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The Evolution of the Smart Phone

February 9, 2011

There is a fascinating article in Wired (Jan 2011) about an anthropologist who travels around looking at how people hack technology. This is a clear case of technology evolution – of taking the existing form meme/genotype/phenotype – and modifying it. Oh yeah – and it’s illegal…but it shows the more complex relationships around copyright and patents than exist in the legal world…

The process by which ideas move from blueprint to market stall is massively accelerated in China’s technology hot-houses, where electronic devices can come to market in a matter of weeks. What if the speed of innovation could influence every aspect of the country’s technological development, from consumer goods to green energy? Chipchase believes that the speedy, lean approach of China’s counterfeiters has created an environment for accelerated technical expertise: through shanzhai, entrepreneurs, designers and engineers are poised to become world experts in rapid, market-based innovation – and that has implications way beyond making knock-off smartphones.

“There are two levels of design in China,” says one young software developer, who asked not to be identified because he works for a company with origins in the shanzhai business. “The first is to copy from the western market, and the second is to exceed what they’ve done. Shanzhai products are innovative because they’re mainly aimed at niche markets… the big brands need to design for the mainstream, for the mass populations.” In the past, western technology giants would interact only with shanzhai companies through lawyers. But the relationship is shifting. Shanzhai has shown that there is consumer demand for more than one SIM-card slot. So last summer Nokia announced the introduction of two dual-SIM phones, the C1 and C2. The launch tallied with Chipchase’s vision: manufacturers borrow from each other and quickly iterate, responding to local tastes while also improving products. Rather than cheap knock-offs, shanzhai represents a radical new model of business innovation.

Pg. 132-33 Wired Jan 2011

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