As Apple Computer seems to lose a little of its luster (perhaps only temporarily), it’s heartening to see products in other market sectors pick up where the late Steve Jobs and the conspicuously silent John Ive left off. Indeed, some products have picked up the baton and taken it even further, when it comes to out-of-the-box user experience. One such example is the impressive Nest Learning Thermostat, the latest version of which I just installed today. The product works wonderfully, a pleasure enhanced tenfold by the exquisite care taken by the product development team to ensure that my introduction to, installation of, and experience with their creation be nothing short of brilliant.

I kept running back and forth from the living room and the hallway, where I was installing the thermostat – eagerly sharing with my wife each and every childlike discovery: “there’s a cute screwdriver included in the kit!”; “it automatically determines what wires I have, and whether it needs to jumper the connection!”; “they included little sticky labels to identify each of the wires coming out of the wall!”; “the digital display comes on automatically as you walk up to it!”; “we can manage it all from my computer, iPad, or phone!”; and so on.

I did feel a twinge of concern, when I realized that use of this thermostat included communicating when I was home and when I was away. This fact, combined with the requirement to enter my home address and other personal information, makes me wonder what sort of fun high-tech burglars might have, were they able to hack in to the Nest servers, and remotely track the comings and goings of homeowners…

Extant that challenge to my otherwise usually enthusiastic embrace of new paradigms in social transparency, I was thrilled by this update to an obviously well-conceived piece of consumer electronics genius. More often than not, startups are trying to practice alchemy: attempting to fashion something priceless out of nothing, or something very close thereto. When an innovator comes along, recognizing the shortcomings of something so ubiquitous as a thermostat, and leverages advances in networking technology and product design, the result is far more exciting than it ought to be.

Some might say that Tesla Motors has achieved the same result with automotive innovation, while Amazon’s Kindle has shifted the landscape of literary hardware, and ARM and Intel continue to duke it out in the technology battle for supremacy in combined processing power and energy efficiency. Innovation abounds, moving our society forward, not so much by leaps and bounds in to the unknown, but rather (I’d like to think) in an inexorable arc toward improvement, so long as we – the consumer – continue to demand integrity in sourcing, sustainability, and workforce management.

What recent product release do you feel has most startlingly advanced an otherwise mundane or hitherto predictable market?

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This is a rather large infographic, I admit, but the historical review is very interesting, and lays a good foundation for the projections which are – at one and the same time – compelling and a little disturbing (click on the image to link to a larger version). Does the outlook thrill you, or scare you?:

End of Computers

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