Where China is creating the novel and the useful, where it wants to, and what is driving or slowing the nation’s quest to become an innovator

Searching for China’s Soul of Innovation

In the Hutong

Peace through superior keyboards

1702 hrs.


In the wake of the global financial crisis, thoughtful people are starting to think about what the U.S. is going to use as a growth engine, now that housing, stock markets, and arcane financial instruments are out as alternatives. It did not take long in these discussions for some bright people to suggest that America needs to innovate its way back to greatness.

Yankee Ingenuity, Jia You!

Leaving aside for a moment that innovation and creativity in finance got the United States – and the world – into this problem in the first place, betting the future of any nation on its collective ability to come up with a whole lot of “new and useful” things in the space of an economic cycle seems to be a bit of a Hail Mary play. Industrial policy, regardless of how light or heavy the hand that applies it, has never been all that useful as a driver of innovation. Even corporations that spend billions on research and development wind up with very few useful innovations (look at the pharmaceutical industry), and many companies fail to capitalize on those they get as a result, for a myriad of reasons. (The case of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and the graphical computer user interface is one notable example.)

There is simply too much serendipity in the innovative process to foment it efficiently. Even when you put really smart and creative people together with the facilities they need to innovate, the entire effort devolves into a numbers game. Throw enough brains together for long enough, the thinking goes, and something good is bound to come out of it all.

What America has going for it, of course, is momentum. Coming off of a national tradition for invention that began with Benjamin Franklin and Eli Whitney, somewhere just before World War II American inventiveness reached critical mass – literally and figuratively. Simultaneous discoveries and inventions across fields like physics, chemistry, aerospace, and electronics met mass production, marketing, mass prosperity and Keynesian economics. The resulting boom has carried the U.S. for seven decades – why should it not continue?

Sure, the government may be dysfunctional, Wall Street shell-shocked, and consumers in hock to their hairlines, but by gum, Americans still know how to come up with new stuff, make it cheap, and market the heck out of it. There’s hope for the Yanks yet.

Waiting for China to Start Innovating Again

The unspoken assumption here is that nobody else is anywhere near as good at that stuff than the Americans. Which is part of the reason the words “Chinese innovation” scares Americans.

It would be unfair to forget that a lot of companies hear those very words and think “in China, innovation is really imitation.” There is plenty of truth in that, and that thinking keeps a lot of intellectual property attorneys and trade negotiators well fed, clothed, and housed.

But the real pachyderm on the porch, the question that so many in the innovative industries will not allow themselves to ask, is “what if Chinese companies got it together and started to innovate? Then what?”

Questions like this are part of what is driving a wider audience to learn more about the life and work of Dr. Joseph Needham. A Cambridge master and biochemist, Needham spent much of his life and career compiling a history of Chinese science. He was an avowed sinophile, and as such much of his effort centered around an effort to prove that China before the Qing dynasty was the cradle of many of the world’s major innovations up to that time.

The underlying theme of his work was to disprove the chauvinistic hypothesis that Chinese as a race were capable of imitation but not innovation. In the main, he documented and catalogued Chinese innovations in an effort to demonstrate that the West – and the Industrial Revolution it birthed in the 19th Century – owed a massive debt to Chinese innovations.

(The Chinese innovation I heard about all the time when growing up was a metallurgical technique called the Lost Wax process of investment casting. My father’s foundry in California used that process in the 1960s and 1970s to make parts for turbochargers, airliners, golf clubs and medical implants. He was as proud of the heritage of the system as he was of its results. “Gee, Dave how do you make such amazing products?” “Ancient Chinese secret,” he said with an enigmatic smile. But we digress.)

The real pity about Needham’s work is that he spent so much time focused on what the Chinese invented and when they invented it that he had no time to figure out why the Chinese were such prolific innovators when they were, and how things changed to make that stop. This may have been because Needham was a monomaniac, or simply because he wasn’t a trained historian. Either way, it leaves us with proof that the Chinese can be great inventors, but without the historic perspective on what it will take to revive that latent spirit.

Innovation with Chinese Characteristics

Yet he points us in a compelling direction. So much of what is written about China and innovation today, whether by foreign or Chinese observers, is patronizingly prescriptive. If China wants to innovate, it must imitate – it must recreate the conditions that exist in high-tech hothouses of Silicon Valley, Boston’s Route 128 corridor, Austin, and Seattle. There is some truth in that, but there seems something unnatural about trying to graft San Jose onto Shanghai, or Federal Way onto Tianjin.

