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Weekend Article: Technology is So Passé … It’s All About Fashion

“You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, it’s actually cerulean. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers.”Miranda Priestly/Meryl Streep (“The Devil Wears Prada”), 20th Century Fox

There are a couple of things parents vow:

–        I’m going to make sure my kids have the things I never had, have it better than I did

–        I’m never going to say “When I was your age…”

You end up saying the latter because PC, CE, communications and content technologies have made the first vow way too easy.

We’ve turned heavy duty technology into lifestyle stuff.

Like men’s/women’s fashion, we’ve been repackaging, repitching the technology, the ideas, the stories.

The problem is, the industry doesn’t have rules like the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture.

But then, a better computer, software, game system, home/personal AV unit, phone is more important than a skirt, a suit, a tie, shoes.

When people don’t hit the mark, Nigel says, “And that’s my problem because… Oh, wait. No, it’s not my problem.”


It was the ENIAC  in ’46 that kicked off computer fashion…nothing elegant, just basic.

Brilliant Fashion – Dubbed “The Giant Brain,” the ENIAC marked the beginning of the serious computer industry.  While men took most of the credit, it was women like Grace Hopper (first to “debug” a system) to make them work elegantly.  Source – US Army

Even though some said the market for “big iron” was only 10 systems worldwide, that room full of wires, plugs, boards fostered IBM and tens of mainframe producers.

Folks started using not overly bright terminals to tap into great computing power that was … somewhere.

Ken Olson, with his PDP series, said the technology should be distributed, closer to people actually doing things.

Of course, the homebrew clubs wanted power to the common man (and woman), so they tinkered.

Olson said PCs would be popular when pigs fly.

You’re Free – Mainframe and mini system producers viewed PCs as unfit for real business work.  They’d never fly.  But they gained traction and PCs really set computing and people free to develop and deliver answers, information anywhere.

Miranda warned him, “By all means, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.’

IBM went along with the kids and helped put computer power in consumer hands.

People wanted to take that power with them, so Adam Osborne designed really cool, really heavy luggable computers.

Road Warrior Gear – A far cry from today’s ultra-portable notebook and netbook computers, systems like the Osborne PC above weighed in at a hefty 25-pounds and only real men took their computers on the road.  Great exercise for the executive on-the-go. Source – Osborne Computer

They quickly got more powerful, lighter, more elegant.

Suddenly, IT folks saw content – data, audio, video – being sent over networks, hidden on storage media … it was getting out of control.

But wait … computers were sucking up huge volumes of power and had a huge carbon footprint.

Ah ha! … we’ll centralize and share (another idea brought back to life) computing power in something soft, fluffy, friendly like clouds.

Cloud Computing – While ecommerce and social sites have dominated the attention for cloud computing, hardware/software/service providers see a growing potential for enabling individuals and organizations to take advantage of public and private cloud offerings.  Despite some concerns, most analysts project cloud computing to enjoy double-digit growth for a number of years.  Source — NASA

We’ll even give you a new family of terminals, but we’ll call them “netbooks.”


It was said that a good programmer could fool you for a year, a great programmer could fool you for five years.

Big iron and mini software development was really, really hard work.  And too valuable for mere mortals.

So, you rented it along with a contract that allowed you to call somewhere and complain about your problems.

To help PCs fly off the shelves, we needed new “user friendly” software designs.

One was Seymore Rubenstein who started MicroPro with a great little product called Wordstar.

The First Word – MicroPro’s WordStar was one of the first and clearly the most widely used early word processing software package.  Loading the software was a snap…just a few 5.25-in floppies of code awakened the PC to do your bidding, assuming you could spell fairly accurately.  Source – Marken Communications

Fantastic little package but he told us he didn’t want to “rent” the software, he wanted to sell people the package.  Then, when he had a new version (much better and without all of the undocumented features), he’d sell it to you again.

He agreed with Miranda, “You have no sense of fashion…”

That fashion model worked for years.  But a new design was needed.

Got it … you really don’t need all that software on your computer since you use it so seldom.

We’ve got the friendly clouds, along with sexy portable memory-challenged computing things, so let’s go back to renting it when you use it.

Pay As You Go – While the computer industry started out only leasing the software to IT organizations, cloud-based services are working on a number of different options including pay-as-you-go, activity volume or ad supported models.

Photo Source — NYTimes

Nigel looked at the new approach and said, “Give me a full ballerina skirt and a hint of saloon and I’m on board.”

CE Fashion

The computer industry has embraced the ebbs/flows of fashion —  new colors, new looks, new prices, new bells and whistles every time they turn around.

They feel the pains, strains, uncertainty that the consumer electronics folks have endured for a long time.

