Business Insider just published a think piece about the future of technology. It is incredibly pessimistic and is saying that no-one cares about the big breakthroughs in technology. Matt Weinberger, who wrote the post, is using the example of both VR and smartwatches, which he says are struggling to make an impact. He has a point; the news isn’t good right now for both. So are these two new breakthroughs destined to failure?
Living in a technology bubble
Working in the technology sector, and consuming a lot of news around technology can create a false impression. For example, most of my colleagues have tried out Virtual Reality and are interested in getting it once it’s cheap to do so. Likewise, I see many smartwatches on people’s wrists around me. My family all have a variation of a smartwatch/glorified fitness tracker. A lot of media I consume discusses technology, and I watch plenty of VR-related material. If I used anecdotal evidence from just these surroundings, I would say VR and smartwatches are doing fine. But we are not reflective of the rest of the world.
Facebook is pulling demonstration stalls of the Oculus Rift out of Best Buy in the United States. Smartwatches are doing ok, but nothing record-breaking. If these two technologies were to be the next big thing, surely everyone would have one by now? Instead, most consumers are not only not interested but have no idea about these developments. VR is still an unknown for most consumers. Even I have been guilty of scoffing at the concept of the Apple Watch. I still do, but only because it’s an Apple product and I’ve taken to wearing a Garmin instead.
So why is it that we are talking about the hard times facing new technology entering the broad market? One possible explanation is it’s too expensive. That has been levied against both before. Here in Singapore, it’s S$1368 for an HTC Vive, and that’s without buying a PC powerful enough to run it on. The newer Apple Watch is $S548, and unlike a standard watch needs to be charged near daily. For the average consumer, that is a lot. Then again, so is a new iPhone 7, and they’re not exactly rare. Samsung, Sony, HTC and any other smartphone manufacturer have likewise not had any issue shipping their expensive headsets. So what is the problem?
The cult of the salesman
I have a personal theory about why VR and Smartwatches, as well as any new significant technology breakthrough, is not breaching mass market. There is no big driving personality behind the product. There are plenty of great salesmen out there, but they lack a certain presence. Someone who can get on a stage and sell you pretty much anything with their own conviction. This is what both VR and Smartwatches desperately need.
A good example would be smartphones. They existed long before the iPhone was unleashed on the world, but it wasn’t until Steve Jobs made that presentation that suddenly everyone wanted on. It was the same before that with the iPod. However, since Tim Cook doesn’t have anywhere near the same kind of presence, it won’t be Apple that makes the push. Look at the Apple Watch after all, which failed its first impression. Who it will be that can break that ground is anyone’s guess at the moment. Maybe it’ll be Zuckerberg, but that is unlikely given recent events. Either way, for the sake of those living in the technology bubble, someone needs to prove Weinberger wrong.