Needham’s work, on the other hand, hints at another road to an innovative future, one that is Chinese in origin, not Western. Perhaps the answer for China is to search for an answer to the independent innovation challenge in its own history, applying foreign lessons where appropriate.

What was it about those times that fostered innovation? Was it cultural? Was it economic? Was it political? Was it invasion or civil war that fed China’s inventiveness, or was it the luxury of peace and prosperity? Was the assimilation of some foreign culture the spark that set off periods of creative flowering, or did cultural homogeneity drive it?

These questions, and others like them, are the markers that will take us the next mile down the road that Joseph Needham walked, and will likely give us a better idea of when and how China will challenge America for innovation leadership.

In the meantime, I’m betting on Silicon Valley for green technology innovations, not China. But that’s another post.

Cough, Cough: Bang, Bang

Starbucks Pacific Century Plaza

Noticeably fewer locals, noticeably more visitors

1355 hrs.


Recreational pyrotechnics are as integral a part of Chinese holidays as gratuitous gifting, constant partying, and excessive drinking. Catastrophic factory accidents and an annual toll of those killed and wounded by fireworks have driven the government to occasional fits of regulation. Each time, however, regulators back off, responding either to a general backlash or to implicit pressure from the massive cottage industry that has grown up around fireworks in China.

Officials now have another reason to rethink fireworks: air quality.

Oooh, Pretty colors…(wheeze)…

In a July 4th article in the Los Angeles Times, Marla Cone notes:

Scientists in India found that airborne barium increased by a factor of 1,000 after a huge fireworks

display there. Strontium, which creates red, and copper, which forms a blue hue, can also be toxic.

“The use of heavy metals like barium or strontium should be reduced or, if possible, avoided,” said

Karina Tarantik, a chemist at the University of Munich in Germany whose lab is working on cleaner

pyrotechnics.

Much of the new research has been propelled by concern over perchlorate, which has been used since

the 1930s to provide oxygen for pyrotechnic explosions.

Perchlorate, which has contaminated many drinking water supplies from military and aerospace

operations, can impair the function of the thyroid gland by blocking the intake of iodide. Fetuses are

most at risk, because thyroid hormones regulate their growth.

Because of legal restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks – not to mention some understandable paranoia about wildfires – Los Angeles on July 4 cannot compare with any Chinese city on a national holiday. Nonetheless, the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD) notes that on July 4 particulate levels in L.A. increase 100-fold and do not return to normal levels for nearly 24 hours.

One wonders what a similar measurement would render in Chinese cities, especially in the winter months when weather seems to trap particulates in a layer near the ground.

A Technology Solution

The article explains how one heavy user of fireworks, Disneyland, has turned to the Los Alamos National Laboratory for help in developing cleaner fireworks. With some experimentation, the lead materials chemists took an “entrepreneurial leave” from the lab to found DMD Systems and produce the cleaner fireworks. Voila. Cleaner fireworks for about the same cost as other US-made fireworks.

Of course, these are much more expensive than the Chinese-made types, which are well on their way to being branded “dirty” fireworks.

The entire issue points up another opportunity for China’s domestic innovation efforts. If a tiny US company can come up with fireworks that produce mostly water, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, there is no reason that China cannot turn its efforts to finding a substitute for its gunpowder-based pyrotechnics. I would bet that a determined effort could do better than DMD Systems.

That would help preserve a robust export industry (98% of consumer fireworks and 80% of professional fireworks used in the US are made in China), but it would also head off the growing issue of fireworks and air pollution in China. Yes, I know, there is an emotional attachment to using gunpowder because, after all, that was a Chinese invention.

But it is time for China to re-invent gunpowder. A billion sets of lungs depend on it.

Design that Sells, Please

“China Needs Design that Sells: As the country changes from a manufacturer to a consumer nation, companies must learn how to market to a diverse public” By Patrick Whitney, BusinessWeek, April 25, 2006

Professor Whitney from the Illinois Institute of Technology makes some superb points in this op/ed piece. Among them he notes that companies have to stop thinking about China as a single market; and that standard tools of market research don’t cut it.

Right on, Dr. Whitney.

BTW, Whitney is the Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor and the director of the Institute of Design at Illinois Tech. Here’s a guy who is not even focused on China, and he gets it.

Aging Population and Independent Innovation

Back in the Hutong
Installing another Security Update
1738 hrs.

AP is reporting that PRC’s rapidly aging population is going to end China’s role as a source of low cost labor “within the next few decades.”

