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Signs of a waning tech-spend

Geeks not getting excited about new products is not a good sign for capitalism.

india Updated: May 23, 2013 22:42 IST

There's a certain sort of person that gets excited about the announcements of new high-tech products. I'm one of them. You may well be one too. We do seem to be quite a substantial demographic. Or at least noisy enough to seem substantial. We are the vocal claque of high-tech evangelists that keeps capitalism alive.

We can often be found on social networks and messageboards extolling the virtues of our chosen gadget or brand. It's a bit like being a football supporter I suppose. We get all gingered up about the launch of a new Android tablet or Apple laptop the way an Arsenal supporter speculates about a hot new signing.

But for these irrational enthusiasms to continue, the unrealistic balloon of gadget lust needs to be constantly reinflated with - if not the oxygen of publicity - the nitrous oxide of promise.

And this summer's promises have been a bit… well… meh.

It has been a while since the big three games console manufacturers refreshed their offering. The Playstation 3s and Nintendo Wiis underneath the nation's televisions are getting on for six years old. Our Xbox 360s are about half a year older.

That's a very long time in technology. One might reasonably expect that the successor products being launched this summer would be unimaginably more potent, ineffably cooler, almost unbearably desirable.

But somehow they aren't.

The response to Nintendo's Wii U, the first of the next-generation consoles to reach the marketplace, has been distinctly lukewarm.

From a consumer's point of view it's hard to say with any certainty whether the Playstation 4 has launched or not. We've seen its controller, and there are some tech specs online for those that understand them, but what the console looks like and precisely what it might give us that our existing kit won't remains a mystery.

The dedicated gamers that constitute the core of any launch announcement audience didn't appear to be overwhelmed with delight. There were resentful grumbles about Microsoft's plan to cripple the trade in secondhand games by tying purchases to one specific Xbox Live account. That's going to complicate the rental market too. With its always-on Kinect motion tracking device watching users' every move for a signal to change the TV channel or raise the volume, Xbox One is already being called "the world's most expensive TV remote". Or "the fulfilment of George Orwell's chilling prophecy"

Like any true Apple-brand victim I upgraded my main computer every couple of years as more potent Macs were released. But I bought the MacPro on which I'm typing this in 2008. Apple has released a few nice computers since but there haven't been any ground-breaking developments in desktop computing in at least five years.

Similarly, it's hard to justify upgrading from an iPhone 4 to an iPhone 5. Or (if you are outside the residual Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field) to justify going from an HTC One to a Nexus 4. There are no new technological worlds left to conquer.

This plateau in the world of gadget is more than just an inconvenience to computer nerds. Gaming is now the most profitable wing of the entertainment industry. Recent figures put the value of the global videogame industry at around $65bn.

Sales of games consoles and mobile phones support thousands of jobs. If we decide that we're happy with what we have and stop upgrading the financial ramifications could be significant.

Which is why I'll end these thoughts with something positive. Apple's wristwatch is expected before Christmas, and I bet it's lovely. The new Valve gaming machine looks quite appealing, too, for those of you who feel the big three consoles have nothing new to offer.

So if capitalism collapses because there aren't enough geeks getting excited about new product launches, don't blame me.

The Guardian

First Published: May 23, 2013 18:49 IST