Handheld Technology

Rant: Apple's $5,000 Watch and Our Throwaway Times

The ‘Edition’ gold version of the Apple Watch might cost over $5,000, according to estimates, as the device maker attempts to cross the bridge from cool to couture. It’s a high price to pay to look in vogue and to many of us it would appear to be unutterably vulgar. But the flood of the latest ‘must have’ products shows no sign of being stemmed.

Even a premium-priced product like the Apple Watch Edition will shortly become outmoded as the issue of frenetic techno churn is endemic.

Some recent numbers:

For the first time, global smartphone sales passed 300 million units for the second calendar quarter of 2014.

Smartphone sales for this year could pass 1.2 billion, according to Juniper Research – up almost a fifth on 2013.

Samsung alone sold 74 million smartphones in the second quarter of 2014, says IDC.

Apple, with its all-premium smartphone line, still managed 35 million for the second quarter of this year (also IDC).

This is all being driven by upgrade cycles and a growing middle class in many surging countries but the rush is not only on to address the desires of the relatively wealthy. Google’s Android One project explicitly targets the “next five billion”. This will also lead to more production: Android One smartphone sales are forecast at two million in 2014. Intex Technologies India expects to sell 100,000 of its Mozilla Firefox OS-based Cloud FX handsets this month in a country where smartphone sales have tripled in 2013.

And it’s not just smartphones.

Personal computer sales may have been declining recently but they did so from stratospheric heights and basement prices are cushioning the fall to such an extent that sales are now heading northwards again, according to Gartner. Despite all the “death of the PC chat”, sales will be around 300 million this year.

Companion/replacement devices are everywhere. Sales might be spiky as people wait for new versions, but close on 50 million tablets sold in Q2. Then there are the e-readers: Kindle sales of an estimated 20 million last year will keep the pages turning.

And there’s more: fitness bands, wearable computing and the computers that are sold on their single purpose merits - think of internet radios that use WiFi, for example. There’s a groaning smorgasbord of stuff.

You could go on – WiFi routers, cellular modems, digital media players like Chromecast, portable storage… there’s always an upgrade and the upgrades are coming faster than ever – Windows 9, iOS 8 et al – and they tempt users with more new features, capacity, speeds and feeds and so on.

The net effect of this is a pile up of silicon, platters, memory, circuit boards and displays. That’s not good for the planet, obviously, but it’s also not good for those who become victims of the hamster wheel of techno churn, those hurt by their reluctance to join the rush to novelty and trashing what they have paid for. Too often they become victims of incompatibility: their systems won’t work or won’t be supported because they declined to join in the sprint.

Falling prices and easy-payment terms will help drive the breathless pace. It’s hard to say how this will all end but it may be that there will be some reaction akin to the Slow Food movement that began in Italy. A subset of us might tire of this bewildering speed of change and go back to older habits of waiting and getting the most out of what we have paid for.

Slow Tech? Perhaps. 


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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