Which, of course, is part of why China’s leaders are pushing the economy to evolve beyond being the hands and feet of the global economy. China started reforming and opening as one of the youngest countries in the world: by the time we all start to retire, it will be one of the oldest.

The good news for China is that it has a little time, and that it will have the opportunity to watch Western Europe, Japan, and the United States deal with the same problem first. The difference for China: somehow I don’t think immigration will solve the problem.

The Chinese Government and Innovation

The Carlsburg Lounge
Singapore Changi International Airport
1846 hrs.

Big Ed Flanagan from NBC was in the audience last week when I joined the panel on China’s Internet at AmCham’s Under the Digital Influence event, and he did a nice piece for MSNBC’s “About World” blog on censorship and gaming, where he was kind enough to refer to my framework for understanding how the Chinese government deals with disruptive change, especially at the nexus of technology and media.

The more vocal analysts and global media tend to see the Chinese government as either “loosening up” or “cracking down” on media. That kind of thinking is useful to an extent, but when you step back to look at change over time, it is difficult to understand the reasons for sudden shifts in policy. After a while, the shifts to one end of the spectrum or the other appear random, confused, or inconsistent.

In reality, they are not. In fact, they are methodical, consistent, and are direct, predictable responses to a small number of identifiable factors.

Sensitive Times

First (and most obviously) there are event in the political system that stand apart fro the industry but affect it in largely predictable ways. The upcoming Communist Party Congress is one example, and sensitive anniversaries of politically historic events are another. When you populate your calendar with events from China’s political cycle and build in 2 months before and at least a month after, you can safely assume things will tighten a bit.

Second, there are international events, both planned and otherwise, that will trigger changes. We can pretty well predict that the visit of major international delegations to China will bring a level of openness, as when representatives of the IOC toured through Beijing recently: suddenly, for a few weeks, we had Wikipedia. Sadly, not long after the last delegates had enplaned for home, we were right back where we started. Other events will bring about a period of greater caution in access.

Disruptions in the Information Environment

But the most serious changes come when there is an innovation in the media or Internet that appear as harbingers of radically open information flows that are beyond the control of the government. The innovation can take many forms, either technological, commercial (such as the sudden wider availability of a new service), or procedural (when a new policy has consequences unintended by the makers of that policy)

The government’s first reaction to these changes is ignorance, either willful or accidental. With willful ignorance, government will usually tacitly acknowledge a major new innovation but will take what we call a moren approach – watch it with one eye, but look away with the other. With accidental ignorance, policy makers will often be unaware of an innovation or its import during its first stages of emergence in the market.

The second reaction, fear, takes place when sufficiently senior party and government leaders become officially aware of a disruption and perceive it to be a threat or perceive it to be beyond the ability of the government to control. What happens here is a complete or near-total crackdown on an industry or sector affected by the innovation. If we cannot control it, the government and party consistently say, we are closing it down.

The third reaction is experimentation. In the wake of a complete crackdown, groups within government begin the process of debating the wisdom of a continued crackdown, usually driven by influential domestic stakeholders who have been hurt in the process. As that process takes place, controlled trials using the innovation under a slowly constructed regulatory regime take place. These trials are usually one-step-forward, two-steps-back affairs that see a gradual loosening as the government creates a system that allows the “best” of an innovation to benefit the country, while keeping the worst out.

Once the regulatory barbed-wire is in place, we enter a semi-permanent state of accommodation. The government is comfortable with the system and regulation tends to occur around the edges, but major changes in the system will not take place without significant political change.

The Rogue’s Gallery

In the past decades, we’ve seen the government work through this process with foreign music on the radio (1982) satellite television (1993), the Internet (1996), foreign ownership of local dot-coms (1999), mobile phones with cameras (2002) user-generated content like blogs (2004), and IP telephony (2004). They are working through similar processes (of varying severity) with mobile value-added services, online games, video-game consoles, IPTV, user-driven reference sites like Wikipedia, and user-generated video.

As we watch more of the innovations and mash-ups emerge from the increasingly user-created Internet and from devices that extend media beyond the living room, we can expect more, not less, of this.

But if we understand the process and the concerns that drive it, we can help the government work through the various phases more quickly and effectively, rather than simply caterwauling every time it happens.

The Next Four Game-Changing Mobile Technologies

Edwards, Cliff and Moon Ihlwan, “Upward Mobility: Ultrafast networks and whizzy features are about to turn your cellphone into – well, your right arm,” BusinessWeek, December 4, 2006

I always worry about technology when I read about it in BusinessWeek, because I feel like this is one of those signals that a given innovation has hit its apogee on the hype meter.

