How Technology Grows Up

There is an important observation to be made about the life cycle of technology. It relates to how a technology is born, goes through predictable stages of development, then reaches maturity. With the coming of the Apple Watch, it seems a good time to shed light on how this process works.

As we look back at the earliest computing products, from PCs, early tablets, cell phones, smartphones, and more, we often take for granted how much evolution took place over many years as the product took “baby steps” over the course of time to get to where it is today.

Think about the first PCs. If someone was to launch a PC that looked like this today, no one would take it seriously.


It would be a step backward, not a step forward. However at the time, in its context both of the maturity of the technologies and other circumstances, it was a huge step forward.

The same is true of the first iPhone. Compared to today’s smartphones, the first iPhone looks rudimentary. If someone was to launch a product exactly like the first iPhone today, it would be viewed as a step backwards, not forwards. Yet, at the time, it was a huge leap.

Just to add some perspective to this, here are a few things the first iPhone did not include:

– Front facing camera
– 3G
– Customizable Wall paper/backgrounds
– Ability to rearrange location of apps
– Copy/Paste
– Exchange server support
– Searchable inbox
– Turn by turn guided navigation
– Gyroscope
– App store/downloadable apps
– Third party notifications
– Many more

Each of the products I mentioned grew up. All the things I mentioned above were not included in the first iPhone, but are table stakes today in a modern smartphone. The iPhone grew up over time. It took many iterations, using the best in microprocessor architecture, software design, and other hardware components available. Like all things, technology doesn’t stand still. It paves the way for the development of each next stage.

The Apple Watch will similarly abide by this process. It will come out as an immature product. It will evolve over time as technological capabilities allow. The software will get better and more refined over the process of its maturity. Developers will evolve and grow as well. Not only does the product grow up, but so does the ecosystem around it. The Apple Watch, its technology, software, and capabilities will, in 2020, look dramatically different than the Apple Watch of 2015.

It is easy for many to look at the Apple Watch today and demand it be released as fully grown up product. However, what that viewpoint overlooks is the necessity of the growth process. We as humans don’t skip grammar school and go straight into college at ten years old. We know there is a process to growing up. Like human developmental stages, this applies to technology as well.

The Market Grows in Parallel
There is another thing that goes along with the growth process of a specific technology. As a new technology grows, so do our expectations grow with it. This is why products a decade old, or even four years old, look rudimentary to us today. Not only has the technology evolved but we have evolved with it and our expectations change over time.

Imagine the iPhone 6 was released in 2002. How would the market have reacted to it? Most consumers were just getting their first PCs or cell phones around this time. Would they have even been ready for the iPhone 6? There is a good chance it would have been too advanced and ahead of its time for where the consumer tolerance for technology was at the time. This is why we must respect and appreciate the process of a technology’s and market’s growth.

This is simply how it works. There is a process. There are observable stages of growth. I, for one, appreciate the process and enjoy studying and documenting how innovations, and the markets for those innovations, develop at each stage of their growth cycle.

In 2020, when we look back at the Apple Watch, it will look rudimentary. Yet, we will also realize, what it seems is so hard to internalize today, that is also a huge step forward.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research 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 and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

49 thoughts on “How Technology Grows Up”

  1. I totally agree with this thesis.

    However, while a few products grow up and become much much larger, there are also products that grow somewhat but fail to grow further. For example, Palm was on the right direction towards an iPhone-like device, but it fell short. Why did Japan’s i-mode or Blackberry somehow stall at the ‘baby-Internet’, and not fully embrace a full-browser like the iPhone? Why did the Macintosh fail to evolve past it’s primitive multitasking and memory protection architecture, requiring a drastic brain transplant in the form of Mac OS X? Until we understand what separates the successes from the failures, in particular, what causes partially successful products to stall halfway, I sure we won’t be able to predict the future.

    Although I too think that the Apple Watch has legs, I struggle to find an objective criteria to separate it from the products that have failed. I have hypotheses, but I’m looking for some concrete stuff.

