My students and I had a good laugh this week about the Apple watch commentary in the press. A great deal of the discussion originated from this Bloomberg article. The general notion from the article is that you will “want one, but not need one.” This got a pretty serious discussion going about a few issues: 1) the state of consumerism in the U.S. (and the world today) and, 2) the effects of disruptive innovations on markets.
I brought up Galbraith’s example of the number of different flavors and types of toothpaste in the discussion of the excessive number of products we do not truly need. The interesting issue with this of course is that businesses would not offer all these products if they did not find it profitable. While it is tempting to label this type of production inefficient, it is more difficult to do so when the end result is positive profits. Surely the resources could be used in the production of other items, maybe some that provide a greater social good, but customer expenditure is a signal that businesses often follow closely. The students found the topic interesting, and they thought that there were many products we use now with great regularity but do not truly need.
One example they cited was the iPhone. Was it necessary to have a cell phone that allows all the different features of the current smart phone? Not really. The product allows a centralization of many different activities in one platform but it is not like people did not have calendars, phones, reminders, and notes before. It seems to me, and the students, that most innovations of this type are disruptive to markets, and that those disruptions often lead to these kind of comments. (The notion that you may want it but not need it). People likely said this about Henry Ford and the early automobiles (not that I am making the assertion that there are equivalent impacts). I did take a look in the newspaper database but I did not find many early articles against the car. Despite that the point is still valid: people do not always know how to make use of an innovation or improved product until it is available to them.
So with all the hoopla surrounding it I end on a lighter note: did they avoid calling it the iWatch because that would raise all kinds of privacy concerns and lead to an easy marketing campaign against it?