In this case, however, I give the two authors credit for isolating four potential technologies that look set to significantly extend the number of things for which you can use a mobile phone. Well worth a read.

Dumping all of these cool features into a phone might sound like a good business plan to The Boys in Espoo, but frankly, I’d be happy if the big manufacturers could come up with user interfaces that actually made the features already on the phones more usable.

Pottytech: Pimped-Out Commodes

In the Hutong
Waiting for Sundown
1438 hrs.

While I try to avoid topics of prurient interest, from time to time a topic comes along that begs to be addressed, if for no other reason than nobody else is watching.

During my recent soujourns in Japan, I was treated to many of that country’s interesting cultural delights, including singing ice cream servers at Coldstone Creamery, the world’s finest convenience stores, and the perpetual bowing. But the one that vexed me the most was Japan’s love of the mechanized commode.

Now, if you’re like me, there is something a little strange about Japanese potties – the little buttons and switches mystify me, and when I hear a series of mechanical noises upon seating myself, I always feel like I should be wearing a G-suit and a crash helmet. It’s a little bit freaky, and I tend not to linger over my normal reading material, choosing instead to conclude operations quickly and move along. I’m sure I’d get used to it after a while, but I guess the insight I take away is that in some parts of my life, I’m still a bit of a luddite.

(I say “a bit” because there are a few technological advances I prefer, including working plumbing, and a seat as opposed to a porcelain bombing target in the floor.)

So when a friend forwarded a link to a story out of Atlanta about a national plumbing products comany trying to “get hip” to Generation Y by giving away a “home entertainment toilet,” I immediately took issue.

Quite apart from the potential circulatory, orthopedic, and familial-harmony issues arising from spending long periods of time on a standard-issue commode, in my opinion this is an inappropriate use of technology and is poorly thought-out marketing. On the marketing side, a plumbing products company has no fear of losing market-share or mind-share to a substitutable product – why worry about being hip when, after all, you have a captive audience. Is there some sort of trend back in the U.S. that kids are giving up on commode use for some other means of waste disposal? I kind of doubt it.

So no points to the insecure executives in the toilet industry.

As far as the technology, frankly, technology is the answer when it elegantly solves a problem, or it makes a difficult process simpler. On that score, the Japanese are light-years ahead: electronically warmed seats that are comfy to sit on are a wonderful thing, and the remarkable way they integrate the bidet function into the commode is a much smarter use of technology, despite my own heebie-jeebies about using it.

If you’re like me, entertainment in the loo is not the challenge. There are other problems that demand a superior technology solution. One example that jumps readily to mind is the pathetic state of bathroom fans, especially here in China. When someone can use technology to come up with an inexpensive air circulation solution with the sucking power of a small turbojet, he or she will have done a true service.

When is Innovation Indigenous

In the Hutong
Charging my iPods
1755 hrs.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being a fly on the wall at a small lunch attended by representatives of some large US companies and a respected university professor who advises the government on issues pertaining to the information technology industries.

As is inevitable at such meetings these days, the question of China’s “independent innovation” came up in several contexts. Searching for a lever to try to draw the government into interpreting independent innovation in a manner that allows for some level of foreign participation, one of the corporate reps asked the distinguished professor how he felt the government might view the innovation that would take place in an R&D facility owned by a Chinese company but taking place in, say, Silicon Valley.

The discussion got really interesting, and it basically condenses down to one point:

The Chinese government is not interested in legislating on the basis of establishing a principle, taking into account hypothetical problems that might arise in the future (an approach that stands opposed to the Talmudic traditions at least, and probably those of Justinian, English Common Law, and the Napoleonic code). Indeed, the nation’s bureaucrats and policy makers are far more interested in using the law as a tool to serve near-term policy goals, rather than use law to build a system that will withstand the test of history. (Hence the old saw “rule by law, rather than rule of law.”)

When it DOES get to the point where Chinese companies are setting up R&D centers in other countries at a rate approaching that at which multinationals are establishing them in China now, THEN the Chinese government will deal with the question of whether that is independent innovation or not. They’ll just change the law.

(Or perhaps, as some policy makers appear to believe, by the time we get to that point, the whole issue of “independent innovation” will be a distant memory. I wouldn’t bet against that.)

