We are now in the last summer of what I termed in 2006 The Gadget Decade.
Gadgets — cellphones, iPods, handheld game machines — have defined this decade in technology the way the Internet defined the 1990s.
It’s the first time since the 1970s a client device defined a decade of technology. Back then it was the PC. But the 1980s were about local networks and the 1990s all about the Internet. In the 2000s clients came back.
Nothing wrong with gadgets, but it’s fair to ask why this happened. Advances in memory chips let people put gigabytes in their pocket. Advances in radio technology let your iPhone seek out WiFi and made cellphone services dirt-cheap.
But I would argue there’s another reason why gadgets have defined our time. It’s a reason that holds important lessons for the next decade as well.
After traveling to Taiwan for CompuTex this month I can tell you that no matter what you want to make, you can get as many bids as you want there. Competition is fierce, costs are measured in pennies, and there are no barriers to new competition.
Apple took advantage of this to produce enough iPods and iPhones to flood the market. So did every other brand name that could turn design and marketing into demand.
This was not true in the networking space this decade. Despite rapidly-falling prices for fiber bandwidth, for radio bandwidth, and for switching systems, we have the same competitors we did a decade ago, selling bits for about the same price.
Under new FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, confirmed last night, there is a chance to heed that lesson and make the 2010s another decade for networking.