8 Jan
2011
Posted in: Tech
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How Tech Scene Evolves in Complexity-Simplicity Cycle

Once upon a time, before popularization of point-and-shoot digital compact camera, film SLR cameras were something that never appear to the general mass market. It was seen as something complex and sophisticated, a toy that was only applicable to the hard-core shutterbugs. Film SLR camera was an untamed beast. Before 21st century, photography also wasn’t a popular hobby. Particularly because, every shot captured has to be developed from film, and this costs money. Every shot captured with the shutter press, is equivalent to the cost of developing a photo. So, before the start of this millennium, there were film camera users, but very few photography enthusiasts, as the cost for mistakes and trial-and-error was too high.

Then, when digital compact cameras were getting affordable in consumer market during the beginning of 21st century, the highest resolution available for point-and-shoot digital compact was only 1.3MP, but it was a BIG thing during that time. I could still remember some other digital cameras that were labeled with 0 point something MP. But, do you know that, in a good 35mm film shot, there are about 12million quality pixels?

In other words, when digital camera was first popularized in the mass consumer market, the convenience of digital photo was traded with a huge loss in photo quality – 1.3MP compared to 12MP! But, the mass consumer market didn’t mind about this. In fact, during that time, only the hardcore photography enthusiasts understand about the difference. What consumer wanted during that time, was simplicity and convenience of photography workflow. Photo shots that can be immediately viewed on the LCD display, digitally kept, transfered, and manipulated.

Then, as the mass consumer market was getting familiar with the handy point-and-shoot digital compact camera, we (as consumer) started to realize 1 thing:

I wish if my camera has more functionalities to give me more controls over my shots. You see, how wonderful if I could take this (pointing at the photo of light-trail shot in magazine) kind of shot.

The camera manufacturers knew it well too! So, a step at a time, choices of digital cameras were getting affordable from plain dummy point-and-shoot, to prosumer camera that features some controls over aperture, shutter speed and ISO, up to a few ranges (entry level, middle-range, high-end) of digital SLR cameras.

From Something Complex, to Utmost Simplicity

From this scenario of digital photography evolution, we can spot a few important keys for the success of any tech trend:

  1. While simplifying something that’s seen as sophisticated and to make it appealing to the general mass, it is ok to sacrifice things/features which are “assumed” as standard expectation, as long as the end-product is something plain simple for the existing untapped market. In the case study described above, the photo quality (pixel) was greatly ignored to a huge extend, to offer affordable and simple-to-use digital camera.
  2. At the beginning stage, follow the principal of MVP (minimal viable product), and make it really simple while simplifying something. This is to capture the existing untapped market. Then, when the new piece of market is captured, the demand for something more sophisticated will be gradually materialized. If the early batch of affordable digital cameras were packed with photography controls, it could have failed to achieve mass market capitalization. This could also be the same reason why Steve Job pushed iPhone into the market before iPad, even though the concept of iPad came before iPhone.

I always like to use this evolution of digital photography to describe the tech scene trends. It’s a very good example of how tech products evolve. It’s the same evolution path for a lot other successful stuff too.

MySQL and Blogging

Think about MySQL, the first open source database that has really captured the otherwise-untapped market. But, MySQL database started off without supporting transaction! During that time, support for transaction was seen as a standard feature that should be expected from a database management system. But, this “expected standard feature” was ignored from the first few major releases of MySQL, for one important reason – simplicity. And as a matter of fact, the larger part of untapped market for database product, doesn’t need transaction support in most of the use cases. So, MySQL really took off, gotten a huge user-base. Then eventually, beginning from MySQL 4.0, transactional environment is supported with InnoDB storage engine.

Next good example, is blogging. The simple and easy authoring tool for blogging platform has eventually made everyone a journalist, in a wide array of specialized domains and topics. But, as blogging has got to its peak, bloggers started to wish for something simpler to post some quick updates and thoughts in mind. That’s when Twitter came about, and gotten bloggers’ adoption in a short time.

A More Feature-Packed Twitter

But, according to analogy described in this post, there’s still room for Twitter’s growth — a more feature-packed Twitter. Why? Twitter has already successfully captured a huge user-base of bloggers that were looking for something extremely simple to post quick updates. Twitter has done that, and has achieved that objective. But by now, a lot of the experienced Twitter users have already been using Twitter for at least 3 years! It’s about time the tweeps are looking for something more feature-packed ;)

Now, think about how the mobile phone evolves. You will realize a similar complexity-simplicity cycle too.

So, what do you think?