Our eyes are the next battleground for technology dominance. It’s not because of what’s happening now. It’s because of what happened in the past, and what’s coming next. Roughly 40 years back, the first PC was launched. Since then, several battles for technology dominance ensued.
The PC battle.
They were fought on different battlegrounds.
The PC battle? On our desks. Laptop battle? On our laps. Smartphone battle? On our hands.
Where will the next battleground be?
For a while, it seemed like our ‘wrists’. But wrist-wear (e.g., smartwatches) didn’t ‘really’ take off. As a result, this question about the next battleground is again front and center. It’s on the minds of entrepreneurs, technologists and innovators. And businesses and their leaders too.
To answer this question, it is worthwhile to look at the evolution of PCs over the past 40 years. And see if some evolutionary themes emerge?
Product size shrunk: PCs were big in size. Then came the smaller laptops. And then, even smaller smartphones.
Human mobility increased: PCs did not aid mobility. But laptops did. And smartphones took it to the next level. Thanks to them, we now stay in touch even on-the-go.
Neural distance reduced: Neural distance is the distance between the battleground and our neural center i.e., our brain, body’s ultimate processing center. The shift from PCs to laptops reduced this distance. Why? Because it moved the battleground from our desks to our laps, which is closer to our neural center. Similarly, the shift from laptops to smartphones reduced neural distance further.
What can we conclude from these evolutionary themes?
The next battleground will shrink product size, increase human mobilityand reduce neural distance even further.
If we consider these themes, there’s a clear winner for the next battleground: our eyes.
Because our eyes are obviously smaller than our hands, a product over our eye will shrink product size. By virtue of freeing our hands and not requiring us to look down, it will increase human mobility. And by virtue of being close to our neural center, will reduce neural distance.
But what if other battlegrounds also fit the bill? Turns out, they don’t.
For example, let’s revisit the wrist. Although the wrist shrinks product size, it does NOT increase human mobility. This is because wrist-wear (e.g., smartwatches), like smartphone, gets in our way. To use it, we have to look down. Perhaps this is the reason why smartwatches did not become the next big thing. You can try other battlegrounds too (i.e., other body parts). They do not fit the bill.
And this is why our eyes will be the next battleground.
However, the conventional reasoning for this points to the current events. These include recent actions of leading tech companies whereby they are:
While the above reasons are true and underscore the beginning of a trend, they are not consistent with our evolutionary themes. For example, a VR headset with a smartphone screen in front of our eyes neither shrinks product size nor increases our mobility. Yet.
The real reason is what comes next.
Such lenses are being touted as a smartphone replacement. Once ready, they will perfectly fit the above evolutionary themes. They will reduce product size, increase human mobility and reduce neural distance more than the smartphone did.
And our eye, on which this miniaturized piece of technology will reside, is where the battle for technology dominance will be fought next.
The only question that will remain is this: Where would we focus our eye? On the lens, to view the screen? Or beyond it, to view the world? Or perhaps both as shown in this clip from the popular Block Mirror series on Netflix (While the entire 2 min clip is fascinating, 0:35 onwards has the point I am trying to make).
I am sure we’ll get used to such lenses when we get to that point.
How far away are we from that point? Difficult to say but my sense is that we are at least 20-25 years away. Having built breakthrough technology products before (and written about it here), I can say that while the core technology and lens can be built in 5-10 years (the time it took Apple to build the iPhone), consumer adoption will take longer for such lenses. After all, we have just barely started putting microchips in our bodies.
But, in my mind, one thing is certain. This is going to happen. It is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when.
And when it happens, we will be confronted by this question: what’ll be the battleground after eye?
Do you think eyes are the next battleground for technology dominance? Or is there another battleground that'll likely be more compelling? Please leave a comment.
Nitin is the CEO of Mobile Doorman, a former Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company and Board of Trustees Member at the Naperville Public Library. He advises Company Boards, CEOs and BU heads on product strategy, growth and operations. He also has multiple US patents (5) for design and development of mobile, wireless and networking technology including a patent to extend smartphone battery life. Nitin holds a masters in Electrical & Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA in Marketing & Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.