Wireless and Digital Services

Are we reaching peak electronics?

By Tim Murdoch - Last updated: Friday, January 6, 2017

CES is well underway in Las Vegas this week and Cambridge Consultants is there in force along with our new Synapse colleagues. It is as shiny, big and noisy as ever; but, an interesting question is being asked: Are we nearing a peak in consumer electronic devices?

The Economist espresso edition had a nice little piece that rang true with me earlier this week asking the question “Is the world entering a post-device era?” The point being argued is that electronic devices are becoming vehicles for “digital assistants” where it is the service that matters most. While I am confident that innovation in new devices is far from over, we are perhaps getting to a point where what is important is not the electronics, but the digital services that they enable.

We have been seeing this in a few areas for a while. Among many things, digital services on our smart phones have replaced many of my other gadgets: camera, music player, games console and diary. Services on our tablets extend this to photo album, book, newspaper, sketchpad and TV. And digital services on the speakers in my home now offer a complete music system and library and radio: And now they can talk with me.

And this progress of services over devices is going well beyond just personal gadgets. Why do I need to own a car if Uber and Lyft are at my beck and call at all times? Why do banks need ATMs if cash has gone digital, mobile and contactless? And, why do councils need to fund half empty buses to run sparse timetables in remote locations when we can simply subsidize an excellent Uber service for those that need it most? And why deploy a network of seismometers when MyShake, a crowd sourced network of a smart phones, can spot earthquakes effectively?

Just as the original Sony Walkman and the Apple iPod were ground breaking in their combination of existing electronic capabilities within a strong design ethic, the new wave of innovation coming our way is looking like it will be digital; new combinations of improved devices, connectivity and machine learning driven by strong service design ethic.