When gadgets become tools

Just because new technology doesn't do everything its makers claim, it doesn't mean it's useless. Ross Bentley reports on the...

Just because new technology doesn't do everything its makers claim, it doesn't mean it's useless. Ross Bentley reports on the rewards of a reasoned approach

Jon Newlyn at Attachmate thinks the line between high-tech gadgets and useful business tools is much finer than we realise. The line that defines this gap and perhaps the key to unlocking the business benefit is, says Newlyn, the approach we adopt when new technology is "thrust upon us".

He has come up with a model to reflect the early life cycle of any new technology introduced to the market.

  • Technology is introduced

  • We do not fully understand what it does and how it applies to us

  • We grab hold of a few of its elements/features, believing this is the great Nirvana

  • We realise it doesn't do everything we assumed it would and then think: "If it doesn't do what we thought it could, it must be rubbish."

  • We slowly understand what it can do and start applying it in areas that will realise most benefit.

    Newlyn says, "We go through a love/hate cycle before we realise it is good at something. We seem to go through this cycle every time and it does hurt genuinely good products and technology. If we are to get out of this potentially damaging cycle we need to change our approach.

    "I believe the first step, when new technology is introduced and we do not understand it, is unavoidable to a certain extent," he continues. "This is because the technology hasn't been explained properly and has been seized upon by the marketing people who have made outlandish and unrealistic claims for it.

    "Instead, we need to adopt a positive attitude, but understand what technology cannot do and, more importantly, accept those restrictions or shortcomings. Then we can move forward."

    Newlyn thinks this approach will avoid the "peak" and associated "trough" of the previous model and foster a more stable environment in which to discuss the benefits.

    Newlyn points to the latest technology on the block, wireless application protocol (Wap), as a victim of the tendency to hype technologies for commercial reasons. "Wap was hailed as the best thing since sliced bread, but once it was clear the technology was at the beginning of its life cycle and would need further development to realise fully all the benefits, people realised they had bought something that didn't do what the advertisement campaign said it could."

    Whereas, says Newlyn, if the second approach were exercised, we would have explored the technology and understood what it cannot do and by understanding what it cannot do, we would have seen the upside of the technology.

    "This attitude is more likely to ensure the growth of the technology is strong and predictable," he says.

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