It's no secret that consumer technology evolves much more quickly than enterprise software. For example, think of the first cell phone you had (or maybe you called it a "car phone" back then). Compare that to the phone in your pocket. There's barely a resemblance! Now think of Microsoft Word 95. It doesn't look that much different than Word 2011, does it?
The speed of evolution in the consumer technology market is the major pain point for admins and CIOs dealing with the consumerization of IT. Not only does consumer tech make enterprise software look bad, but there's so much of it, and it's constantly changing, that it can feel almost impossible to keep up. A new report from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) says those same concerns are now trickling down to consumers.
The UL report, "Navigating the Product Mindset," says nearly half of consumers think vendors are coming out with new products faster than people need them. The phrase that has sprung up in several analyses of this report is "gadget fatigue."
The basic premise of "gadget fatigue" makes sense. Most people don't go out and buy the hottest new smartphone every time one hits the market. They wait until they're due for an upgrade, and then they pick the most affordable one that meets their needs. And if you're one of these people, sure, getting bombarded with constant news stories and ads about the next big thing can get a little tiring.
But the bigger issue is, so what? Who cares about gadget fatigue? What are vendors supposed to do, stop innovating?
Gadget fatigue is an unfortunate byproduct of innovation, but it's a necessary one. I've cited this quote from music industry blogger Bob Lefsetz before, in a post on Netflix streaming and VMware licensing, but it's especially relevant now: "You move the public to where you want to go, you don't follow them. Not today, not in today's high tech digital world."
The problem with traditional IT vendors is that they just keep giving customers what they think they want. There's no such thing as "Microsoft Outlook fatigue," because Outlook hasn't changed that much, and a new version only comes out every couple of years.
But then Google comes out with Gmail, and everyone's like, "This is the greatest thing since sliced bread!" Or Apple unveils the iPad, and people say, "I don't even know what I'd use this for, but I want one!" Gmail and the iPad are successful consumer products that have crossed over into the enterprise because they're user-friendly and they help people do their jobs better -- but also because they're different. If Google or Apple had said, "You know, maybe we should hold off on this. We don't want people to get gadget fatigue," we'd still be using Hotmail and lugging our laptops around at conferences.
There can be downsides of innovating too quickly, as Netflix learned when it changed its pricing model to encourage streaming-only subscriptions. Customers weren't ready to completely abandon physical DVDs, and they rebelled.
Most of the time, the Netflix case included, the failure of new products or strategies has nothing to do with consumer fatigue. It usually has to do with quality and price. News site Mobiledia recently blamed the failures of the BlackBerry PlayBook and the Hewlett-Packard TouchPad at least partially on gadget fatigue. But when those tablets came out, the reaction wasn't, "Oh great, just what we need: more tablets!" The reaction was, "These tablets cost just as much if not more than the iPad, but they can't do as much and they're not as easy to use."
The real reason those tablets failed was because they weren't innovative enough -- which I guess shouldn't be too surprising, given they came from traditional IT vendors.