Posted by: kevinliebl | February 1, 2010

What ever happened to digital watches?

Digital Watch

The Classic Digital Watch

Back in the mid-70’s the digital watch was introduced and it revolutionized the watch industry – for about two or three years.  Everyone thought that the analog watch was dead.  Digital watches were extremely expensive, very accurate and a huge fashion statement – worn by both business executives and celebrities.  Then everyone moved back to the analog watch.  Why?  For many of us, it just seemed like a watch should have hands.  It is the way it should be – regardless of whether digital watches are more accurate and more practical.  Today, digital watches are targeted at the athletic community only.

I was driving to work this week listening to the radio and an ad came on for a local cable company explaining that their DVR system could record four television shows at one time.  It made me wonder – why?  Why do we have an entertainment distribution system that pushes content out to the public at specific pre-set times and we have to build devices that can capture it so that it is not lost.  Wouldn’t it be more practical to simply post the content and allow people to download what they wanted – when they wanted?  In effect, isn’t that what we do with DVRs now?  However, it is posted and then disappears and if you miss your time slot, you don’t get another shot.  We already have video-on-demand.  Why isn’t this the standard distribution method?  It seems to me that much like the wristwatch example, we still feel a need to broadcast content at 9:00pm on Thursday or 8:00pm on Monday because that’s the way it has always been.

I am sure someone from the television industry will explain to me that it is important that we keep this system because the networks need a way of lining up the shows.  In other words, a show will do much better on a Tuesday night than a Wednesday night.  The new sitcom will perform much better after the existing successful sitcom than on the other time slot.  I would have agreed with this prior to the DVR when we actually sat and watched the shows at those time slots.  However, I haven’t watched live television in years.  My favorite programs are sitting on my DVR and I watch them anytime I want.  The programming time has no impact on me whatsoever.  Even when watching a sporting event, I will wait until it is 45 minutes into the game and then begin watching so that I can fast-forward through the commercials.  Why do we still schedule the programming?  Why not simply post it and then let people download it?  It seems to me that this is another example of holding onto a comfortable process rather than using the more practical one.

My final example is music.  I am a big fan of iTunes and the concept of downloading music.  However, it has taken me a long time to get past the concept of not having all of my music on CDs.  For the first year, I would download an album and then immediately burn a CD and put it on the CD rack.  I felt good about this.  It was the way it should be.  It was the way it has always been.  Then I realized that I never played that CD.  I played the music from my iTunes library.  I have finally broken this habit.

Human nature and comfort zones are an interesting thing.  We continue patterns of behavior knowing that they are inefficient, costly and sometimes dangerous – even when a more practical, cheaper and safer solution is right in front of us.  Creative, innovative and bold companies will find these opportunities and capitalize on them.

Are there any examples that you can think of?


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  1. Interesting segue way from timekeeping to television. My thinking is the only reason television schedules still exist is the networks can create “events” and thus generate inbound excitement for programming and their brands. But with DVRs, there is no need to watch in real time, and many advantages to watching on your own time. After all, in the world of the Net, we don’t (have to) listen/watch vodcasts and podcasts in real time. Networks are just operating out of the traditional scheme that originated from the early days of radio. BTW, if you are happy to be CD free with your music library, you can do the same with your DVD video collection. Just get a low-cost media player (I just got one from Western Digital) and some HD storage of any sort. Box up your DVDs and put them in the attic, along with those CDs.

  2. Kevin, As usual, you are touching on a few of interesting issues here. One is the length of the technology uptake cycle. For various reasons (habit, comfort zone, budget, more important things to do), it takes customers some time to take up new technology. In fact, I’ve observed that our (industry’s) ability to bring new technology to market far outpaces our customers’ ability (and often, desire) to absorb it. The second issue, or perhaps, observation is that just because something represents “better” technology, that doesn’t mean that consumers will necessarily feel that it is better for them.

    And third, you’ve touched on the propensity for businesses and industries to hang on to broken or dying business models. The networks hang on to the traditional schedule because that works for their traditional advertisers (and, admittedly, not every TV watcher in America watches solely from their DVR yet – see above). The DVR, with its ability to skip through commercials, most assuredly does not work for their business model. They should take a lesson from the music industry, which fought online music for years because it broke their distribution model, and because of fears of privacy. Rather than work to address those concerns or take advantage of the technology, they fought it to the point that Apple is now the dominant force in music distribution. Perhaps it goes to one of your previous posts – on losing our creative side. Our inability to creatively reinvent our business models will doom them, and our businesses.

    Gotta go now, my digital watch says its time to go to the gym.

  3. Just to be pedantic – in normal use for many applications digital displays (watches/speedo’s/altimeters) are not actually superior to analog displays.

    You can read an analog display with a very quick glance, whereas a digital display takes more thought and time to process.

    Sure the quick glance won’t give you great precision (which shoudln’t be confused with accuracy!) but often that’s not important – “half past two”, “about the speed limit” or “10,000 feet give or take” are often good enough.

    The example most people will be familiar with is a car speedo – ever driven one with a digital display?

    And of course the watch industry was actually revolutionised by the timekeeping moving from springs and cogs to quartz crystals and electronics in most watches, both digital and analog.

    • Ryan,

      Great comments… I agree that just because a digital watch may be more “accurate”, it may not be “superior”. Also, you have to ask the question, what problem are we trying to solve? For many people, a watch is less a device to tell time and more of a piece of jewelry. In this case, the digital watch falls short of meeting the goal. A Rolex is a far better solution.

      The real point I was trying to get across may be better illustrated by your automobile speedometer example. You could argue that a digital speedometer is more accurate and more effective. However, I agree with you. I find them incredibly awkward when I use them in rental cars. My mind doesn’t work that way. I have been programmed to look for a dial, not a digital readout. It takes me much longer to compute the data. Had we grown up with digital readouts, we would probably hate dials.

      Why have keyless car doors not caught on? Arguably, they are better because you never need your key. You should never lock yourself out of your car. You simply plug in a code to open the door. Keyless ignition is beginning to catch on. However, there is a negative reaction from many people, because we feel we need a key. It has always been this way. A key feels right…

      I was told recently that most butter would be white or semi-clear, however, they put yellow food coloring in the butter because the market would never put clear or semi-white spread on their food. We have been programmed to believe butter should be yellow. If it had always been white and someone tried to sell yellow butter, no one would buy it. Can you imagine yellow milk? Probably not a big seller. This is another example where, we continue a path because the market expects it to work this way.

      – Kevin

      • Don’t get me wrong, I agree with your overall point. Just getting pedantic about digital/analog readouts! Basically its analog if you want to be able to tell at a glance the state of something, digital if you need precision. I am too lazy to find sources to quote but I believe its more to do with human eyes/brains than if you’ve grown up with digital.

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