Tech is Dead

There are no more tech companies, where by "tech" I mean information and computer technology. This statement is immediately, trivially disproven—except it is also essentially true. There are no more companies that thrive by selling technology as technology to consumers. Every company you thought of doesn't make money from selling technology to consumers; they make money from selling services that happen to be optimized by technology. Our "tech companies" today are so called because they brand themselves that way.

One side effect of this is that our "tech" companies spend a lot of time and energy producing and telling you about technology that has no impact on what you actually buy/get from them. Google tells you about self-driving cars and augmented reality headsets. Amazon talks about drones. Microsoft—Microsoft!—says, "Nah, fuck Google's lame AR headset, our shit is the real deal, yo!"

Of course I'm dancing around the one tech company that actually does sell us technology, as a physical product at that, and does so to rapturous acclaim and tremendous profit: Apple. And it's probably not a coincidence that, because Apple sells us tech-qua-tech (and actually offers all the product/service stuff as value add to make the tech bauble more attractive), it does the least talking about the cool stuff it's making that'll change your life "some day." When Apple tells you about a cool piece of tech, it's usually in stores within 30 days.

Why, hello there, WATCH, in stores April 24!

Information and computing technology isn't dead, obviously. It is mature. The average consumer no longer needs to study deeply and search far and wide to find technology products that deliver a good experience. Even the Android phones being given away as enticements to 24-month cellular contracts are pretty good these days. Mature product categories shift from competing on the basis of specifications ("speeds and feeds") to traits of greater intrinsic appeal to consumers—aesthetics, fashion, lifestyle, brand.

Think of cars. Sure, car commercials talk about horsepower and the number of "speeds" in the transmission, but they mostly focus on touting their luxurious appointments, comprehensive powertrain warranties, or envy-inducing status. Consumers aren't poring over the torque curves and valve timing specs of candidate engines; the automobile as product is a mature one.

Even in categories where it may seem like specifications are front and center, such as in the mid-range watch market, they're really just proxies for things consumers think mark the products as more distinctive/sophisticated: "precision quartz timing mechanism", "custom Swiss-engineered movement", "kinetic energy recovery system". (That last one is totally bullshit, actually a Formula 1 term, but you believed it for a second, didn't you?)

Along with the maturation of a technology comes the waning influence of its enthusiasts, tinkerers, early adopters and hackers. Their passionate comparisons of highly detailed specifications and complaints about how one company overcharges for "the same thing" cease to resonate with more casual buyers, who gain confidence that they can buy and service their purchases on their own. The high priesthood of secret knowledge loses its grip on the congregation.

Software developers, entrepreneurs, technophiles—we are suffering through this transition right now. Derisive comments are made about purchasing decisions "driven by fashion," and products deemed to insufficiently "push the envelope" are panned. Yet we can no longer anticipate healthy response to products and services offered on the strength of being superior technology; consumers don't care. We also can not overreact to the large "tech" companies' product offerings becoming poorer and poorer fits for us; we are no longer their core customers. Technology is now a competency, a competitive edge, but not a core value proposition.

We're all in the consumer products and services business now.

So I lied above, about Apple, kinda. They're still a tech company, but they're becoming a lifestyle products company. They are clearly very aware of the maturation of information and computing technologies and are moving to reposition themselves for the next wave of product growth. You can see this in just about every aspect of the WATCH, as well as in the new Macbook's availability in gold, and in the rumor that they are considering making a car (which… eh, the cycle times are much longer than they're used to, but I can see a little of the appeal). So when you hear someone say Apple is just a "fashion" company with a hint of disdain, realize that they're entirely right, and yet entirely wrong.