    1. I would link this to the notion of “launch window”. If you launch too late then there will be strong incumbents who are very difficult to dislodge.
      However, launching too early is also dangerous because the product may not be viable as the technology is too expensive, the functionality too limited and the market too small.
      Another drawback of launching early is – even if you have a viable product – that underlying its success are fundamental design trade-offs (technical debt) that prevent the product from scaling with new technologies or price changes.
      For example, implicit assumptions about processing capacity or memory always being limited will drive OS design in ways that make it very hardware specific. Once those previous constraints are lifted, their mirror image will still be baked into the software that is now unable to benefit from new/cheaper technology.
      The Apple Watch seems to be within a reasonable launch window and it is conceived as a technology platform on which others can build. I think it will be successful if Apple, already today, has a good idea where it wants to go with the next 3-5 iterations. That should allow them to avoid taking on too much technical debt.

      1. I would link this to the notion of “launch window”.
        The Apple Watch seems to be within a reasonable launch window

        1. That’s funny, I see the iWatch as more of a fashionista item, something you buy mostly to show off. Then again, that’s what the iPhone market is too.
          Hopefully it will be an OR logical operation on those 2 segments , because if it’s an AND, that’s very few people.

          1. While the Fashionista argument is commonly thrown out, it’ll be the uses that make it sell. And women have the potential to take it big. After all, how many woman take a smartphone onto a dance floor. Same for business. You are not going to pull that phone out during an important meeting. But if a watch with the right filtering can deliver something important then it’s got a use. Android wear could fulfill the same tasks if it can be appealing and that means appealing to everyone’s Fashion esthetics.

          2. To be useful, a non-data watch needs to be within BT or Wifi range of its phone. Not sure that’ll be the case in the phone is at the coat check. I’m fairly sure we’ll get data watches soon enough, probably with intermittent connexions to save on battery (every 5 minutes should be enough for everyone ^^)
            As for checking a phone vs checking one’s watch during a meeting, I’m not sure which is the most insulting or disruptive (not in THAT sense). At least with a phone the assumption is “that guy is checking his mail”, not “am I boring you ?”… the same filters are available for phones, too (not that I see many using them).
            Edit also, a watch won’t take selfies (well, there’s a Samsung one which does)

        2. The tech industry has been shrinking computers for the past 70 years: mainframe, minicomputer, desktop, laptop, smartphone/tablet. I’m fairly confident that a wrist computer (or other wearable) is a logical next step in this progression, because it will allow computers to go to even more places that they were not able to go before (i.e. there are many social situations where pulling out your phone is not-done).
          One of the things I took away from Clay Christensen’s work was that size is seriously underestimated as a disruptive factor, because it results in seemingly ridiculous new products that are severely underpowered by traditional metrics. However, if you compare the spec sheets of the original iPhone to today’s iPhone (or any other flagship smartphone), you see immediately how fast technology develops.
          The key question is not whether Apple will get everything right (they won’t), but whether they get enough of it right to establish the category.

        3. I can pretty much guarantee that the higher end segment of the market (Apple customers) will gladly pay for the convenience of not having to use their phone for every little task. I’ve been saying this since the Apple Watch was just a rumor, most analysts seem to be underestimating how valuable it is to some consumers to make life just a little bit easier, a little bit smoother. Now of course that isn’t most of the market, it’s mainly the higher end segment (which Apple dominates). This is why I think Android Wear is going to take quite a while to gain traction, price points on Android wearables are going to have to come down a lot before the lower end segment (which is the bulk of Android sales) buys in. Most Android users, I think, will be fine with their phone being good enough. It does seem to be mostly the Android crowd making the argument “I can already do all of that on my phone”. That argument demonstrates that they place zero value on the convenience of a wearable. So will those folks ever pay for a wearable? Maybe not.

          1. Even with the fact that the high end is controlled by Apple, Android still have a lot of high end users(in numbers), especially with their dominance over large screens for quite a while. On the other hand , the sales of Android wear are very low.

            Doesn’t this put a big question mark over the general utility of a smart watch(or at least with the usage scenarios we’re currently seeing) ?

          2. Android has high end users, certainly, but it is necessarily a fragmented group with many vendors working against each other. That’s the appeal of Android. It’s also why it’s tough for Android to deliver a seamless integrated experience in wearables. I think it will happen, but it’s going to take longer. Apple has a natural advantage with a much more focused segment and vertical integration. Apple can move quicker. It does also look like high end Android is smaller than Apple’s base.

