The Christmas Piano…
Did Santa bring me a piano for Christmas this year? Well, no. We already have a very nice grand piano that I should play more often than I do. However, what Santa did suggest was that we take this ordinary grand piano and make it into a “Christmas piano”. So what we did was to decorate the top surface with a red and green quilt and three small statues of the wise men. We then placed just a few presents nearby. This was in lieu of the traditional decorated tree and other Holiday ornaments. This new approach to Christmas was really very simple and elegant, but would perhaps be perceived as a bit too austere for most other folks.
Why such frugality? Well, as time has passed we have acquired most of the items we have desired, thus making another addition to all the “stuff” we already have not nearly as exciting as it may have been some years ago. What we decided instead was that by keeping things simple we would have more time for what mattered most to us -- simply having more time to enjoy each other’s company. And the few items that we selected were chosen for quality and lasting value rather than to see how large of a “haul” we could create under our own or others Christmas trees.
But isn’t this behavior bad for the economy? That, of course, is a difficult question to answer because no one seems to be able to come up with a really clear explanation of how the current world economy really works. What we can observe is that in recent years just about every product we buy is manufactured in China. We used to complain about all the items that came from Taiwan, but that has now been entirely overshadowed by mainland China. Merchants, of course, want us to buy as much as possible, but just how many of these items do we really need? How many of the presents that show up under our Christmas trees will receive just a few hours of use or play and then end up in some toy-box, closet, or basement -- never to be used again?
In the push to create the lowest cost products with the greatest number of features, repairability and maintainability have been sacrificed. If it stops working, toss it and get another one. Even if this is temporarily good for the economy, it does not seem to be the best approach to conserving our earth’s limited resources. Wouldn’t it be better to have fewer but better quality products that can last longer? But could that work for manufacturers who depend on consumers enamored with the latest gadgets at bargain prices? The practical answer is that without some fundamental change in our culture, this indeed is not likely to work. Over at least the past several decades, we have developed purchasing habits that are now deeply ingrained. These habits will not change until some fundamental force causes a shift to a different behavior.
What this means for us in the display industry is that current consumer behavior will dictate the push into further cost reduction, and product designers will receive favorable responses to even more new features and new gadgets. Quality will not be nearly as important as the ability to claim something new and novel. We have already seen this demonstrated in all the displays on the market today. Consumers were willing to give up picture quality for size and flatness. The selling of the latest “digital flat-panel televisions” caught the consumers’ imagination. Everyone had to have one and the transition from CRT televisions to flat panels occurred much faster than most of us expected. The same thing happened with “smart phones” and now is happening with e-readers and tablet computers.
Future Christmases for most of us will not be like the one I described with our “Christmas Piano”. They will continue much as the one we have just observed with the search for the latest stimulating video game, electronic toy, tablet computer, flat panel television, or any of hundreds of other electronic items – virtually all with displays small or large. Catching the consumers quickly-changing interests will be the ongoing challenge for product designers. As soon as a new success becomes apparent, we will see many other companies jump in with similar products. Then as the next new item comes along more of this copycat behavior will be repeated. Displays will only have to be “good enough” since other user features will be the primary drivers of sales. However, there will be so many uses for displays and in such a variety of sizes and image display capabilities that there will be no lack of opportunities for those of us in the worldwide display industry.
The few of us who tend to resist the latest gadgets and look for quality and lasting value will have to get our satisfaction from simply taking a sideline seat and observing all the action of this consumer frenzy. We will have a few opportunities to find those extra special products that give us true satisfaction, but mostly we will have to just enjoy the occasional buying experience of whatever everyone else is rushing out to get and consume.
Whether you are the consummate consumer or the fussy and selective buyer, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about where the future of display technology is likely to take us. You may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 425-898-9117. Wishing each and every one of you the best in 2011.