It is ironic, a little sad and slightly entertaining that what makes the electronics industry as a whole so interesting is also the one feature that can make you end up loathing it. I love to see the latest hardware and dream about it and with it and be able to buy it six months later because it isn't the latest anymore. I hate to invest months searching into what is the best Smartphone (or graphics card) money can buy, sign the contract, and see new ads a week later of something better for the same price.
The evolution of technology almost at the speed of thought, as long as manufacturing keeps up, has been going on since the launch of the Personal Computer back in the 1970's. However, it feels like having entered into overdrive during the second half of the last decade of the XXth century, and having reached almost warp speed in our days. I remember the "good old days" when change happened twice a year or every four or so months, now it can happen almost every month, if not faster which is getting a little silly, to say the least.
I have touched the issue in regard to computers and gaming hardware many times in other articles so this time I'll focus on something new which is becoming a technology focus each time more: Smartphones. I am happy to say that I started to get more involved with them as things seem to have started to get more interesting as well.
The current interest seems to be due to a three fold change in perception from without: (i) technology has matured --mainly because those working with Netbooks have started to look for new alternative markets; (ii) Google's Android provides for an interesting development platform that offers lots of programs and has the potential of becoming a portable gaming OS; (iii) the consumer has matured.
A corollary of the above is that manufacturers are paying great attention to the Smartphone market and in order to "compete" have started to accelerate the rate at which new models show up. The good --and the bad-- news is that the rate has accelerated from every now and then, or when something really new comes along, to the speed of thought and then to warp in less than a couple of years. The very bad news is that nothing seems to point out that said avances are due to a real need from the consumer or the market.
At least personally I don't thing it feels "right" to launch almost a new variant of a model every three or so months, and this without even taking into account the other models to, as they say, "cover all possible market segments". Some companies, even seem to be offering different models, with some variants, on different "world markets" (America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America).
I don't necessarily think that the need to launch model after model in machine gun style is actually wrong, the problem is that it is clearly not the right way to do things. In the lapse of a year since I have had the chance to truly be in the spot for Smartphone evolution I have seen models come and go (like the LG Chocolate BL40) and problems arise with many models that never receive the proper attention because there is the next one to worry about and launch. And designers and manufacturers are so busy with the next iteration they don't quite care what they put in, or out, as long as it sells. Apparently there are enough buyers out there to make up for the costs of R&D and production of even the worse models.
I wouldn't be surprised if just about any model is almost a limited edition and only gets a second or third run if it becomes a true success. I don't see any other logical way in which costs, and the win vs. lose ratio, can be kept under control and properly balanced without hitting the red. Might as well be the reason for so many and so fast a launch after a previous one, if the former fails, things could be compensated if the later sells well --there must be a formula there, same like with videogames.
There is only one other industry that works following this apparent pattern of do-and-forget and always-move-forward, that of Fashion. If a line of clothes sells then great, if not, too bad, but there is nothing to worry about, there is always the next season, the next line, the next "big thing". And talking about the latter if something becomes indeed a major hit everyone else will be trying to imitate it if not directly copy it; but, why worry about lawsuits if when they come the line in question is nothing but "old news"?. And, the same idea seems to be followed in the Smartphone sector (market, industry?) --at least it gives that impression.
For some time now, technology in general and how it evolves (advances) have started to change their aim and --ultimate-- goal. That technology which in just about every sci-fi novel and official report will help us move forward as a race and as a human beings. Instead of doing so, it moves from one idea to the next as fast as a quantum particle changes direction and its position in time and space. It switches focus from one thing to another before the uses and consecuences can be truly asserted. The speed of thought, the speed of innovation, the speed of true understanding have been left behind faster every time, the new canon to follow is the speed of Fashion and as the Smartphone example shows I doubt it is a good thing.
People have just about practically shown that as much as they love --fast-- change and technical evolution they also like some inmutables, some things that don't require switching, trading or buying again every time. The recent gaming consoles show it, they are happy to be stuck to --with-- them, and happy to buy slightly new versions when and if the need arises.
For Smartphones in particular, and technology in general, the true problem of following the comercial, economic and marketing model that Fashion follows is that when the moment comes, and it does so every time faster, you don't happen to be just wearing outdated stuff, you aren't just out-of-fashion, not just using last-season clothes, you are plainly and flatly: obsolete.