What Is the Relevance of Technology?

Posted by fareed shakir on October 28th, 2019

"Technology in the long-run is irrelevant ".That's what a customer of mine explained when I made a display to him about a new product. I had been talking about the product's features and benefits and listed "state-of-the-art technology" or something to that particular effect, as one of them. That's when he made his statement. I realized later he was correct, at least within the context of how I used "Technology" within my presentation. But I started considering whether he could be right in other contexts as well.

What is Technology?

Merriam-Webster defines it as:


a: the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area: engineering 2

b: a potential distributed by the practical application of knowledge

Both definitions revolve around the same - application and usage.

Technology is definitely an enabler

Lots of people mistakenly believe that it is technology which drives innovation. Yet from the definitions above, that is clearly not the case. It's opportunity which defines innovation and technology which enables innovation. Think of the classic "Build a better mousetrap" example taught generally in most business schools. It's likely you have the technology to construct a better mousetrap, but when you yourself have no mice or the old mousetrap works well, there is no opportunity and then your technology to construct a better one becomes irrelevant. On one other hand, if you should be overrun with mice then your opportunity exists to innovate something utilizing your technology.

Another example, one with which I'm intimately familiar, are electronic devices startup companies. I've been associated with both those that succeeded and those that failed. Each possessed unique leading edge technologies. The difference was opportunity. The ones that failed could not find the chance to develop a meaningful innovation utilizing their technology. In reality to survive, these companies had to morph oftentimes into something completely different and if these were lucky they might make the most of derivatives of these original technology. More regularly than not, the first technology wound up in the scrap heap. Technology, thus, is definitely an enabler whose ultimate value proposition is to make improvements to the lives. In order to be relevant, it must be utilized to generate innovations that are driven by opportunity.

Technology as a competitive advantage?

Many companies list a technology as one of these competitive advantages. Is this valid? In some cases yes, but Generally no.

Technology develops along two paths - an evolutionary path and a revolutionary path.

A revolutionary technology is the one that enables new industries or enables solutions to problems that were previously not possible. Semiconductor technology is an excellent example. Not just did it spawn new industries and products, but it spawned other revolutionary technologies - transistor technology, integrated circuit technology, microprocessor technology. All which provide most of the products and services we consume today. But is semiconductor technology a competitive advantage? Taking a look at the number of semiconductor companies that exist today (with new ones forming every day), I'd say not. What about microprocessor technology? Again, no. Plenty of microprocessor companies out there. What about quad core microprocessor technology? Not as much companies, but you have Intel, AMD, ARM, and a bunch of companies building custom quad core processors (Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, etc). So again, very little of a competitive advantage. Competition from competing technologies and easy access to IP mitigates the perceived competitive advantage of any particular technology. Android vs iOS is an excellent exemplory instance of how this works. Both os's are derivatives of UNIX. Apple used their technology to introduce iOS and gained an earlier market advantage. However, Google, utilizing their variant of Unix (a competing technology), swept up relatively quickly. The reason why with this lie not in the underlying technology, but in how the products made possible by those technologies were brought to advertise (free vs. walled garden, etc.) and the differences in the strategic visions of every company.

Evolutionary technology is the one that incrementally builds upon the beds base revolutionary technology. But by it is rather nature, the incremental change is simpler for a competitor to complement or leapfrog. Take like wireless cellphone technology. Company V introduced 4G products just before Company A and while it could have experienced a brief term advantage, when Company A introduced their 4G products, the bonus due to technology disappeared. The customer returned to choosing Company A or Company V centered on price, service, coverage, whatever, although not centered on technology. Thus technology may have been relevant in the temporary, but in the long term, became irrelevant.

In today's world, technologies tend to swiftly become commoditized, and within any particular technology lies the seeds of a unique death.

Technology's Relevance

This information was written from the prospective of a finish customer. From a developer/designer standpoint things get murkier. The further one is taken off the technology, the less relevant it becomes. To a developer, the technology can look just like a product. An enabling product, but something nonetheless, and thus it is highly relevant. Bose uses a proprietary signal processing technology allow products that meet a set of market requirements and thus the technology and what it enables is highly relevant to them. Their clients are more worried about how it sounds, what's the price, what's the standard, etc., and less with how it is achieved, thus the technology used Technology is much less highly relevant to them.

Related image

Recently, I was associated with a discussion on Google+ about the brand new Motorola X phone. Lots of the folks on those posts slammed the phone for various reasons - price, locked boot loader, etc. There were also lots of knocks on the truth that it didn't have a quad-core processor just like the S4 or HTC The one which were priced similarly. What they failed to grasp is that whether the maker used 1, 2, 4, or 8 cores ultimately makes no difference as long as the phone can deliver a competitive (or even best of class) feature set, functionality, price, and user experience. The iPhone is one of the very successful phones ever produced, and yet it runs on a dual-core processor. It still delivers one of the finest user experiences on the market. The features that are enabled by the technology are what're highly relevant to the buyer, not the technology itself.

The relevance of technology therefore, is being an enabler, never as something feature or a competitive advantage, or any myriad of other items - an enabler. Taking a look at the Android operating-system, it is an impressive software application technology, and yet Google gives it away. Why? Because standalone, it does nothing for Google. Giving it away allows other individuals to use their expertise to construct products and services which then behave as enablers for Google's products and services. To Google, that's where the real value is.

Like it? Share it!

fareed shakir

About the Author

fareed shakir
Joined: February 28th, 2019
Articles Posted: 669

More by this author