I heard a speaker say the other day that technology doesn't become really interesting until it becomes almost free.
The reasoning behind this idea is that when technology becomes inexpensive, it is adopted by millions of people and becomes used in very interesting and creative ways -- typically in ways that the inventors had not envisioned.
I've been marveling about this, as I've recently been able to use and compare both an Apple iPhone 3GS and a Motorola Droid. Both are phenomenal devices that perform similar functions, yet have vastly different "personalities."
While I was using them earlier this week, I took a few seconds and thought about the millions of dollars that went into the creation of each of these devices; the thousands of people who came up with not only the hardware that make these devices; the thousands of people who wrote the software for these devices -- not only the operating system, but the thousands of applications that I can download for anywhere, for free or typically under $10.
I also think about the infrastructure that exists to make these devices work, as I sit in my home, as I travel from place to place, even on airplanes now through onboard WiFi. The basic function of these devices used to be a phone. However, they have moved so far beyond basic phone service. Really, it's amazing.
Nowadays, handheld devices are a combination of GPS devices, Web browsers, address books, calendars, game devices, word processors and entertainment devices, to name a few. It seems that every day, the functions these handheld devices perform continue to expand.
There are years of legislation that have been enacted to make these devices work, lots of marketing dollars spent, many agreements put in place, etc. All of these took resources of people, time and money. In fact, there have clearly been billions of dollars spent on making these devices available to me.
Yet with these devices, I can make virtually all the telephone calls I want, look up information, communicate with friends, family, and clients ... all for less than $100 per month.
I compare this to the first Motorola "brick" cell phone I had back in the early 1990s. I probably paid about the same amount per month for the phone, but received less than 1/10th of the value I do now for the same amount of money.
So even though I don't like paying as much for my phone service as I do and I hope that prices continue to drop, I do have to say that the value I receive is huge. The price I pay is a drop in the bucket compared to what it cost to bring this technology to me.
As I use both the iPhone and Droid, I continually uncover new features that are built in to each device, from speech recognition to integration with corporate and personal e-mail and calendar systems, to fun applications that serve no function except entertaining my children or me.
I am truly enjoying using both devices and, reflecting on how far we've come, I'm quite happy to imagine where technology will continue to provide value, often satisfying needs that we don't even know we have.
But for now, I will continue to marvel at what has been packed into the devices that are becoming essential parts of my life. I also find myself smiling when I uncover a feature or item that confirms the value of what I now carry with me.
Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 17 February 2010.