This is another one of those critical differences in viewpoint between the two cultures. In the west, policy and government action occur with the framework of law. In China, the law occurs within the framework of policy and government action.

Is the law important in China? Absolutely, and getting more so over time.

But pay attention to policy. Those will tell you how the laws will be interpreted and acted upon.

The Voices Behind Standards – Appended

Back in the Hutong
Recovering from 5 Days in Tokyo
0913 hrs.
Appended a day later
0855 hrs.

Scott Kennedy at the National Bureau of Asian Research, a U.S. think-tank, has produced a compelling paper that underscores the importance of business coalitions in standards battles in China.

Scott uses different wording, but his point echoes one that Susan Tomsett and I have been making for a very long time – what moves regulators, policy-makers, administrators, and GONGOs in China is a chorus of voices of domestic entities all pushing in one direction, with foreign voices faint if present at all.

You can download his paper (a pdf) here.

Clarification
Scott dropped me a note and pointed out (correctly) that his paper does not suggest that foreign firms have little input in the process, but that they are more successful when Chinese speak out on the same issue.

This is absolutely the case, and the record bears growing testament to support Scott’s point.

Where Scott and I perhaps diverge in our thinking is, I believe, a matter of focus. Looking at what has been successful to this point, Scott is spot-on: it has been a foreign entity taking a stand that is supported by local voices that has historically won the day. When I was working with Qualcomm in the late 1990s, that is essentially the tactic we used to help gain final approval for CDMA.

Looking ahead to what will be required in future efforts to move the regulatory needle in China, I frankly see the role of foreigners speaking for themselves as being in steep decline. The broader trend will be for local coalitions to assume a greater and greater role in the standards debate (and in most debates around IT policy) and for foreigners to gradually step behind the screen.

When you look at the policy direction toward independent innovation, away from foreign investment, and a process infused with a growing discomfort with foreign participation in regulatory issues, you can understand why local voices will become even more important in the process than foreign voices. Indeed, foreigners are probably best advised to step behind the screen and counsel the locals in the process, stepping forward to provide an independent voice only on when appropriate.

Bottom Line
Building coalitions of influential local entities is essential in the standards process – Scott Kennedy has documented that amply. Going forward, those local entities are going to become the primary drivers of policy, with foreigners playing an increasingly subordinate, supporting role – David Wolf contends this.

Thoughts?

Malcolm Bricklin’s Waterloo

ARTICLE: “Death of a Salesman” by Todd Lassa, Motor Trend, November 2005, p. 80

(Okay, I’ll admit, this is an 8 month old article, but in my defense I just got it a couple of weeks ago via my mail forwarding service, since I’m too cheap to pay for airmail, and I only read it last weekend. Nonetheless, it’s a superb feature and worth the read.)

I read Motor Trend because it manages to cover the car business from the horsepower-and-torque all the way up to the executive suite all without forgetting something that almost every other business publication probably never figured out: the automobile is as much recreation as transportation, and the business of designing, making, and selling cars belongs more squarely in the entertainment industry than lumped in along steel and other heavy industries. Also, unlike most of the other gearhead rags, Motor Trend occasionally remembers that there is, in fact, a whole big world out there south of Florida, east of Maine, north of Montana, and west of Hawaii.

Detroit editor Todd Lassa’s interview with serial car entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin did not disappoint. For those of you just joining us, Malcolm Bricklin is the gentleman who: built and crashed the Handyman Hardware chain just as the do-it-yourself craze was hitting a high point in suburban America; built and crashed a sports car company in the middle of the cocaine-fueled 1970s; and managed to build and bankrupt the infamous Yugo car company in the late 1980s.

So it is with a bit of skepticism that Lassa approaches his subject, but he gives Bricklin a more than adequate opportunity to hype his newest venture, Visionary Vehicles. You see, Bricklin believes that by working with Wuhu-based Chery Automobile Company he can import and sell Lexus-class vehicles for about half of a Lexus price. Which Chery is happy to do, providing Mr. Bricklin first hands over US$200 million in cash.

Is it me, or are there are so many interesting ways this train could wreck that you’re not sure who to warn about whom?

• Do you warn Bricklin, who is about to spend his sunset years, a lot of investor money, and the livelihoods of his dealers doing the hard work to build a market for Chery in the U.S. that Chery could crush at will as soon as they figure out they don’t need a middleman?

• Do you warn Chery president Yin Tongyao about how Mr. Bricklin has walked away from a procession of broken enterprises in the past, and that he may not be the safest guy upon whom to wager the company’s future market in China?

