Obsoletive: Revolutionary Products in Tech Don’t Disrupt-They Obsolete

Disruption is low-end; a disruptive product is worse than the incumbent technology on the vectors that the incumbent’s customers care about. But, it’s cheaper, and better on other vectors that different customers care about. And, eventually, as the new technology improves, it takes the incumbent’s market.

This is not what happened in cell phones.

In 2006, the Nokia 1600 was the top-selling phone in the world, and the BlackBerry Pearl the best-selling smartphone. Both were only a year away from their doom, but that doom was not a cheaper, less-capable product, but in fact the exact opposite: a far more powerful, and fantastically more expensive product called the iPhone.

The jobs done by Nokia and BlackBerry were reduced to apps on the iPhone

The problem for Nokia and BlackBerry was that their specialties – calling, messaging, and email – were simply apps: one function on a general-purpose computer. A dedicated device that only did calls, or messages, or email, was simply obsolete.

An even cursory examination of tech history makes it clear that “obsoletion” – where a cheaper, single-purpose product is replaced by a more expensive, general purpose product – is just as common as “disruption” – even more so, in fact. Just a few examples (think about it – you’ll come up with a bunch more):

  • The typewriter and word processor were obsoleted by the PC
  • Typesetting was obsoleted by the Mac and desktop publishing
  • The newspaper was obsoleted by the Internet
  • The CD player was obsoleted by the iPod
  • The iPod was obsoleted by the iPhone

Smartphones and app stores have only accelerated this process, obsoleting the point-and-shoot, handheld video games, watches, calculators, maps, and many, many more.

It’s rather striking how often Apple’s products appear on that list. The Mac (and PC), iPod, and iPhone weren’t so much disruptive as they were obsoletive. They absorbed a wide range of specialized tools for a price far greater than any one of those tools cost on their own. It’s reasonable to assume that whatever Apple comes out with next will absolutely be in the same vein.

via Obsoletive: Revolutionary Products in Tech Don’t Disrupt-They Obsolete.

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