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BW Businessworld

Technology For Early Man

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Within the first year of its launch, Apple's ipad had notched up sales of 15 million pieces. No matter what I write here about the iPad but my reader knows I cannot overestimate the revolution that iPad has brought to our world. When launched at $500 a piece, iPad was by no means cheap yet it was desirable and people lined up outside stores to buy that object of desire. Many believe today that it is only a matter of time before the computing will move to tablet platforms and there is no doubt that it will.

Yet the tablet concept when launched in 2010 by Apple was not new. This was a dream that took 18 years in the making. Many companies had dabbled with the dream before; but none as madly as Apple. Apple had dreamt of a tablet based computing device way back in 1990s when it had launched the 'Newton' in 1993. Newton was a personal computing device that started its product development journey deep inside the Apple's research labs as basically a tablet platform. The project was aimed to completely reinvent the computing platform and took on codenames such as 'Cadillac'. The project was originally built to bring out a tablet computing device which was to be named 'figaro'.
If you look at the Newton, it has an uncanny similarity with its modern successor, iPad. It had no keys and was supposed to be operated using a touch stick. It also featured a handwriting recognition feature.

Yet Newton failed gloriously. It often appears at the top of the list of Apple's biggest failures. This was the only failed Apple product with which the company persevered the longest. But the tablet dream was never given up even though when Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, Newton product division was among the first he dispensed away with. Only to come back a decade later with iPad that did what the original Newton wanted to do.

Many pundits feel that Newton was too early for its time and this became the reason for its failure. It was like throwing a light bulb to the early man when he was still huddling around the fire! Yes, the Newton was ahead of its time and its technology basics were yet to mature.

Technology may sometimes come earlier than its need is felt by man but that is no reason to keep waiting. Sometimes the earliest prototypes of some concepts are not adequate to exhibit very clearly the power of the ideas behind them but they eventually win over, if they persist. As in the case of Newton and iPad, the basic design philosophy was similar. The concept of a touch based interface was present in both yet it was the maturity of iPad's touch interface that made the dream a reality. A reality that is hard to escape.

Clean Technology is a similar dream. It holds the promise to change the way we consume, manufacture goods and the way we run our modern economies. Given the challenges that the planet faces today, Clean Technology is more important than ever before. Yet there is a feeling that Clean Technology is still struggling to sustain the growth momentum it has seen in recent years. In a recent survey, two of the top three reasons cited by experts as challenges for the growth of Cleantech future were about technology immaturity and the technology being too early for its time.

And Clean Technology could be young and also be ahead of its time. But that is no case for pessimism about the promise of Clean Technology. Much like the persistence of Apple with the tablet dream gave it iPad, Clean Technology will also usher in long lasting market shifts and reward those who persist with it.

In order to push the Human race forward, the early man from fire to light bulb and then to CFL! It is necessary to keep persisting with Clean Technology. A dream it may be but one worth keep dreaming.

Yash Saxena is a sustainability consultant with Emergent Ventures, a climate change mitigating consultancy. He also works on innovation evangelism with Techpedia