“The next big thing is the one that makes the last big thing usable.”
In 1992, I had a very serious case of gadget envy. I was a busy, mid-level manager at DuPont who had loads of outside activities. I was finishing up my MBA, playing industrial league basketball and softball, chairing a committee at church, teaching Sunday School and oh yeah, enjoying my life at home with my lovely and talented wife and new baby daughter.
The promise of a gadget that would organize my hectic lifestyle by keeping electronic track of my calendar and contacts was too much to resist. I couldn’t wait for the Apple Newton, the first personal digital assistant. It was set to revolution how we lived.
Despite my high expectations, when the Newton was introduced in 1993, it failed miserably, even famously. The flop of the Newton was so widely heralded that the Doonesbury comic strip lampooned the device’s horrible handwriting recognition software for a whole week’s worth of comic strips, the most infamous one being when comic strip character Michael Doonesbury writes “Catching on?” and his Newton deciphers that as “Egg freckles?”
Despite being a commercial and technical fiasco, the Newton left a lasting innovation legacy that is still with us. Today’s smartphones are just natural extensions of the Newton technology, right down to using the same low energy ARM processor.
As for me? I read the early reviews of the Newton which praised the concept but railed against the execution and decided to pass. My patience was rewarded when the first Palm Pilot PDA went public in 1996. The Palm was a device that did three things, and did them well – calendar, contacts and to do lists were excellently managed, and this time, Palm’s Graffiti handwriting recognition software really did deliver. The Palm was a success, the next logical step after the Newton’s demise. And the Palm also led to what was arguably the first great smart phone, the Treo, which dominated the smartphone market right up until the introduction of the Newton 2 – umm, I mean the iPhone.
So the question before us is this – will Bitcoin follow in the Newton’s footsteps as a brilliant innovation that ultimately fails yet leaves behind a technical and conceptual legacy from which others can build?
Or, will it be more like the Microsoft PC operating systems that dominated the early commercial adoption of the PC and continues to utterly dominate the market today with a market share just a tad below 90%?
It’s an intriguing question – but the more useful question is this – after the wild ride that bitcoin and cyber currencies have been through in the last few months, is there money to be made in this new financial world?