The biggest question we all have when gambling on an innovative idea is whether it will be successful, not jut technically but commercially.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. This piece by Benedict Evans is a long article. But it is worth persevering as it offers some real and insightful ways of figuring out whether something is worth a gamble. Here are some nuggets to spark your curiosity:
So, what do we mean when we say that some new piece of technology is a toy? It seems to me that there are two parts to this: either it doesn’t work, or it won’t matter even if it does work. On the one hand, it cannot do what it is supposed to do because it is incomplete, impractical or expensive, and on the other, even if it does work no-one will want it, or, perhaps, even if they do it won’t matter. These are all effectively assertions that nothing will change: the product won’t change, or people’s behaviour won’t change, or the things that are important won’t change.
The question, then, is not whether something works now but whether it could work - whether you know how to change it. Saying ‘it doesn’t work, today’ has no value, but saying 'yes, but everything didn’t work once’ also has no value. Rather, do you have a roadmap? Do you know what to do next?
…it’s quite common… for something to propose a new way to solve an existing problem. It can’t be used to solve the problem in the old way, so 'it doesn’t work’, and proposes a new way, and so 'no-one will want that’. This is how generational shifts work - first you try to force the new tool to fit the old workflow, and then the new tool creates a new workflow. Both parts are painful and full of denial, but the new model is ultimately much better than the old.
…the test throughout this post is falsifiability and predictive power. “That is a toy’, 'everything looks like a toy’, 'no-one will want that’ and 'no-one wanted phones either’, paradoxically, are statements that are both completely true and 'not even wrong’: you cannot use them as a test for anything. They have no predictive power. Of course, asking whether there is a technology roadmap, or whether this is a superpower, are analytic projects that might get you to the wrong answer. But they do give you a roadmap to understanding what might happen.