Yesterday’s issue of The New York Times featured an article by Farhad Manjoo prophesying the end of the “gadget”, non-smartphone devices capable of doing anything from tracking fitness to filming underwater scenes. Smartphone technology has displaced it.
What happened to gadgets? It’s a fascinating story about tech progress, international manufacturing and shifting consumer preferences, and it all ends in a sad punch line: Great gadget companies are now having a harder time than ever getting off the ground. The gadget age is over — and even if that’s a kind of progress, because software now fills many of our needs, the great gadget apocalypse is bound to make the tech world, and your life, a little less fun.
Things were never easy for gadgets. The lives of gadgets have always been nasty, brutish and short. One year a gadget would be the Must Have of the Year, and the next year it would be old news. But that was the cycle, and it was fine, because there would always be another gadget.
Then things got even worse. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the Thing That Does Everything emerged from Cupertino, Calif. That was almost 10 years ago now. You know what I’m talking about: the iPhone. We knew the Thing was going to be big, but we didn’t know it would be this big. When the Thing threatened to eat up all the gadgets, nobody thought it would really happen. We still had hope that some gadgets would stick around.
And for a while, they did. For a while, it even looked as if we would have a gadget renaissance. “Gadgets are back,” said The Verge. People created websites where customers would pay to get gadgets that hadn’t even been made yet. They called it Kickstarter. You want a gadget? Pay for someone to make it! What a world.
People started making gadgets that you could wear. They started making gadgets for your house, gadgets to control your heating and cooling, gadgets to help you sleep. Imagine that! A gadget, for when you weren’t even awake. What a world. There were even gadgets that would make other gadgets. And that’s not even getting to the gadgets that could fly!
But now the companies making flying gadgets are crashing back to earth. Look at 3D Robotics, the company founded by Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired, which ripped through $100 million to start a consumer drone company that ended up not selling many drones.