New Year, New Tech, Same Old Problems

There’s been a ton of innovation happening over the last several years. Yet, there are several places that haven’t been touched much by technology, or at least places where technology hasn’t gone far enough. Here are a few markets where I’d personally like to see innovators continue to push the limits.

Getting Around

The transportation industry is finally starting to see some disruption after decades of the same old, same old. Uber came along a few years ago, and has been aggressively expanding into new markets around the world. More important than just offering a new alternative for urban transportation, Uber has fundamentally changed the way we think about getting around the city.

Uber’s big innovation was providing instant, on-demand access to rides in a way that wasn’t really available before. That has led to others implementing similar services, not just from a ride-sharing point of view, but also among taxis as well. The traditional taxi companies, knowing that they have to compete, are turning to their own e-hail solutions. That’s good news for everyone, particularly as local regulators are beginning to embrace the vision of on-demand transportation. We’re getting there, but there’s still a long way to go.

That said, the vehicles we use to get around haven’t changed much since mass production of automobiles began. Thankfully that’s changing. Manufacturers have found ways to make cars smarter than ever, and the software that powers them today is pretty incredible. When you have vehicles that can drive and park themselves, you’re just a few steps away from increasing road safety by an incredible amount.

Netflix’s Adrian Cockcroft highlighted a few big changes in a “look back at 2012” blog post, and one of those innovations was the rise of the electric car. I’m constantly amazed that our car manufacturers as a whole still build mostly gas-powered vehicles after more than a century. It’s like if televisions still used vacuum tubes or computers continued to store and access data on tape.

Staying Home

TV is still a mess. The cable package, which 30 years ago seemed like a great deal, isn’t so much anymore. Sure, the number of programming choices made available for $100 a month is a huge value, especially when you compare that to the cost of other forms of entertainment — like going out to the movies, for instance — but cable doesn’t provide the flexibility that consumers are coming to expect.

Users want to be able to pick and choose the content that they watch, when they want to watch it. This isn’t exactly news, and while TV Everywhere efforts are beginning to address this, we’ve yet to see the type of disruption in TV and video that has taken over radio and music. The TV industry is behind the curve on this, and never really had to deal with anything like Napster or the digital theft of its content to the same extent.

I actually think that TV’s Napster moment won’t come from illegal distribution of its content, or even the ability to watch much of it for free (or cheap) through services like Hulu or Netflix, but from growing competition from non-traditional creators and distributors. That is, people aren’t going to quit cable because they can find Modern Family online. They’re going to quit because they can find TV-like content being produced solely for online distribution.

There’s a ton of DIY, lifestyle, fashion, cooking, and entertainment content on YouTube that is well-produced and not that different from what you would find on traditional cable networks in those verticals. But what’s more exciting to me is the scripted original programming coming to Netflix, including House of Cards and the new episodes of Arrested Development.

Seeing The World

In my road tripping post the other day, I wrote about some of the innovation happening in travel, but it’s an industry that sorely needs something new. As much as Hipmunk has improved flight search, and as much as I love Hotel Tonight for last-minute lodging deals, and as much as Airbnb has opened up a world of possibilities for new places to stay, there’s still so much more to be done.

A lot of that revolves around discovery. The tools we have today are better than the guidebooks of years past, but they still don’t compare to what they could be. The market is still extremely fragmented, and, frankly, no one has done a very good job of helping users find interesting things to do once they’re in a new place. I’m hoping someone comes along and changes that.

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