            All that said, I’ve seen many commenters who say they are high end Android users making the argument “Meh, I can already do that on my phone”. So maybe they’re just saying that to bash Apple, or maybe they really don’t want to spend additional money for the convenience of a wearable. If high end Android users really are happy with their phone being good enough, that’s not good for the future of Android Wear.

            That you would use the word ‘utility’ in reference to a smart watch suggests that you also view it along those lines, not worth paying for the added convenience. There is no doubt that there are many uses cases for wearables that deliver value in the form of convenience. The question is, what segment recognizes that value and will pay for it? This is where Apple has a huge advantage in dominating what I call the Best Customer Segment, people who do pay for that kind of value.

            If most Android users are thinking along the lines of “Meh, I can do all of that on my phone already”, that’s a big problem for Android Wear.

          3. This is an interesting point Rob. I have a few thoughts.

            Firstly the high end of Android (dominated by Samsung) has the highest numbers in the US. In most other countries where phones are not sold on contract, those who can afford to spend $700 and up buy iPhones. This means we are asking about US consumers primarily about the current smart watch market, with customers who mostly bought their Samsung’s because they wanted a bigger screen, or there was a buy one get one free promo, etc. Given what we know about US consumers it is no surprise the current crop of smart watches have not taken off.

            So while you are correct about premium Android, it is likely that since this volume is mostly in the US, that premium Android is actually a fallacy and there aren’t many truly premium customers, with extremely high disposable income with Android phones. Since, as I said, those people buy iPhones.

            I don’t think the fact we see low uptake of smart watches as a bad sign. I also don’t think smart watches are necessarily for everyone, but as I wrote yesterday, we will see what happens once it grows up.

          4. Ben, not sure i agree. Looking at the the distribution of phone by income of owner , in the u.s. [1], it seems, that for the $75k group , android has around 33% share. Maybe some buy a cheaper android phone(because of disruption basically), but they still have money to spend.

            Another data point[2] , is that for phones priced $500+ , in china , 20% are android. And china is huge for status symbols. And i’m sure some well off people prefer cheaper android.

            Those data points suggest that in general, android market share for well off people(maybe not the rich , but those doesn’t matter because they’re few in number), is around 30% globally.

            But still we see very little adoption for android wear.

            [1] – image titleed “relative market share”

            [2] – search for “high-end smart phones costing over 500USD”

      2. “Technical debt” is certainly important, especially in the case of the classic Mac OS for example. However, at least in software, I am wondering whether or not that is no longer an issue. The classic Mac OS had a very primitive architecture compared to UNIX, which was already available at that time. Object-oriented programming paradigms were still nascent and not mainstream, so the Mac API was originally written for the procedural Pascal language. That architecture was a definitely a technical debt. However, even the Apple Watch and Android Wear probably use UNIX-like kernels combined with fully object-oriented frameworks and advanced testing tools. These are basically the same tools that are used to power Google’s massive services, hence there are few scaling issues. I would not be surprised if “technical debt” at the OS and software level is much less of an issue then it used to be. I really don’t know enough to make an informed opinion, but that’s my gut feeling.

        In addition, I think there are issues related to corporate culture. Specifically, the willingness to self-cannibalise versus the tendency to milk profits from what has already succeeded. I think this was one of the issues that plagued Palm, the classic Mac and definitely held back Japan’s i-mode. I won’t go into detail, but if there is a significant corporate culture component, then it will suggest that putting blind faith into whatever Apple does is actually not a bad idea.

        Regarding the “launch window”, I think it might be beneficial for explaining whether a product will experience initial success or not. I don’t think it is relevant however to the issue of whether products can “grow up” in the mid- to long-term.

