FOSTER CITY, Calif. — It’s a well-proven fact in the tech world that timing is everything.
You may have the greatest widget, software, or digital experience the world has ever seen, but if the market isn’t ready to accept it, that product or service won’t succeed.
Indeed, the history of the tech industry is littered with examples of companies who had great ideas, but brought them to market too early or without enough context for them to really register with the buying public.
Apple Newton anyone? Or how about Microsoft’s first Windows XP-based Tablet PC?
While we could certainly quibble with the functionality and usability of these various examples, they weren’t really bad ideas. In fact, arguably something like the intended digital assistant technology of the Newton was way ahead of its time—over two decades ahead!
At the midpoint of 2017, we’re about to enter an era of technology developments in which some of the most interesting innovations aren’t likely to be as visible as many of our high-tech gadgets and friendly apps have been. The real magic of many of these new tech advances will be nearly invisible.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence, voice and gesture-driven computing, and autonomous driving all provide different ways to interact with many of the devices and products we already know. In some cases, they’ll lead to new products—as is the case with Amazon’s popular Echo line of smart speakers equipped with the Alexa digital assistant—but in many others, there won’t likely be much or any physical manifestations of these developments. Instead, if these technologies work as intended, they’ll start to disappear into the workings of the world and devices already around us.
Ironically, while it might seem easier to adapt to these new technologies because of their more invisible nature, I actually think it’s going to be a lot harder. As a result, timing for tech products and services is going to be more challenging than ever.
An easy example: autonomous driving. Cars that feature assisted and autonomous driving capabilities don’t look any different than the cars we’ve driven on our own for the last few decades. Underneath the hood—literally in this case—however, there is an entire raft of new technologies that will dramatically change our experience with driving.
While autonomous driving is an exciting development that many people are looking forward to, at present, an even larger percentage are concerned about this tech advancement, with some being downright frightened.
Most of this fear is of the unknown, and a few studies have started to show that once people get some experience in cars that include these autonomous or assisted driving features, those concerns often get replaced with enthusiasm. However, the next 5-10 years will be very challenging times for automakers and tech firms as they struggle to determine when and how to bring some of these autonomous car features to market.
Besides cars, we’re also going to see a lot of software and services that use artificial intelligence or deep learning to improve the usefulness of existing experiences—making better recommendations for music, movies, restaurants and even friends.
With AI, it’s often a give-to-get scenario where the more personal information you can provide, the more useful the responses can be. While many people are perfectly comfortable with this type of trade-off, many still aren’t (and still others don’t really understand it), putting widespread adoption of some AI-driven capabilities into question.
At the end of the day, it’s a question of trust. Once people come to trust a technology, they’re much more likely to use it. But when much of that technology is essentially invisible, it’s going to be a lot harder to earn that trust. Nearly everyone uses smartphones now, for example, because it’s easy to see the kinds of benefits that a small device with a large touch-sensitive screen that’s always connected to the internet—and other people—can offer.
For an AI-driven intelligent service, on the other hand, we can expect a smarter, more accurate response to a question we ask or a command we make, but this is a lot less tangible. As a result, it could take a lot longer for people to get excited about some of the more subtle benefits of AI.
Throw in some movie-inspired fears around dystopian nightmares of machines taking over or AI somehow surpassing human intelligence, and well, you get the idea.
As with autonomous cars, not all of these concerns are entirely well-founded. However, tech companies would be foolish to ignore the fact that people don’t always progress or evolve as fast as technology does. Yes, there are some incredibly exciting developments just over the horizon, but unless enough people are ready for them, their success is far from guaranteed.