A few months ago, I sat in a think tank with a group of distinguished digital camera experts. We were talking about the future of cameras, what was to come.
One name came up again and again. It was the Flip Video, the little camera that changed the industry. While tech giants like Sony, Canon and Nikon were duking it out in the typical, spec-warring dSLR space, a relatively small company named Pure Digital Technologies developed a real piece of crap camcorder called the Pure Digital Point and Shoot. The video quality was absolutely atrocious for 2006. The name was obviously equally as bad.
But as technology improves, we're reaching the era of "good enough."
The Pure Digital Point and Shoot (later renamed the Flip Video/Mino) was pocketable, cheap ($180) and served an important function: It was the perfect YouTube camera. And that, in itself, was enough.
Because of Pure Digital's singular vision and perfect timing, not only did the camcorder quickly steal 13% of the camcorder market causing bigger companies start duplicating the Flip (with only moderate success), but Pure Digital was itself bought out by mega corp Cisco.
However, the Flip Video is not alone in under-performing game changers. You may remember way back to 2007 when a company we all kind of knew named Asus had something planned called the Eee PC.
Its screen was but 7-inches, and its storage was dwarfed by most iPods. But once again, the Eee was small, cheap ($245-$400) and served an important function: It was the near-perfect knock around computer. And that, in itself, was enough to drive the entire computer industry mad overnight.
I'm by no way implying that the technological arms race is over, that companies no longer care about building the fastest machines with the biggest storage and most ridiculous sticker prices. But a number of technologies are finding a new equilibrium of price and performance in the industry by knowing just where consumers are willing to settle.
These are devices that fulfill a functional niche, sure, but do so with the minimum amount of effort possible—keeping a unit price and bulkiness to a minimum. The breakthrough "good enough" product features the price and specs of a third tier product, the build quality of a second tier product and the design aesthetic of a first tier product. The hardware is fully capable, but it's just sort of...cheap...for lack of a better term.
And yes, like Wired, we have to marvel at how magnificent gadgets of yesterday—the ability to record something in HD (HD!)—became just a "good enough" gadget.
Of course, now we must wonder, what is the next Flip or Eee? What's the next technology that can have its bar set ever so lower but actually excite the public with a new, utilitarian form factor in the process?
If you know the answer to that question, you stand to make a good deal of money.