Since my first issue on gadgets back in 2010, there's been enormous change in the world of personal electronics. This chapter looks back at the previous "Gadgets and Gizmos" issue of Library Technology Reports, judging how well I did with my predictions back then and setting the stage for why libraries should care about gadgets for the next couple of years.
Way back in April 2010, Library Technology Reports published "Gadgets and Gizmos: Personal Electronics and the Library," but it was January of the same year when I turned in the manuscript for editing and effectively locked down the content. That report covered a lot of very exciting technology for the time, focusing on e-readers, personal media players (PMPs), media capture devices, and a few odd or unusual pieces of gadgetry that seemed interesting.
Nearly every single thing about it is now irrelevant at best, and downright ridiculous at worst.
There is a small mention of the iPad in that original report, but only because it had been announced just a week or so before the manuscript was locked down for publication. Imagine that: I wrote and published a report on personal electronics that came out in 2010, and it didn't have any real information about the iPad in it. As anyone reading this in 2012 or later knows, the iPad has been the most successful new personal electronic device in history, selling more units in less time than anything that came before it. More important, it redefined an entire genre of computing, setting a standard for information interaction that is still being worked out. I published a guide to technology that missed the biggest tech shift of the decade and talked about how companies like Copia, Plastic Logic, Spring Design, Blio, Flip, and Zune might be things you wanted to watch.
Boy, did I ever screw that up.
Copia and Blio have become also-rans in the e-book race, with the major providers (Amazon and Barnes and Noble, with a side of Apple) effectively owning the market for e-books. The Plastic Logic QUE e-reader and the Spring Design Alex were dead out of the gate, with the QUE never even making it to the gate: it was never even released to the public as a product. Microsoft finally killed its Zune products this year, so those are dead, and Flip was purchased by Cisco and subsequently killed. The portable video camera market is mostly getting consumed by the cellular phone, as is the pocket camera market.
Of the twenty-three or so gadgets that I mentioned in my original report, at best and being very kind to myself, only eight or so are still viable products on the market that I would still recommend purchasing.
This just goes to show how hard it is to see where the technology future is leading us. I'm not claiming to be Nostradamus, but I pay a lot of attention to these things. And if I screwed it all up as badly as all that, what hope does someone who couldn't tell a Kindle from a Nook have? That's why it's more important than ever that libraries and librarians act as information filters for their community. When patrons ask if they should buy the new Kindle they heard about, someone in your library needs to be able to answer basic questions about it. That person should try to provide some resources that might help patrons determine if the Kindle or the Nook is a better fit for their reading habits, or if they should splurge and get that iPad thing they've been seeing the commercials for.
So while I do my best to present what I think are interesting and intriguing technologies for libraries and librarians to think about, history has shown that it's hard to predict exactly what's going to take off and what's going to flop. It's even harder to make that distinction for libraries, since our needs are so distinct from those of the average individual buying a piece of personal electronics. For instance, the fact that the Flip video camera is dead for consumers and the demand for small, cheap video cameras is disappearing thanks to the rise of the mobile phone with camera built in doesn't immediately reduce the need for the device in the library. …