Bringing Technology to the Masses

by Ben Bajarin   |   October 15th, 2013

Whenever I speak or give a presentation for the first time to a new audience, I start off with a slide where I explain where we are in the transition from the analog world to the digital world.

This transition is a journey and we are roughly halfway through it. The first 25 years of this transition were about bringing digital technologies to the business customer. The next 25 years and beyond will be about bringing those digital technologies to the masses.

Adoption Cycles vs. Innovation Cycles

Often it seems like pundits misunderstand where we are when it comes to industry cycles. Any direct call or critique of a company that they are not innovating enough, or that the products they released aren’t innovative enough to get attention from the market, simply has no fundamental understanding of adoption cycles.

To fully understand adoption cycles, I find Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations philosophy to be apt.

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Classifying the buying mentality of consumers is key to the diffusion of innovations. Geoffrey Moore extended Rogers’ explanation of how innovations get adopted and famously explained that there is a large chasm and most products rarely cross the chasm from enthusiasts to mainstream consumers.

Early adopters want cool the mass market wants useful.

The fundamental understanding is to recognize what is required of a product in order to get it to cross the chasm and move through the adoption curve. When you understand what the latter parts of the market require to adopt, you realize that it is not innovation but evolution. The initial innovation either creates or re-creates the category. The early adopters bend toward innovation, the later and substantially larger parts of the market exhibit patience. Companies work out all the technology kinks with the early adopters and then the mass market accepts them as they are refined and perfected through more evolutionary innovations. Early adopters want cool the mass market wants useful.

Smartphones and Tablets

To put this into perspective for smartphones, for example, Horace Dediu has put the current US smartphone adoption into the diffusion of innovation curve to see where we are.

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What is fascinating about this is that smartphones started gaining steam in 2009 and we are not even halfway into its global adoption cycle. It is estimated that smartphones have yet to penetrate past 30% of the global population. And if history is our guide, what got the smartphone this far is not what will drive it to global saturation.

Tablets are also rapidly climbing the curve and are now bleeding into the mass market. There are many opinions to the size of the total addressable markets for tablets but one thing is becoming clear — it is big.

The smartphone had nearly a four year lead but the tablet is growing fast and has already become the fastest CE device of all time to reach 100 units and is on pace to sell 500 million annually by 2015. The tablet is on pace to become the fastest technology to reach 10% penetration as it is estimated to be around 6-7% today. However, the tablet reached this level of penetration two years faster than the smartphone.

Smartphones and tablets have jumped the chasm and are well on their way through the adoption curve. Evolutionary innovations will be key to drive these products to saturation of their respective addressable markets.

Smart Watches and Wearables

Using the foundation I outlined above, I am personally yet to see a smart watch that has any hope of crossing the chasm. They will have appeal to the predictable enthusiast segment but have a long way to go if they have any shot of appealing to mass market consumers.

I’m more optimistic on health and fitness wearables for the foreseeable future. Health and fitness wearables have a much more clear and simple value proposition. This is why we already see many consumers in the adoption curve using these products already. What is fascinating about this point is that health and fitness wearables are not viewed by the mass market as ‘technology’ even though they are. Rather, they are viewed as a solution or more importantly as an experience. For technology to cross the chasm it must get out of the way and let the experience take center stage.

The Next 25 Years

I have no idea how many new technology categories will be created over the next 25 years. Yet more categories have been created in the past 10 years then in the first 30 of the PC/CE industries life. Because of that I can say with confidence that the next 25 years are going to be some of the most exciting technologically we have ever witnessed.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio