Those of us in high-tech industries often like to claim that new technologies will be adopted by the masses solely on the basis of technical superiority. But the fact of the matter is that social considerations have proven to be a significant factor driving the market for a number of popular products.
Take, for example, the cell phone. Poor cell phone performance, relative to land lines, is a given. Ads for all the major providers try to spin this, but really, why should someone’s tag line be "the fewest dropped calls" or "can you hear me now?" When was the last time you experienced shoddy performance on a land line to land line call?
Convenience, as well as its standing as a status symbol, not technology, continues to drive the popularity of the cell phone. In fact, in 2009, undeniably one of the toughest economic years ever, cell phone sales were up almost 25 percent from 2008.
The phone with the most buzz, Apple’s iPhone, also gets the lion’s share of the technical complaints. Dead connections, dropped calls, bad coverage, and intermittent data are commonly reported by iPhone users. Most everyone has blamed the exclusive carrier of iPhone traffic, AT&T, but some are skeptical.
Furthermore, rumors abound that Apple’s next version, iPhone4, will make things worse rather than better. The naysayers claim that the multitasking feature in the iPhone 4 will cause further performance deterioration on an already-stressed network. Despite AT&T’s $19 billion commitment to improve its network, many do not expect the iPhone complaints to recede.
Will these problems hurt iPhone4 sales? Probably not. Its celebrity alone is expected to outweigh any technological disadvantages. In fact, most predict record revenue for Apple from the iPhone4.
Another less-than-stellar technology, wireless Ethernet, aka Wi-FI, also benefits from social factors to boost its popularity. Most Wi-Fi networks max out at 150 megabits per second, while wired networks can run at speeds of 100 gigabits per second. That’s roughly 70 times faster for the wired network.
Sure, you can argue that there are other limiting factors in any network transmission, such as the slower networks in between you and your destination, slow servers, and whatnot. But all else being equal, a wired network always leaves a wireless network in the dust.
But the utility of a wireless network, facilitating the access of information just about anywhere, is what drives its popularity.
So the next time you hear a technologist claim that his/her product is so technically groundbreaking that it will take over the world, think again. Sometimes technically inferior products are far more acceptable than technology folks might think.
John Agsalud is an IT expert with more than 20 years of information technology experience in Hawaii and around the world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.