and populating more screens of different shapes and sizes than ever before. From theatres and auditoriums to pockets.

If you apply the same metrics to the smart phone that you apply to TV or Telephones in your mapping of the rate of technology adoption you discover that Mobile, Internet and now Augmented Reality and 3-D Printing have some of the slowest rates of adoption of the electronics era.

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The real story here isn't the power of the network effect or how the iPhone revolutionised mobile communications or how Google Glass is the next mobile computing experience but simply the power of narrative to ignite and reshape consumer behaviour.

For one thing is not open to dispute. Our narratives are important.
They shape our world.

Below is the adoption rate for peer to peer networked communications. You will note that the network technology was very slow in adoption until the early 1990's. This is testament to the power of the network narrative. Easily one of the most effective market campaigns in the history of marketing and advertising communications.

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Now compare and contrast this with the growth of the mass communication networks: TV and Radio.

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Notice something? Other than the fact mass communication networks grow significantly faster than peer to peer networks. Smartphones and Facebook are growing like mass media networks and not peer to peer networks.

The question then become one of why?

The answer is very simple. There is a price point that proves to be the tipping point at which the technology adoption hits 50% of the US population.

To demonstrate this idea I have scrapped the pricing of TV's since their introduction in the 1930's and the handheld Mobile Phone since its introduction in the 1980's and adjusted them for inflation.

Not surprisingly you will see the correlation between price point and technology adoption is self evident.

This in turn suggests, if the adoption of technology is indeed speeding up, which it isn't, but if it was, it would be a function of Globalisation, Competition and/or Inflation rather than any underlying merit attributable to the technology.

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We know this because if we apply the same methodology to the adoption of PC's we discover, if Personal Computing is the benchmark metric providing proof of the increase in adoption rates, then the adoption of technology isn't speeding up. It is slowing down.

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The question being why? The answer being, although any number of popular home PC computers hit the market in the 1970's, 80's and 90's the PC failed to traverse the $1,000 inflation adjusted threshold until mid-2000. Around the time of the birth of the *disruptive* smartphone.

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Which is to suggest the rate of technology adoption, at least when it comes to screens and slabs of glass of all shapes and sizes is subject to a fixed price point rather than any underlying perceived value of the technology.

Clearly consumers received more TV innovation for their dollar in the 50's, 60's and 70's, as did Mobile Phone buyers in the 1990's/2000's, than what PC buyers received for their dollar in the 1970's, 80's and 90's and arguably the 00's. Which in turn suggests that the pace of innovation in Silicon Valley during the 1980's, 1990's and 2000's was historically slower than the pace of innovation in the 1950's-70's was in the world of TV and Computing and in the world of Mobile in the late 90's and early 00's.

The most obvious reason for this being the lack of global competition across this sector during the PCDOS and WINTEL decades.

The point being of course, the reason these seem to be the most invigorating and innovative of times is simply because this sector, after decades of historically low levels of innovation - (just how many times can you iterate the functionality of a spreadsheet or word processor?), is now open again to competition. The growth in the web (SaaS) and the mobile apps is disrupting the established market leaders in both hardware and software.

Maybe, just maybe, things are exciting simply because, after 3 or maybe even 4 decades of historically low levels of innovation, the computing industry is catching up on lost time?

Originally Published Autumn 2014. What are we talking about today? Follow us on Twitter

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