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Darwinism & Technology (Part 1)

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There’s this saying: How things change but yet still remain the same. Technology is the anti-thesis of that saying

Another year, another deluge of technology that threatens to drown us all, there had been a lot of hype last year for the industry most of which is driven by the impending arrival of Windows 8. It was hotter than the buzz around the upcoming iProducts that were expected to roll out of the production line and the suddenly, yet equally as incredible, short lifespan of the new iPad. There would be no competition if it had not been for the hordes of Apple worshippers who care about their beloved i-devices.

More than one person would admit that they can’t tell the difference between technology brands, with the only exception being Blackberry

More than one person would admit that they can’t tell the difference between technology brands, with the only exception being Blackberry

Evolution is the process of randomly adopting traits until you find one that works. It is not an act of suddenly sprouting the necessary physical capacity to walk out of the primordial stew to complain about the traffic. Consumer technology is a lot like biology in this sense. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do with designing touch interface if you want to keep your phone working.

More than one person would admit that they can’t tell the difference between technology brands, with the only exception being Blackberry. The physical keyboard is a dead giveaway. Even that will eventually go away in the near future if inside sources are correct. Evolution has a habit of losing vestigial limbs or features in this case.

That’s the core of the issue here really. Design has more or less plateau for consumer technology. It’s not just phones that are experiencing this phenomenon. Tablets and notebooks are beginning to look more and more alike. The new breed of convertible notebooks running Windows 8 is somehow making this trend digress further.

Only Dell’s XPS 12 and Lenovo’s Ideapad Yoga have any claim to be trying something new with the form factor

Only Dell’s XPS 12 and Lenovo’s Ideapad Yoga have any claim to be trying something new with the form factor

Yes, you might point at those convertibles and call them innovative. But upon closer inspection, they are at the core – still tablets with keyboards stuck to them.

It’s not new. We’ve had keyboards for tablets for years now. Only Dell’s XPS 12 and Lenovo’s Ideapad Yoga have any claim to be trying something new with the form factor. Having tested the Yoga myself, I can safely say that I like the direction they’re taking. This is despite the fact that it is quite possible that no consumer ever asked themselves if they could use a notebook in tent mode. Perhaps they should try that while pretending to be on a camping trip with their pet hamster.

The video game theory

There are only two industries that constantly try to push the envelope of technology and try to do something new. One of those cannot be mentioned in polite company while the other is the world of video games.

Sony's slimmed-down, network-ready PS2 is a welcome update to the world's most popular video game console

Sony's slimmed-down, network-ready PS2 is a welcome update to the world's most popular video game console

Consoles are designed to have a distinctive silhouette, something easily identifiable from a single glance. And the whole idea will be thrown away as it is replaced with something that looks completely different. That’s the next generation for you. Just look at the difference between the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2. Then compare the two with the third iteration of Sony’s flagship game console. They are distinctive and don’t run the risk of being mistaken for a competitor’s product.

Even handheld consoles have managed to look different while maintaining the core identity and functionality of the product.

Why is this happening when everything else is looking the same?

One reason could be because these devices have a longer product cycle. Unlike mobile phones, which are refreshed every other quarter, gaming consoles are expected to last several years. This leaves designers plenty of time to adapt their product to the market and not worry about rushing it out the door.

There is also the idea that nobody really cares what their gaming device looks like so long as it does what they want it to do.

Where it all went wrong

Mobile phones once had this approach where manufacturers produced a plethora of shapes, sizes and colors. Anything a jaded consumer could ever want. Phones could flip, slide and convert in a multitude of ways. Then something happened to the industry where everyone decided that they should be building the same phone.

Smartphones became such a huge hit because they were willing to copy a successful design

Smartphones became such a huge hit because they were willing to copy a successful design

This came around the time when the smartphone had been first popularized. Although this certainly wasn’t like that when it was first introduced, despite what popular perception likes to believe.

One might be tempted to point the finger at Apple Computers for starting this trend. And that person wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Most phones and tablets these days do take their design cues from the iPhone and iPad. The same shape and how the home button is always located where it is.

Smartphones became such a huge hit because they were willing to copy a successful design. Even so, controversially speaking, this was also supported through the large Asian manufacturers that hope to break into the global smartphone market by paying homage and...well...copying. Samsung has been sued for patent infringement in several countries. While the verdicts of those cases have been wildly deferring, it all boils down to the same issue.

Years ago, nobody would have heard of HTC, Samsung, or LG. Now, they’re all household names.

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