    2. This. It’s easy to pick winners retro-actively and over-generalize on what happens when products mature, in the process forgetting that many, maybe most, products never mature. Even Apple’s history has several of those (Newton, a camera, Pippin, Apple 3), and several that had to morph into something else before encountering success (Lisa, several laptops, a Mac Cube, a Mac TV…).
      Smartwatches are an enigma indeed, trying to combine dubious fashion item (glittery at best, with no craftsmanship story and no heritage value) and questionable usefulness (glorified notification center + health tracker). I think a key challenge is that compared to PDAs, smartphones, tablets, they don’t really replace a pre-existing tool (agenda/adress book, dumbphone, and PC/laptop resp), but have to create new uses.
      Hopefully the fashion and novelty aspects will jump start the market and give the product a chance to grow. I’d personally buy one if it worked as a universal ID (for payment, locks, PCs, apps) and worked as a dumbphone or better… Smartwatches don’t do that yet, and if it happens at all it will take time and multi-actors cooperation. Not holding my breath.

      1. I agree with the issues smartwatches face since they have to create new uses. That’s probably why they’ve marketed it as a “watch” instead of a “wrist computer”, in an attempt to associate it with a pre-existing product category.

        Apple will probably manage to jump-start the market to a certain degree, but so did the original Mac, the Palm Pilot, Blackberry, and i-mode in Japan. Yet, they all failed to “grow up” beyond a stage that was in retrospect, very premature.

        What I don’t understand is the unconditional assumption that the Apple Watch will grow beyond the initial jump. Yes, Apple’s recent history suggests that it probably will, but such blind faith doesn’t deepen our understanding of how innovation works. It would be great if we could dig into this.

  2. Even later generations of the iPhone were being criticized over missing features. The iPhone 4s didn’t do LTE which was just becoming broadly available on the wireless market. The reason was that Apple didn’t want to make an iPhone that was larger than the previous generation or had worse battery life. The LTE chipsets were not good enough yet.

    We tend to forget over time that the technology doesn’t always arrive in an evenly distributed way. LTE came with the iPhone 5 and that generation was significantly better than what would have been possible if Apple had abandoned its principles and just made a larger iPhone during a previous generation.

    Apple could make an LTE watch but almost certainly not in the size and package that they are currently planning for the 1st generation. There is little doubt that within a few years LTE and GPS will become standard features of the Apple Watch in a few years after that, we will have mostly forgotten that the first generation required an iPhone for communications.

    1. That generation was significantly better than what would have been possible if Apple had abandoned its principles and just made a larger iPhone during a previous generation

      That doesn’t make sense. What would have so bad if the iPhone 5 had been 5″?

      1. Engineering is about trade offs. Apple wanted a retina display for the iPhone 5. They also wanted a screen size that would scale easily in software from previous generations. They did that by only increasing the screen ratio in the vertical. They could have done something different like a larger screen but that would have caused other trade offs. A non-retina display being the most likely. Most customers probably would not have thought that a non-retina iPhone 5 was better than a retina iPhone 5. Weight and battery life may also have been affected. Waiting for better LTE chips was a better engineering decision as shown by the steady increase in sales.

        1. They could have done something different like a larger screen but that would have caused other trade offs. A non-retina display being the most likely.

          I’m sorry, but that is just bullshit. The fact that manufacturers at the time were able to build larger “retina” screens and the fact that Apple was able to do it just 2 years later proves that you just made that up

          There are no trade offs to building a bigger screen, they were just cautious about what their customers would have thought.

  3. in my opinion

    The SmartWach market will take off only if it succeeds at making today’s watches obsolete as did the IPhone to feature phone from the start, otherwise it will always be an accessory, since it will never be able to replace our smartphone because of the limitation due to the microscopic screen unless we are talking about Holographic or a new from of interaction.

    1. I don’t think iPhone made just feature phones obsolete. They also obsoleted most smartphones, which is why Android could took so much from the smartphone leaders of the day.

      I wonder, though, if any smartwatch _should_ be a smartphone replacement. I doubt that will be its main function ever. It isn’t even the primary function of many smartphones anymore.


      1. I agree with you,
        which is the reason why i do not expect the Apple Watch to become a huge business because the value offered by the devices to most consumers is very limited to justifies spending that much money just to have another intermediate gadget with similar function to look at on top of overwhelming smartphone.

        it even safe to assume that Apple and their IFan need the Apple Watch far more than consumers do,

        1. In reality, there are a number of separate discussions to be had. First if there is even a smart watch market / category. Second, is it a big deal if there is only a smart watch market for Apple. Third if it matters or not how big the business is.

