For about a decade I’ve been talking about “bandwidth built in” and for that long I’ve been using the watch as an example. I’ve used it several times in the past month, so I feel compelled to share it with all of you.
Usually when I talk about the Mobility Revolution, I put it in the context of the PC/Microprocessor Revolution and the Internet Revolution, but this story works better to talk about the Electrical Revolution and the Microprocessor Revolution. It’s all the same, really. It’s a story about how new technologies radically change how we interact with the world and the rules of competition across industries in ways that we could never have imagined.
If I were a technology visionary 100 years ago and I went to a watchmaker and said “in the future, virtually all watches will have electricity built in”, he would think I was crazy. In his mind, he would imagine a power cord running to the watch and he would say that no one would buy such a product. He also would recognize that electricity wasn’t even available in much of the U.S., much less the world.
Of course, today, that prediction has come true. Not in the way that the watchmaker envisioned, but through powerful, tiny batteries. No one expects to wind a watch anymore. Electric watches have freed us from the effort of winding, and from the worry that our watch will run down and we’ll need to re-set it – or at least we only need to worry about it every few years when the battery dies.
Thirty years ago, if I’d gone to a watch maker and said “in the future, most watches will have a computer built in”, he would think I was crazy. He’d imagine the computers of the day – huge systems that required raised floor, climate controlled spaces to operate, and he could not imagine how that could be associated with a watch.
I couldn’t quickly find stats to prove this, but I would guess that today, that prediction has come true – that at least a large number of watches sold today are either digital watches, or they are “analog” (they have hands), but they also have microprocessors within them playing some role (even if just for displaying the date).
A decade or so ago, I started saying that “in the future, most watches will have bandwidth built in”. At the time, most people thought I was crazy. They envisioned a modem (remember those?) with a phone wire (remember those?) hanging out, and they couldn’t imagine anyone buying a watch like that.
By the time I started talking about it, I’d already bought a Timex Data Link watch (I still have it around here somewhere). So, I can’t claim to have just dreamed the concept up. Since then, most of the watches I’ve bought have had some form of bandwidth built in, whether they be linked via satellite to the national atomic clock, or even Microsoft’s failed “SPOT” technology. Or my most recent exciting edition – a GPS-based exercise watch!
When I wear a watch that doesn’t have atomic time, I feel inadequate. Even if I’m not traveling across time zones, simply giving up the confidence that my watch is perfectly accurate causes concern (I hate to be late for anything). A brother-in-law who is a jeweler made a completely different observation about the atomic watch. He said “wow, I bet they can make them really cheap that way.” His point was that the mechanism in the watch doesn’t need to be very accurate, because the time is regularly updated with perfect accuracy, offsetting the deficiencies of the internal workings.
However, to prove my point even more than I thought…
Especially for young people, the majority of “watches” certainly have bandwidth built in, but not in the way I’d imagined. I was just as bound by my foolish projection of current models into a future state as the watchmakers of old that I poke fun at in my story.
Today, for many people, the cellphone has completely replaced the watch. My son may grow up never regularly wearing a watch. (Since I have this fascination with watches, he’s felt compelled to wear one for a day or two at different times in his life.) For most people, the cellphone is always with them, it’s time is always accurate, it adjusts to new timezones (if it’s linked to the cellular carrier’s clock) – so why bind your wrist with some leather and metal?
Of course, this “bandwidth built in” is beginning to have a significant impact on the jewelry business.
What does “bandwidth built in” mean for your industry, your business, and how you personally interact with the world?