Dilemma: The fast pace of consumer tech turnover

User-facing products now get orphaned in a few years or even in a few months, as in the case of Nokia's Lumia

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Of course, every serious review of Windows Phone has pointed out it's a great social device but not good for much else. The people who bought it should not be wishing it were an iPhone or Android (either of which they could've bought in the first place) -- which is exactly what Windows Phone 8 is trying to become. After two years of underdelivering on Windows Phone, Microsoft is simply bowing to reality. It would be silly for Microsoft to let Windows Phone 7 be a ball and chain that keeps it uncompetitve. I don't think we'll see much of the Windows Phone example -- it's an exception based on Microsoft's realization it needed to get serious fast, consequences be damned.

Rate of change has always existed, but businesses carved out exceptions
In many respects, all this change is nothing new. In the traditional cellphone and PC worlds, individual models came and go every few months. Connectivity technologies such as USB, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi periodically were improved, making some capabilities (such as USB-connected external drives) awkward on older systems every few years.

We all learned the differences were usually cosmetic or incremental -- no reason to lose sleep. And we got used to a certain pace of change in everything from TV sets to home laptops that we accepted as life in modern times: This year's PC would be slower than next year's, and this year's TV would have less of something than next year's; ditto on cars and stereos. Most people are perfectly happy with a reasonably current technology product.

It's the business world where the true distortion occurred. Enterprises, used to long-term supply relationships, carved out special deals with Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and other suppliers to ensure they could get exactly the same corporate PC model for five years, so as not to confuse IT with minor differences. Research in Motion's BlackBerry messaging devices also changed little, catering to that corporate need for consistency over time (one reason RIM is now flirting with death).

Then there was the Windows exception: Microsoft was years late on delivering the replacement for Windows XP. Microsoft says it wants to replace Windows every three years, to drive upgrade sales, but in the case of XP, a variety of internal issues pushed it to a five-year cycle. Then no one wanted what Microsoft finally delivered -- Windows Vista -- so XP saw yet another five years of life. Although Windows 7 was released in October 2009 to well-deserved good reviews, business are only now upgrading. This fall's Windows 8 will be available when businesses are in the throes of Windows 7 upgrades.

With mobile and cloud, rate of change is pushing the envelope
Given that history, is there really a problem with the pace of change in consumer-derived tech today? Yes.

For users, it's a small issue: The pace of change in areas such as mobile is faster than the three-year average we were conditioned to expect in the 2000s. Mobile devices seem to have a peak lifespan of two years today, as the advancements each year in both hardware and software have been tremendous. We experienced a similar rate of change in the early 1990s when PCs were still fairly new, so this is mostly about maturity. It will settle down, but not for a few more years.

Cloud and mobile apps also get revved more often than their traditional counterparts, and you often have no choice about using the latest version. But traditional software vendors outside the back-end tools such as ERP, CRM, virtualization, and databases have long tried to keep the money flowing through frequent updates -- every two to three years has been common since the mid-1980s.

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