Direction of Technology Proves Elusive

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2001-06-25

As if we didnt have enough worries with cell phones, what with all our concerns over our brains being fried while yakking, driving into bridge abutments while copying the grocery list and being found to be where we shouldnt by internal GPS locators, now weve got one more worry. All those billions weve spent on building those stealth bombers might be undone by those pesky cell phones.

As a recent Associated Press story related, the development of a passive radar that measures disturbances in cell phone transmissions can be used to pinpoint planes, including those military planes using stealth technology. Like a lot of technologies, the passive radar still represents only a possibility at this point, but it sure highlights the difficulty of predicting where the development of a product or system will lead.

When Microsoft developed its smart tag technology, I had no idea whether it had some nefarious plot in mind to take over the world or was simply trying to come up with some way to bolster Office XP revenues. In any case, smart tags (think hyperlinks on steroids) have touched off a controversy over whether the company is unrepentant despite the paddling administered by the Department of Justice.

Add to this the total confusion as the geeks of the world head for, which is all about how to use smart tags to breeze through the toll booths in Virginia, and you can see the swerves that technology can deliver.

When Palm was incorporated in 1992, the company was introducing a new form factor, a new operating system and a new concept whereby the Palm device would succeed by cooperating with your desktop system rather than by replacing the system. Now Palm seems to have lost its way by never moving beyond that original technology breakthrough.

While Palm ran in place, competitors (including Microsoft) had time to get a product line together that could out-Palm Palm. Today, Compaq finds itself with a substantial back-order list for its iPaq handhelds, while Palm finds itself rebutting the claim that the 9-year-old company is too stodgy.

Given the difficulty of predicting the direction of technology (I wont even get into the rise and fall of the dot-coms), how is a company supposed to succeed? Well, not by standing pat: Palm is showing us the danger of that tactic. Not by failing to take into account all the social as well as technological forces: Microsofts smart tag experience is showing us that.

I think the best advice comes from an interview this week with IBM e-markets chief Bill Paulk. Speaking about B2B vendors (many of which have a back full of arrows), Paulk said, "They made mistakes, and their ability to learn from their mistakes and correct them and have the staying power will be the real test."

Rocket Fuel