Friday, July 16, 2010

The technologies that nobody really wants

Have you heard of video-phones?

These have been a standard part of our vision of the future ever since the telephone itself was invented.

Futurists and Scifi writers have predicted the arrival of the video phone for decades and now we have the technology to deliver this service but, it seems, nobody really wants it.

Oh sure, a few people play around with Skype's videophone service and perhaps even use their mobiles to exchange live video while making calls but, once the novelty wears off, most go back to good old voice-only conversations.

It seems that video-phones are just one of a long line of technologies that should be outrageously popular but which in fact, nobody wants.

Need another example?

What about voice-controlled computers.

As far back as the 1980s, companies like IBM were predicting a future where the human voice was the primary interface mechanism between man and machine. A number of computer manufacturers even shipped machines with speech synthesizers in them. I remember well the Bondwell portable computer I owned in the early 1980s which had just such a feature.

After playing with this feature for an hour or so it was turned off and never used again. Today's computers no longer have built-in speech synthesizers. What does that tell you?

IBM themselves invested enormous amounts of money into voice-recognition, in the hope of producing a system that would allow non-typists to simply dictate their letters directly into a computer's microphone and have them then pop out the printer, spell-checked and immaculately formated -- perfect in every way.

This still hasn't happend, even though voice recognition systems are now more than capable of providing very high levels of accuracy.

It seems we live in a world full of solutions that are still looking for problems.

Perhaps there's a sage lesson there for any budding entrepreneur who thinks they have an idea that will make them a fortune.

Just remember, it's better to actually research your market and found out what it needs and wants, before you assume that your idea will sell.

In the meantime, I'm still waiting for my fusion-powered flying car to be delivered.

Perhaps tomorrow.

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