02 February 2006

Technical Integration

Cory Doctorow asks:

I've often wondered why the camera in my pocket -- which has a fast processor, a big beautiful screen, and a four-way rocker-switch -- doesn't come with a couple thousand video-games, given its capacious memory.

I can think of several reasons:

The camera state-of-the-art is fast-moving. The extra time it takes to design in the game features for a given model will delay it - putting it up in the market against newer designs.

Software reliablility. Cameras don't crash. Games do. I slight tendency to crash would be a huge problem for a camera.

Phones. If you want a single do-anything gadget, it's more likely to be a phone with a camera in it than a camera with extra features. Buyers of specialist cameras - which aren't phones or pdas - are likely to concentrate solely on phone features.

General "integrated device problems" - if one feature goes obsolete, the other is left with an obsolete device hanging off it. If one feature breaks, the other is left with a broken device hanging off it.

These things take time. I remember a long period during which laser printers, photocopiers, faxes and scanners were all made of different combinations of the same functional elements, but multi-functional devices that could fulfil the different roles were not available. They became available once the features of each device reached a plateau - where integrating different functions became a more useful innovation than improving any one function.

There is a pernicious belief that what matters in innovation is ideas. The idea of integrating a dvd-player into a television, the idea of a compressed-air powered toy aeroplane, the idea of selling petfood on the internet. What matters isn't having the idea, it's making it work.

All these things will happen when someone invests in making them work. I'm planning to hang on to my antediluvian Nokia 3310 until I can replace it with a model integrating an MP3 player with >20Gb of storage. I estimate 2009, including a year for the early-adopter tax to go away.

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