          I don’t know if there is a smart watch category at large. We will only know with time. Second, I don’t believe this is an issue if there is only a smart watch market for Apple. Third, I also don’t believe it is a big deal of the Apple Watch is relatively low volume quarterly but high margins for Apple. Macs are only 5-6m per quarter but produce a healthy business. iPad’s are in the teens per quarter but a healthy business. The Watch will also be a healthy business whether or not its range is in the teens each quarter or more like Macs. This is an ecosystem play for Apple, and they are an island unto themselves in this industry. Their strategy is ecosystem centric. Whether a business is big, small, etc., what matters is how it supports THEIR ecosystem, and offers variety and choice for computing / screen solutions for THEIR customers.

          1. The
            difference between the Mac and the Apple watch, is the fact that one was before
            the iPhone and the other after, with all the hype Tim Cook and his army of PR has
            created around the watch as the next great thing, it is safe to assume that the
            company will find itself in an apocalyptic media bubble that will damage it’s brand somehow if the watch fails to sell in
            large quantities.

          2. Apple is always in “an apocalyptic media bubble that will damage it’s brand somehow if Product X fails to sell in Y quantities.”

          3. As long as the watch delights those who use it, that is all that matters. Consumers are not as influenced by the media as people believe. Most consumers, the ones that I care about, the mass market ones, are more influenced by friends and family than anyone else. So if it is a terrible experience that is one thing. But if those who get it like it, then Apple will be fine.

          4. it’s never a good thing to underestimate the tech media and over estimate Apple ability to sell a product.

            the validation or argument for each category of product should be based on its own capacity to solve problems that most people deem very important, and not based on the success of pass product.

            the thing is you i and as critic and geek when it come to technology are also the less demanding and the most knowledgeable consumers of any product category, just having our hand on a new beautiful piece of gadget is enough to delights us Which makes it very easy to envision the majority to love the product as much as we do and be willing to pay for it until they prove us wrong

            my doubts about the Apple Watch is based on the same argument that you and many others have made about Android Wear. that it doesn’t met a ubiquitous need that the mainstream users will be willing to pay that much for, as it was the case with the IPhone or the IPad.

          5. The market is the ultimate arbiter, no doubt about that. We won’t know until 2017 or later if this sticks or not.

            But as I said I’m not worried about the media bubble’s effect on this. I have enough hard data to justify my point that the mass market listens to other sources than tech blogs.

          6. Initially it seems wearables are going to deliver a lot of small conveniences, making life just a little bit smoother in a lot of small ways. I wonder if the success of wearables, at least at the start, will be segment-specific. There’s a segment of the market that is willing to pay for the value of convenience, and then there’s most of the market which isn’t willing to pay for convenience. I see that divide in most markets, people are willing to sacrifice additional convenience in order to get a cheaper price. If this does play out we’ll see Apple Watch do well, and Android Wear struggle.

          7. what is deem valuable to you and i as geek, may not be that valuable to mainstream consumer because as a Fan of gadget we are less demanding and more knowledgeable than 99% of the market

          8. I should have been more clear. I’m talking about mainstream consumers. The Apple Watch is going to deliver many small real world conveniences for normal people, which will be very boring and many geeks will dismiss the usefulness of these conveniences.

            In fact we’re already seeing the “I can already do that on my phone” argument, which demonstrates clearly that a segment of the market places zero or very little value on the additional convenience a wearable delivers.

          9. i disagree

            i think The Apple Watch or any other SmartWatch for that matter are going to deliver real world conveniences mainly to geek like you who love computer and not that much to mainstream consumers who feel overwhelm already with their IPhone

          10. The terms “real world conveniences” and “geeks” don’t go together. The vast majority of iPhone users are not geeks. The success of the iPhone gives us a strong hint of the coming success of the Apple Watch.

          11. Except that the Apple Watch is the opposite of the first iPhone, when even the most ardent supporter such as Ben Thompson or others who also happen to be geeks says to have a hard time finding themselves in the watch menu something tell me that mainstream consumers would not fare better

          12. The Apple Watch is very similar to the first iPhone. Lacking features, underpowered, and a new UI that consumers had to learn. Your memory of the first iPhone is faulty. People did have to learn how to use it. In fact all the original iPhone ads were essentially close up how to videos that showed people how to use it. You should also read some reviews of the original iPhone, there were plenty of complaints about having to figure out how to do X or Y and how it took getting used to, etc, etc.

