Listening to a tech podcast recently, I was irritated by one of the hosts passing a comment about some aspect of Apple's WWDC keynote where he said,
"...the way it should have been in the first place!"
I've heard this said in the past by members of the public, industry pundits and sometimes even tech geeks and it often irritates me.
Consumers are so satiated with recent advances in technology that they expect more and are in turn impressed less by what they receive with each product iteration. Companies like Apple make it seem so easy to evolve a product through incremental generations that consumers are beginning to question why the intermediate iterations are even necessary! Why didn't Apple just make the iPhone 5 in 2007 ? Why did they waste my time and money with the iPhone, iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4 and 4S. Why didn't it always have a 'Retina' display? Why wasn't it always this slim and with this level of CPU power?
Surely this is the way it should have been in the first place? Right? Ugh!
What these weekend-visionaries fail to understand is the process of evolution itself, something which predates the iPhone, the integrated circuit, the transistor, electricity and the human race. While I'm no expert on Darwin's theory of natural selection I know enough to know that evolution is driven by diversity and mutation, where successful differences carry forward into future generations and unsuccessful differences are discarded. This process requires a catalyst for change and a way to assess the relative merit of that change.
An innovative company can provide the necessary change, and the greater the capability and vision of that company, the greater the change that can be effected in a single iteration without feedback. The ability of Apple to envision, design and manufacture the original iPhone in almost complete secrecy is a great example of how much evolution can be accomplished in a single iteration but this is rare. Eventually, in order to measure whether the change is good or bad, feedback is required.
In the technology realm, feedback is mostly provided by the consumers and the markets. Apple are somewhat unique in that they intentionally target the end user rather than IT departments and this tends to yield feedback of the purest kind, free from corporate politics and whims. They also have excellent control of the retail channel, support and supply chain so their measurement capability is highly effective.
However, despite Apple's size and formidable design and logistics capabilities, they must rely on a wide range of third parties for things like CPUs, LCDs, flash memory and battery technology. Each of these companies and technologies must experience the same process of evolution, driven by the demand for those components. This process can often be slower as it requires the construction of factories and complex manufacturing processes and while it can be relatively quick to produce some proof of concept parts, it takes time to scale up to multi-million components per month with a yield level which makes it economically viable.
I'm as impatient as anyone in the technology field and I want tomorrow's technology today like everyone else. However, it's important to recognise that the speed of technological evolution has seldom been faster than it is today and shows few signs of slowing down. But we are talking about 'Evolution' and by definition this is a continuous cycle of change and measurement. We will continue to see intermediate designs which will be flawed and imperfect and sadly this probably means we will continue to hear the same complaints.If wish we could all just enjoy the journey and applaud the incredible evolution we are witnessing. After all, if we ever achieve perfection then by definition, evolution will have ended. Thankfully I trust nature to intervene before that can happen.