When technology goes obsolete


My friend Steve Dotto (of Dotto on Data TV fame) often says “It’s not what technology will do for you but what technology will do to you that you have to watch”. Last year I was in Seattle for a Microsoft training course, walking out to meet friends for dinner  and was approaching a homeless man on the sidewalk. His sign read “Yes, I developed MS BOB, but I don’t deserve this!”. MS BOB was intended to be a user-friendly interface for early versions of Microsoft Windows and was an abject failure.  I didn’t know if he was kidding or not, but being Seattle it might just have been true and I  gave him $10  on the way by with a “BOB wasn’t as bad as Clippy!” comment. The comment did not seem to cheer him up as much as the $10 did. Not everyone faired as poorly from MS BOB though, Melinda French (a.k.a Melinda Gates) led the BOB product group in the beginning. The product evolved from some Stanford University research and intense Microsoft usability tests. The MS Bob Program Manager Karen Fries described one of the tests using a  a cartoon duck in a Bob prototype: “This guy was very emotional about it–he grabbed my arm and he said, ‘Save all the money on the manuals, and just give me this duck to always be there and tell me what to do.” But people ultimately really hated the duck…(and later Clippy was the focus of the Microsoft users’ vitriol). Some things are obsolete day 1, others take time and others stay relevant.

Moving forward 16 years, we are about to see the obsolescence of another technology, the iPhone. 


There will be a homeless guy in the streets of Cupertino in the future with a cardboard sign (or perhaps an old iPad) that says, “Yes, I developed the iPhone, but I don’t deserve this!”

Ian you’re being quite contrarian, you say. Yes, iPhone is desired today but it lacks long term sustainability as a platform. Want to convert someone from the iPhone cult today… it’s simple… just give them a Windows Phone 7. There is no comparison. The WP7 devices are far superior and they have the magic sauce…. 13 million Microsoft developers who know how to build applications for it. Yes that’s it. It’s about the software stupid.

Unlike iPhone’s most popular applications (Angry Birds I believe tops the charts) , WP7 provides a foundation for real and complex applications for the platform. That’s what outlasts the cult followers and makes it sustainable. (Didn’t we already have this example with Apple before?)

Soon people will be looking for funny things to do with their old iPhone and making video’s about it. Hey they already are!  Click here for a video. As you will see in the video once people overcome their  “Mac Nerd Grief”  the WP7 is the hands-down winner for sustainable technology.

Yes I will predict here and now that Apple is about to get it’s proverbial bottom kicked by RIM, Nokia, Android, Microsoft and others. It’s to their credit that they were first, but ultimately the best commercial platform will win over the toy.

If you have Apple shares. Today would be a good day to sell. If you have an old iPhone, I hear if you crazy glue the power adapter to the back, it makes a very decent bathroom nightlight with the right app installed, so it wasn’t a total waste of money.



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4 Responses to When technology goes obsolete

  1. Carsten says:

    Did you lose a bet where the stakes were you had to say something good about the Windows phone? 🙂

    • ianhunterca says:

      Watch the video and the credits. All you have to do to find out how good a WP7 really is, is to buy your kids one each for Christmas. The iPhones just find other less important uses..(:>)

  2. Pingback: Nokia jumping to … Rescue ship Microsoft and Windows Phone – The Smartphone world shrinks to 3 players | Infinite Shades of Grey

  3. juleslt says:

    I realise this is with the benefit of hindsight, and with RIM and Nokia fast sliding into irrelevance – but I’d have disagreed in 2011, and I think it’s more evident now.
    I think the reason Apple are still here is they learnt a LOT from 90s Microsoft.

    As in, it doesn’t matter if you have the best technology, what wins is having the most viable platform for developers.

    That’s not the number of devices (J2ME could claim over a billion, Android vastly outsells iOS), it’s not ease of development, but – in cold terms – the amount of money to be made.

    From the off, Apple made sure they had the marketplace and reasonable anti-piracy measures in place, to make development viable – XBox Arcade was pretty much the model for the App Store. The goldrush and price-to-the-bottom mentality has unfortunately made it a lot harder, but then I’m old enough to remember the software industry facing the same problem in the 80s.

    Google, in contrast, came from a philosophical standpoint that thinks content should be free.
    You can see this in the way they missed Netflix, Spotify, Kindle, the App Store. Is that down to a belief in open source software and culture – or a board who come from advertising rather than retail? Either way, they handed Apple a lead on a plate.

    (I do think there is an arrogance amongst many open source developers towards those of us who work in the commercial world).

    And Microsoft – I can’t fault the product, or the strategy of paying some iOS developers to port their software. Great tools, which Apple have really only caught up with or superseded this year. The question is whether Microsoft will keep subsidising it long enough to become sustainable in it’s own right.

    Lastly, even in 2011, iOS had real and complex applications – such as those from Omni Software, the iWork suite or Garageband. Extrapolating from Angry Birds, is like extrapolating the capabilities of Windows from Minesweeper.

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