Why gadgets matter (even if the hype is a bit annoying)

I’ve been thinking a little bit about gadgets in advance of the now widely trailed Apple announcement tomorrow. It feels like one of the biggest tech media events for a while with the tech blogs getting so desperate for news they’re even covering shipping prices.

The thing I care about is how we can use technology to solve difficult problems. In my mind that usually means software because it’s software that does the organising and the hardware (so the theory goes) is neutral. Of course the truth is that there is a complex relationship of behaviour, software, brand, networks and hardware that goes into creating any kind of social value through technology

The reason why these big announcements sometimes matter is that occasionally a gadget really does change things and starts an avalanche of new ideas and companies. It takes time though. It’s 5 years since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone but it’s only really now that the things that I thought might be possible when I first saw it are happening. We needed a huge ecosystem of developers, APIs and user awareness to grow too. Of course the impact is also easier to see now because they’re now selling over 10m phones a month.

This led me to think about all the things I want to be possible but where the hardware isn’t quite ready yet. I thought about all the little bits of embedded computing in my life that nearly work and where the ecosystem could grow. Wattson is still chugging away telling me when I’ve left the immersion heater on. Fitbit is following me around, telling me (when I remember to sync it up) how active I’ve been. Both are imperfect, but I can see how future iterations or competitors could be really useful. I’m very happy that Nest are working on the home energy problem for example and using learning software to take it further and I’m sure at some stage, Fitbit will crack the syncing problem — probably by it connecting via the phone rather than the clunky adapter.

The most interesting recent gadget launch for me though was the Raspberry Pi — a product launch pretty far away from the ‘ooh, shiny expensive thing!’ style of Apple. I hope in 5 years time there will be just the same kind of ecosytem of developers and ideas for the Raspberry Pi that the iPhone has today meaning that millions of people (especially young ‘uns) get under the hood of software and programming. It could be a very good thing.
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