the ten finger rule

Working in the standards market reporters and analysts often ask you to get your crystal ball out and predict when your technology will be a mainstream phenomenon. While I often take a shot – usually a conservative estimate as it’s always best to under-promise and over-deliver – I like to use this question to share an observation I made some years ago. It’s Mike’s “Ten Finger Rule.”

Generally speaking it takes ten years for a new technology before one can determine if it will become mainstream. That is of course if it ever does. Or written differently, the “market acceptability of a new technology is a decade.” I have seen this time and time again.

One of my favorite examples that is fresh in most peoples’ minds is digital photography. Some of the first consumer digital cameras arrived in the market in 1994. Over the last few years we have finally seen digital printing stations at mainstream retailers and it seems ten years later we can confidently assert digital photography is now a mainstream product.

Mobile phones are another great example. I remember in the early nineties you got a personal visit by a sales representative to get you on the list to buy your new “car phone” – for in-fact it was installed into your car. At that time it was a product primarily for doctors, lawyers and sales professionals that needed a phone while away from their desk. Messaging was confined to pagers. Ten years later the amazing ubiquitous mobile phone defines a generation.

Graphical user interfaces on computers (Windows version 4 shipped as Windows95, just over ten years after the pioneering Macintosh in 1984), consumer GPS products, laser printers, color inkjet printers and even mobile music players. I loved my Rio in 1999 and now six years later products like the iPod are making mobile music a reality.

During the first five years the market must work to “Get the product right” – making it consumable by the mass market. In the second five years you begin to see cottage industries appear (iTunes music store good example), legitimate consumer volumes (in the tens of millions of devices) and pervasive consumer awareness – “Righting the market for the get.”

As a marketeer I’m uncertain if there are legitimate ways to speed up this process. But one thing I can say when it comes to the standard’s market: I’m afraid writing the specification is the easy part. Regrettably it only starts the clock ticking. Let’s check back in ten years and I’ll let you know.