The Life & Death of Gadgets

Counternotions on Twitter linked this interesting interactive graph from the Washington Post charting the rise and fall of various gadgets from cordless phones to VCRs.

Note that there’s a fairly severe problem with the chart — where they have 2011 “projected” statistics this becomes the final series entry, so that we’re often comparing 2010 and 2011 numbers (both of which are rubbery) and so on going back in time.

My takeaway points are:

Audio is perhaps the most interesting category. What the heck happened to radios? They just hit a wall in 1984. Must be some kind of change in how sales were countered or something. Or was that when radios started being bundled into cassette players?¬†And what happened to CD players? In 2000 people stopped buying them and nothing under “audio” got the slack. DVD players started to take off around then but even that doesn’t fill the hole. Maybe it’s about that time computers started shipping standard with CD-ROM drives. Even so it seems odd, but is mirrored by MP3 players around the time that the smartphone took off. Perhaps what we’re seeing is consumers realizing that a gadget category is dead even though they aren’t quite ready to buy its successor yet.

I imagine that Camcorders and digital cameras are going to hit a wall pretty soon (price will suddenly go up and sales down as the point-and-shoot becomes subsumed into the pocket convergence device (or “datastick” as Ron Cobb coined the term) — i.e. the MP3 player / smartphone / personal organizer / pocket computer / calculator / digital watch / clock radio).

After five years: VCRs had 10% market penetration and cost slightly under $1000 each; DVDs had 23% market penetration and cost under $300 each; Bluray has 10% penetration and costs about $120. And bear in mind that Bluray content is generally being sold at only a slight premium over DVD and often includes the DVD and a digital copy. Back in 2000 I don’t remember DVDs coming bundled with VHS copies.

If you add “standard cellphones” and “smartphones” together you just get an exponential growth curve, so I’d suggest the “correct” way to view this is simply that cellphones are growing exponentially and getting smart. (My second Nokia handset, back in 1998 or so, had a built-in organizer which immediately supplanted my Newton and Filofax (I was using both) as my single place for keeping track of time. My Motorola RAZR was fully capable of surfing the web (badly), playing video (at least in theory), and downloading and running Java “apps” (which all seemed to be games as far as I can recall). What is the actual division between “smart” phones and cellphones anyway? It seems to me that when people talk about smartphones now they really mean “iPhones and iPhone-imitations”.