Big and Small Opportunities

Light switches aren’t perfect, of course, but there’s an upper bound to how much I’ll pay to make my lights a little better at turning on and off.

That seems, to me, to be a very intuitive statement.  But apparently it’s not.  Everyone under the sun wants to sell an internet-connected lightbulb, which can, for like $100… turn on on a schedule or from an app or when it senses movement instead of when I flick the switch.

Never mind that almost all of these things are actually a worse experience than just flipping the switch.  Even their 10th generation descendants on a better infrastructure are going to be a lot of expense for very little reward.  Because as it turns out, reaching out and flipping a switch right by the door as I enter a room is very fast, has few error scenarios, and works all the time.  Could it be better?  Sure.  But it can’t be that much better, because the imperfections of light switches are minor enough that I’m just not going to pay that much to perfect them.

This is a microcosm of problems in the next generation of computing in general.  The entire “Internet of Things” segment is plagued with literal light switch replacements and even more figurative light switch replacements.  The wearables industry is in the same boat, stuck trying to shave a second or two off the time it takes to pull out your smartphone.

These are inherently limited opportunities.  A smartwatch will never ever ever be a must-buy as long as fundamentally what it does is make it mildly more convenient to see your phone’s notifications, and an internet of things device will never ever ever be a must-buy as long as it’s trying to make something that is already very convenient mildly more convenient.

Don’t get me wrong, the smartwatches and even (sigh) the internet-connected lightbulbs will come, sooner or later.  Eventually they’ll get cheap enough that people will shrug and say, “Might as well pick that up.”  But they won’t be game-changing, billion-dollar-company-defining opportunities unless someone can think up an actual real problem to solve with them.

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