All Your Tech Toys Are Already Obsolete

By Stewart Wolpin
|  Monday, Dec 21, 2009  |  Updated 6:00 PM EDT
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If I were a product manager, my fantasy would be a product with instant obsolescence — just buy it and throw it away. Were I a product manager with such an immediately disposable commodity, ah, be still my P.T. Barnum heart!

Unfortunately, instant obsolescence may not be such a fantasy. I peruse more and more press releases these days about some wondrous new product or technology obviating a recent product or technology I just wrote about. Maybe these aren't exactly simultaneous buy-it-and-throw-it-away deals, but it's uncomfortably close, and getting closer.

Read on for some of the more egregious examples. Afterward, I'm sure you'll fill the comments with a lot more.

Back in the day, technologies tended to hang around for a while. Radios were AM for decades before FM showed up in the mid-1960s, and it was another 30 years before satellite radio. Black & white TV was satisfactory for around 20 years before color, which was fine for another 30 years before HDTV. Our grandparents listened to wax records for most of their lives, our parents grooved to vinyl, we had CD for around 20 years, and our kids now enjoy MP3.

But this generational technology schedule now seems so last generation.

Take 2D HDTV and 3G Phones — Please

Stores are piled high with bargain Blu-ray players and HDTVs, and we just finished a painful transition to digital TV.

Well, forget all that. I've warned you about this several times, but this HDMI v1.3-enabled gear will be obsolete less than a year from now when spanking new HDMI v1.4-equipped 3D Blu-ray players and 3D HDTVs appears.

And you'll soon be able to chuck all those HDMI cables you've been stocking up on, too. HDTVs from Sony, Panasonic and LG already use wireless HD (WiHD) connectivity. Scuttlebutt says CES 2010 will tease more WiHD improvements soon to come.

Another example of fast obsolescence: For the last few months, we've been inundated with 3G Android phones and, of course, 3GS iPhones. And we all had to sign two-year deals to get these shiny new cutting-edge 3G smartphones at a reasonable price…

…all just in time to chuck 'em for new 100 Mbps 4G LTE models, due sometime later this year. There's a "don't call me about 4G, I'll call you" gag in here somewhere, but I'm too pissed off about being buried in my soon-to-be-obsolete 3GS iPhone contract to find it.

Black & White & Dread All Over

Want more examples? How about e-readers? Kindle, Nook, Cool-er, eSlick, Sony Reader, Queue, etc. — all spanking new, all ready to be the book of the future. Ready for the anachronistic technology scrap heap, more like it, and the sold-out Nook isn't even out yet. E-books could be this years tech dodo bird if the reports are true about the coming Apple iPad tablet PC.

Who'll want to read a book on a matte, low-contrast, black-on-sort-of-grayish-green display when a bright, 10-inch color screen will be able to display book pictures and glossy magazines in full resolution instead 16 levels of gray — plus run a couple of hundred thousand of handy iPhone apps and surf the Web and watch videos and listen to music and do everything else an iPhone does?

Yeah, maybe the iPad will be too expensive to be a true replacement for dedicated e-readers. But E Ink, the folks who make all the screens for the dedicated e-readers, have told me color E Ink screens are coming sometime in 2010.

Just bought a monochrome Kindle, did ya? Oops.

Greener than Green Lighting

We're being continually told hot and inefficient incandescent light bulbs, you know, the bright bulb invented by Thomas Edison (a pretty bright bulb hisself) 130 years ago, finally ought to be replaced by the future of lighting, more energy efficient, more planet-friendly, more long-term economically viable, compact fluorescent bulb.

That was a short future, because the real lighting of the future is the even more energy efficient, even more planet-friendly, and even more long-term economically viable LED lighting.

LED would have been here sooner — and we could have avoided the whole five-second compact fluorescent interregnum — but it took a while for LED to supply soft light and, even more important, dimmability. Well, thanks for inefficiently wasting our time with compact fluorescent, lighting people.

Higher-Def TV

I'll end my instant-obsolescence screed circling back to HDTV. It seems 3D is not the last stop on the digital TV transition train. Apparently 2K and 4K digital cinema is coming, offering pixel resolutions of 2,048 x 1,536 and 4,096 x 2,400…

Oh, wait. Check that — 4K is not coming. It's here. Several pro projector makers including JVC already have introduced 4K models. Yeah, the JVC projectors are a bit pricey ($175k). But I don't even want to hear there's another HDTV standard waiting in the wings. I just know as soon as I get used to the shiny new 65-inch Panasonic 3D plasma I plan on buying next fall, I'll have to find some tech-ignorant chump to take it off my hands to make room for a 4K 3D set.

Or am I the ignorant chump for falling for this not-so fantastical instant obsolescence shell-game? (Suppress your itchy typing finger sarcastic retort temptation — it's a rhetorical question.) I know technology is constantly evolving, but could we have a little tech breathing room between the mutations, please?

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