In technology, we often use terms like innovation and disruption. Yet, in our industry, I have been thinking lately about the lack of true innovation over the past few years. I have to think that some of this has to do with the pandemic, after all it is hard to innovate when you are simply trying to keep your businesses and families healthy. While the shortage of chips and other products certainly has not helped, one could argue that necessity should have been the mother of invention. But from where I am sitting, that has not happened.
The definition of innovation, according to Oxford Language is (of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original. Take a moment and think about that definition and how it applies to the AV industry. How many products have we seen over the past five years — or longer — that are truly innovative? I would argue not many, but I hope this blog starts a discussion that opens my eyes, proves me wrong or encourages more discussion about what innovations are really needed in our industry.
We have certainly seen some changes that people may argue are innovative, but I would argue are simply improvements on existing technology. If we think about AV-over-IP, for example, many would argue that this is innovative because we are pushing content over a network, something we have never done before. To me, this is no different than the change from VGA to DVI to HDMI to USB-C. Yes, there were some improvements there that made the resolution better, that improved speed, and maybe improved ease of installation and distance the signal could travel. Yet, in the end, it is still audio and video being pushed over wires. Yes, it is advanced, but no it is not necessarily original. Although not in the definition of innovative, I also don’t see how something like AV-over-IP improves the experience of the user. Again — it may improve some things for the installer — but does nothing for the user. In addition, I know many in the industry that would argue this technology has been less reliable than a standard VGA cable running at XGA.
I do believe that there are some concepts or products that could truly be innovative and help drive excitement in an industry that needs some change. One of these is the long-teased but never adequately developed hologram. Technology that allows people to be remote, but truly feel like they are in the same space would be innovative. Integrating audio into the hologram, that fed directly into the ears of all participants would make such a technology truly advanced and original. There are companies rAVe has written about that are actively working on hologram products, so there is some hope here.
Zoom perhaps could be considered innovative. However, in my view, it is much like AV-over-IP. Skype, FaceTime, Teams and other products had been developing software-based video codecs for years before Zoom came along. Undoubtedly, Zoom created a superior product and continued to develop it in other areas like Phone and Chat, but, again, they did not develop a product that was original.
I also considered a product like eGlass. This is one product that I believe could be considered innovative because it is advanced and original. eGlass is the first product that allows someone to write on a surface while facing an audience, and see and be seen by this audience. Other products came close, but they required the presenter to be in a certain location in a room and looking down at the product they were writing on. eGlass presented an opportunity to actually change and improve the physical layout and restrictive environment of classrooms. Importantly from my perspective, it also improves the experience for the actual user of the product.
What do you think? Where am I wrong; what am I missing? What fits the definition of innovation, and truly improves the experiences of the customers we are doing all this work for? Have you seen any products in the past five years that made you think, “wow, this is a real game changer?” Hit me up on LinkedIn or Twitter to give me feedback!