          13. having to learn to use something is different than being confuse by it’s use case and functionality

            you probably haven’t seen the same watch that i do

            Unlike the first iPhone, the Apple watch is the most feature pack product that Apple has ever created, and the question is not about understanding how to use but rather finding a justifying use case for all of those feature that worth the time and the price you pay for it which is the reason why i said Apple and people like you need the Watch far more than mainstream consumers do,

          14. For what it’s worth, the original iPhone was criticized on use cases and functionality. It was widely criticized on a number of fronts. And even your ‘it’s just for geeks’ criticism was made against the original iPhone.

            We’re talking about the same watch. It seems obvious to me that my wife would get more use out of the Apple Watch than I would. Just as she needs an iPhone more than I do.

          15. this level of faith is base on the notion that the Apple watch will follow the same adoption pastern as did the IPhone which i doubt but only time will tell

            Also the first IPhone wasn’t that much of a departure from the Blackberry and other pocket computer that was on the market during that time in fact what made it that much successful was the fact that it was easier to use and understand than the once popular blackberry

            the different this time is that the SmartWatch are a totally new category of product that not only consumer will have to learn to use but also finding a use case that met a real ubiquitous need.

          16. The Apple Watch will not follow the same adoption pattern as the iPhone, that’s basically impossible. The watch will sell to a subset of iPhone owners.

            I’m just making the point that all your concerns about the Apple Watch are pretty much identical to what was said about the original iPhone.

          17. I’m also making the point that all your faith about the success of the Apple Watch are pretty much identical to what some used to said before a product failed in the consumer market

          18. It’s not faith. I can see the use cases, they are obvious. Just as the use cases for the original iPhone were obvious (and yet much of the analysis at the time said the iPhone was a useless toy).

            The iPhone and Apple Watch are a powerful combination for someone like my wife, who runs the household and our four kids. Although I won’t buy the first generation Apple Watch, even with Apple I wait for version 2 at least. So in that sense you are correct, the first version of the Apple Watch will sell to early adopters, and that will be a range from geeks to noobs. And as we get later versions of the Apple Watch it will disperse more widely.

          19. It’s not faith. I can see the use cases, they are obvious. Just as the use cases for the original iPhone were obvious (and yet much of the analysis at the time said the iPhone was a useless toy).(Space Gorilla)

            Of course it make sense since as a fan of technology as i said above you are far less demanding and the more knowledgeable than the mainstream consumers that will be ask to spend 400$ for it

          20. I’m incredibly demanding and I also don’t want things I use to require a lot of knowledge, I want simple. Again, I’m not talking about techy whizz bang demo type use cases. I’m talking about boring useful real world things the Apple Watch will do that makes the life of a normal person a bit more convenient, a bit smoother.

          21. demanding not in a sense of tech/feature, rather in seeing real everyday use cases and value for you buck

          22. I agree, and that’s also what I mean by demanding. I don’t care about techy stuff, I just want real world everyday use cases. That said, I’m in the market segment that is willing to pay for convenience, which is what the Apple Watch will deliver. Most of the market (I think) will be fine with their phone. That goes back to the argument “I can already do that with my phone”. Those people aren’t going to buy any wearable, Apple or otherwise. Apple has an incredible advantage here, by dominating the segment of the market that sees value in convenience and is willing to pay for it, AND isn’t price-sensitive.

            I think we agree that most of the market will not view the convenience and value the Apple Watch delivers as enough bang for the buck (as you put it). Of course we need to keep in mind that Apple has never sought to sell to the entire market, only the segment that values what Apple offers. This will also be true of the Apple Watch. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Apple Watch to succeed while Android Wear struggles. Android simply isn’t connected to the segment that is willing to pay for wearables.

          23. But who do you think inform or help influence those other source that you are talking about, I think it’s naive to think that friends and family’ who recommend product are somehow not influenced by media noise when many company such as Apple spent that much money in PR marketing to either fight or to make friends among the tech media and analysis.

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