CE designers are always under the gun to make their bosses the next celebrated couturier.

Panasonic ruled the runway for years, slipped to be a solid but pedestrian house.

TVs, players, discs and an array of home/personal CE stuff keeps flowing out their doors without the glamour recognition.

Bringing 3D fashion home from the theater is their next new bold statement.

Bringing 3D Home – 3D has been big at the box office and Panasonic/Sony/others believe the time is right to bring the eye-popping excitement into your home.  Sales of their 3DTV sets has been “brisk” and all most people are waiting for right now is lower screen costs and … lots of content.

Sony took the design crown from Panasonic with great computer, audio/video player and gaming design.

The Game’s the Thing – Video games have come a long way from Atari’s Pong and the early 2600 and Lynx gaming systems.  Today’s systems and software feature breathtaking graphics, wall-to-wall excitement, 3D video, HD sound and more to appeal to young and old alike.

Other houses like LG, Samsung and a host of other folks started by knocking off the “big boys” designs but quickly stepped into the limelight with bold, clean fashion statements.

With most of the new lines Miranda looks over the offerings and says, “You people have had hours and hours to prepare. It’s just so confusing to me.”

When you’re hot, you’re hot.  When you’re not, CRUD!!!

Call Me

Totally new design concepts are tough to come by.   It’s even tougher to stay ahead of the pack.

Take Motorola.

They had this dumb idea about taking your phone with you when there was a perfectly good one in your office or home.

Hello Boss – Dr. Martin Cooper (above) is credited with developing Motorola’s first private handheld mobile phone.  You think your service is spotty today and your service charges are high?  Think how irritated you would be with a phone that cost about $4K (back then).

They ruled the runway for a long time with their flip phone, Razr and other neat toys.

The design houses kept introducing new looks but nothing that made you say viola!

It got to the point that Nigel looked at ‘em and mumbled, “Oh, never mind. I’m sure you have plenty more poly-blend where that came from.”

The guy who runs the One Infinity Circle house of worship figured it was up to him to deliver a new design, new fashion statement.

Beyond the 3-Minute Call – A “modest” phone, Apple’s iPhone set the stage for a whirlwind of change in the mobile device industry, allowing people to send/receive/borrow/occasionally buy music, photos, video as well as send/receive messages, photos, video, music, coupons, directions, location indicators, tracking info. Heck, just about anything/everything.

Who cares if it’s a rotten phone?

It’s a helluva’ fashion accessory that can do so much more!

Nigel explained how Steve adds accessories (services, offerings) to his winning design by noting, “There’s a scale. One nod is good, two nods is very good. There’s only been one actual smile on record and that was Tom Ford in 2001.”

Finally!  CE haute couture every kid, adult wanted to carry.

A winning design deserves…a line extension.

Add a little here…cut a little there … enlarge this … shrink that … open here … close there and oh boy, it’s the “i” (i as in income) family.  iPhone, iPod, iTunes, iGames, iBooks and Ta Da…iPad.

Over-Fed iPod – O.K. so it isn’t really a store display iPhone/iPod but more than a few people thought the Apple eBook/tablet – iPad – looked like it when Jobs did his teaser announcement.  The winning differentiator between the iPad and similar devices will be the apps and reading/viewing content (and costs).

All with the unmistaken mark of haute couture house!

Jobs really ticks off the big fashion houses because … well, they want their share of the aura, adulation, panache.

If you asked Steve and Miranda what the fashion secret is, they’d respond, “…please bore someone else with your… questions.”

Folks have tried it all including the two-day beard, black turtleneck, black jeans, vegan diet.

It just doesn’t get them the bennies … autobiography offers, thinly veiled TV pilots, Kool-Aid crowd.

While skirt lengths go up and down, technology has struggled to become an estimated $1,200B WW fashion industry, complete with its own design cycles:

–        central system, distributed, standalone, portable, ultraportable, tablet, cloud

–        rented software, buy, rent

–        BW TV, SD color, HD color, 3D

–        Phone, MP3 unit, AV device, mobile thingie

Every season, bunches of folks around the globe work tirelessly just to figure out what is going to be soigné for ordinary people next season.

When their products/services get ready to hit the runway, Nigel says, “Alright, everyone, gird your loins!”

Doing tech or lifestyle fashion design is a tough.

Tough Judges – When PC/CE/communications devices, software, services moved from utility to fashion statements companies suddenly realized they were at the mercy of a very fickle lifestyle reviewers and more fickle buying public.

Source – 20th Century Fox

That’s because Miranda asks tough questions, “Is it impossible to find a lovely, slender, female paratrooper? Am I reaching for the stars here?”

Don’t ask us.

We’re still learning about all this stuff.

By Andy Marken

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