Think back just a few years ago to the Time Before The iPhone. We’d seen a number of touch-screen cell phones and PDAs. (Remember that acronym?) But the conventional wisdom among tech pundits was that touchscreens weren’t really workable for mobile devices. Certainly, it was thought, touch screens couldn’t replace keyboards and hardware buttons. It took two things, together, to prove the conventional wisdom wrong. First, touch screens got better slowly and steadily. They became more accurate, more responsive, more durable, prettier, and able to track two or more touches simultaneously. Second, interface design got better all at once when Apple released the first version of iOS.
This is the consistent pattern. Early products pioneer some elements of the future. Those products influence engineering and design thinking before they fade away, victims of timing and market dynamics. Finally a tipping point arrives, enabled by technological progress and usually catalyzed by an excellent new product design. Conventional wisdom adjusts and it becomes hard to remember we didn’t all know all along that, for example, phones would one day be little slabs of glass. William Gibson expresses it best: the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
In our business, things are often obvious in hindsight, but rarely when they’re right in front of you.