Consumer technologies (from the physical to webservice) follow a simple and very predictable cycle, based on the following consumer demands.

  1. Give me what I want.
  2. Give it to me whenever I want it.
  3. Give it to me wherever I want it.
  4. And when I have too much, help me to filter and manage it.

Walkmans truly gave us music wherever we wanted it

They don’t always play out in that order, but I consider these to be the key drivers for the majority of consumer-facing technologies. They are universal and not dictated by price.

Pre-transistor, most technologies were stuck at stage one or two. If you wanted some entertainment, you bought a ticket to a show and drove to the theater. But at least you could pop a record onto your gramophone, allowing you to listen to music whenever you wanted and in your own home. But a gramophone wasn’t particularly portable. We’d have to wait decades for the walkman before we could take our music jogging. Sony was there first, and they reaped the vast treasure for their innovation.

“What” people want can be almost anything, of course. A common example is media of any sort. A more complicated “what”, however, could be “transportation”, “computing power”, or even “food.”

Let’s look at the cycle for “television”:

  1. What: entertainment (television)
  2. Whenever: VHS to record and replay my favorite shows
  3. Wherever: smaller television appliances
  4. Filter: TV Guide

and then in the 1980s…

  1. What: more/better programming (cable television)
  2. Whenever: Pay-Per-View
  3. Wherever: portable televisions
  4. Filter: the Cable Guide channel

and then the information age has brought us:

  1. What: latest television and theatrical releases (Netflix & Hulu)
  2. Whenever: On-Demand streaming
  3. Wherever: mobile-appliance streaming
  4. Filter: Queues, playlists, statistical recommendations

Zipcars let you borrow a car whenever you need one

Each time we go through the cycle, the consumer demands for “What, When, Where” increase. First, it was merely that there was *any* video content. Then, the demand was for better content and more of it. Then, the content needed to be as new as possible. Remember how long it used to take for movies to go from the silver screen to television? Months!

OnLive is an internet-based gaming service that allows you to play graphically intense games from any computer.

The internet is ushering in more rapid cycles of consumer demands (and placing ever-more burden on the need for filters). Thanks to the proliferation of smart phones, consumers already have much greater expectations around what technologies or information should also be mobile and accessible wherever they are. I predict this will lead to some surprising “whats” advancing through the stages…

For example, thanks to new technologies, even parking is able to advance:

  1. What: street parking
  2. Whenever: debit/credit card payable parking systems
  3. Wherever: pay-by-phone systems (e-park)

I could literally go on and on with examples on gaming, computing, location-based networking, etc, but I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that we are currently witnessing the domination of “wherever” in digital application and entertainment. Look for more unexpected “whats” offering mobile services, and expect greater strain and emphasis placed on filtering and managing your services/media.

What do you think would be valuable to have whenever and wherever you are?