• Or do you just sit back and watch as Mr. Bricklin gets squeezed between his investors, his dealers, his consumers, and Chery in a mashup that seems bound to go wrong?

Something about this tells me that somebody is going to get taken for a ride in this situation, and it’s pretty clear Mr. Lassa, our writer, gets that, and he manages to inject just the right amount of skepticism at every turn. And it’s pretty clear he’s more worried about the Chinese than about ol’ Malcolm, who always seems to land on his feet.

Frankly, I’m more worried about the little guys in this process – the investors putting up the $200 million serious-money, the dealers who will put their lives and their savings into Visionary Vehicles, and the American families who will put their hard-earned dollars into a VV because that’s all they can afford.

Caveat emptor, y’all.

Looking before you Leapfrog

In the Hutong
Waiting for a Conference Call
0934 hrs

The New York Times and my fellow plane-geeks over at Airliners.net have been singing a dirge for Denver International Airport’s automated baggage system, built at a cost of $186 million, never fully utilized, prone to breakdowns, and incredibly costly to operate. The system is being shut down, and it’s 26 miles of conveyers and expensive robots and computing system will gather dust – if they don’t wind up getting ripped out entirely.

One cannot help but think about the current – and planned – airport expansion programs being considered around China, obviously, but also a broad range of government-funded projects – like the Olympics – and worry.

Bluetooth: Not Dead Yet, but Not Looking Good

Command Center
Silicon Hutong Plaza
Beijing

Among the avalanche of information pouring out of CTIA 2005 comes this piece in Engadget that suggests Bluetooth is blossoming.

Respects to Ross Rubin, who I think is a very switched-on and entertaining writer, this comes across as a badly disguised piece of sponsored PR dreck from the heart of the Bluetooth SIG. The entry is long on declaration (“CTIA made a convincing case that this is Bluetooth’s moment to shine”) and very short on supporting evidence. Wow – half a dozen high-end phones have Bluetooth, there are some Bluetooth enabled GPS devices, a couple of peripherals, and an MIT-designed Bluetooth stuffed animal.

WIth respect, this is the sort of uptake and support that befits a new technology, not one that’s been around for several years. Ross makes the point in the article that Bluetooth is hardly ubiquitous, and he’s right. It may not be a novelty, but if it isn’t ubiquitous now, it never will be. There are a lot of little reasons for this, but to me, there are really only three that matter:

1. Muddled Positioning: The industry is still operating under the misconception that Bluetooth would act as what Ross calls an “Internet Gateway” for personal area networks. I’m sorry – isn’t that what WiFi does? My understanding of Bluetooth was that it would replace the serial cable, IRdA, and other hookups between devices, accessories, and peripherals, NOT create an Internet hookup. If the industry hasn’t figured out the positioning of the Bluetooth relative to the other technologies out there, how are users to understand how to use it?

2. Unclear Value: Following on from the positioning problem, neither the Bluetooth SIG nor the industry has made sufficiently clear the advantages of using Bluetooth to your average. What IS a personal area network, and how does making it wireless make my life better. By failing to communicate the basic, simple advantages of eliminating half of the cords in ones laptop bag or on ones desktop, the SIG and manufacturers have insured that mainstream users cannot but fail to get it, and visionaries – who understand the value of the technology – think that because it’s not being pushed, maybe the technology doesn’t live up to its promise.

3. Impending Obsolescence: The standards groups around what has been called Ultra Wideband (UWB) and is now being called Wireless USB are just coalescing, and we are certainly some ways away from real product. But the positioning – starting with the new name – has begun in earnest, and the advantages are clear – eliminate your USB wires. Period. Awesome. Fast. Cool. I’m there. And thanks very much, Bluetooth, but I’m waiting.

Nowhere are these failures more a pity than in Asia, where consumers have proven willing to experiment with these kinds of technologies and implement them into their lifestyles, and where the mobile phone plays a role far greater than anywhere else in the world.

Ericsson did a great thing creating Bluetooth, and it has given a lot of us a chance to tinker and play with he idea of unplugging cables. Unfortunately, it’s really clear that Bluetooth has fallen into Gordon Moore’s chasm and will eventually land in the Graveyard of Technologies with Unrealized Potential.

Standards that Kill

As the Chinese government works to help its local firms develop and commercialize technology standards, overzealous bureaucrats appear to be using government mandated standards to allow local developers a leg up. But by making China a proprietary island in a sea of standardization, policymakers risk shutting Chinese industries out of the global game.