EDITORIAL: Have we reached “peak gadget?”

Yeah, I’m making up a new term. It’s like “peak oil,” that theoretical point where our demand for oil permanently outstrips the amount we can take out of the ground. It’s an indication that we’ve innovated all we can, and the days of oil-based technology are over.

So, what about “peak gadget?” Have we finally gotten our fill of new geegaws, filled our pockets with every possible electronic convenience, so that our hearts are simply not ready to accept another new thing? I’ve suggested this sort of thing might be due to battery technology, but at the heart of it, what if we’re just done getting electronic goodies for ourselves?

Why does it sound so far-fetched? It’s pretty fair to say we’ve reached “peak desktop,” that point where non-mobile PCs are really just replacing other PCs and there’s no growth to be had there. Cell phone providers know that the market for phones is fairly stable, and companies like DIRECTV tell us that it’s been a while since any new homes have been built and that’s affecting the short-term outlook for their service in the US.

So, here’s my take on it: No, we have not reached ‘peak gadget’ but…

This is one of those down times in the world of technology. We’re waiting for something to come and turn the world upside down. In 2010, we asked why we would ever need more than a netbook. In 2007, it looked like (believe it or not) the Blackberry was forever going to be the best smartphone there ever was. In 2003, we asked what could be better than a Nokia 3310. Every three to four years there’s a sort of lull while someone prepares to turn our world around. In the meantime, there are a lot of misfires like Pebble watches, Nokia N-Gages, Microsoft Bob, etc. But out of the rubble, just like clockwork, something comes out to make us believe in the future all over again.

Yes, it’s been four years since the iPad but they’ve been four tough years. It’s going to take a little more time for that interesting must-have device to surface (although, ironically, it probably won’t be a Surface.) It probably won’t be Google Glass or Android Wear either, but the suspicion is that we’re less than a year from that new device, the one so transformative that its segment doesn’t even have a name. And then, four years from now, we’ll all start worrying about “peak gadget” all over again. I can’t wait.