Chris Hannah

Diversity in Tech

Last week I shared my thoughts on diversity in tech. Not the people in the tech industry, the actual technology that surrounds us every day (usually in our pockets).

I’ll start off by asking you to look at your phone, most likely it’s a large rectangular shape with slightly rounded edges, a display that nearly covers the device, and a few buttons. On top of that, there’s a good chance it’s black as well.

So, could they be any different? Or have we reached simply reached peak phone design?

I personally think that we should be moving in the opposite direction. Companies now know how to develop decent operating systems, and with Android being open-source, and other manufacturers providing a lot of the components, you’re really just putting it all together with a nice design.

I remember when a phone store had endless amounts of different models, which came in different colours, sizes, functions, and even completely different shapes. You could get a flip-phone, a phone for music, a phone with a physical keyboard, or even a really weird square Nokia phone.

You had a choice.

These words may seem odd, especially coming from an Apple enthusiast myself. But I too sometimes think to myself would I be better off moving to another ecosystem, It’s just that there isn’t much choice available. And when something does pop up, it never gets far enough to stabilise and catch up with the current technology in the market.

It could be that as technology is advancing, the step for a new phone manufacturer/company is too high, and the risk just isn’t worth it.

I was actually searching recently to see how many (reasonably modern) “smart” phones had a physical keyboard. I found one, the BlackBerry PRIV, and while it seems to be a very well made device, it’s still just the one phone.

So when companies like Microsoft are thinking, “how can we grow our mobile phone business?”, why not take a leaf out of Apple’s book, and just think different (not that I’m saying they are the exception) . Nothing needs to be the same, and as much as the Android adverts say it, the devices may have a slightly different screen size, or curve radius, they’re still pretty much the same phone.

Because there are very few big phone manufacturers, the average consumer will most likely buy either an iPhone, or a popular Android phone (usually Samsung). And because of this, people expect the same amount of innovation and diversity they used to get, but from a way smaller amount of companies. In my opinion, we need less market dominance, and more choice.

I can’t say what differences the phones need, as I’m not a product designer. But as a consumer it certainly does get boring looking at all the “innovation”, which has really just been years of iterative design. It’s not just your mobile phone either, most laptops nowadays look like the MacBook Air, game consoles are just black boxes, and I’m sure there’s a ton more.

I do however see a few companies taking the first step towards my ideal of technological diversity, with Nextbit and their Robin phone, the new “Moment” wearable, and you can even squeeze Tesla in here as a company striving to do things differently.

The big hurdle I think the tech industry needs to overcome, is when a company does do something different, not to directly copy them. Because that’s not really helping anyone. If someone comes up with something original, great, so should you.

I’ll end the first issue with a slightly modified version of Apple’s well known slogan:

“Think Different. And when you’re done with that, do it again.”

People deserve choices.

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