Not that long ago, many electronic devices in a person’s home had a different type of charger. This led to an infuriating situation where specifically the one type of charger a person needed had been lost. I have personally a couple of old devices for which I no longer have the charging cable. The devices work, as far as I know. I just have no way to power them up.

A couple of years ago, mobile phone makers agreed to a standard for charger connections. A micro USB connector would work on many mobile devices, allowing a person to carry just one cable and adapter for multiple needs. My latest set of gadgets all have this micro USB connector and it has literally simplified and unnecessary complex part of my day-to-day activities.

What’s important to realize is that no new major development in technology was necessary to make this happen. What was required was for the decision-makers in multiple companies to simply make the decision to use a common plug. Why did it take so long for such a universal agreement to occur? There is no good reason. But once major players in the market agree on a certain standard, major advancements can subtly occur much more simply and more quickly.

This week is a special week in Las Vegas. The consumer electronic show (CES) is the biggest toy store for adult geeks. Thousands of companies are presenting their products to over 150,000 marketers, resellers and various company representatives [not the general public]. The CES is the place to be for learning about this coming years major changes in consumer electronics and technology in general. for an excellent review of the Israeli presence at CES, it is really worth reading David Schamah’s article on startups at CES.

It is well recognized in the electronics world that the next stage of successful products will depend on common or shared platforms. A classic example is house automation. There are tools available today that allow you to automate many parts of your home. You can remotely turn on lights, start various appliances, interact with your TV and so on. Without a common platform, the only way to easily create such an automated home, would be to purchase all of the components from a single vendor. This would clearly lead to a lack of competition in the field. And without competition, costs are higher and advancements are fewer. But with a common platform, devices from totally different vendors can talk to each other and share information. This leads to the creation of what technologists call and “ecosystem”.

The future in both hardware and software will be very much dependent on such ecosystems. Another classic example of the importance of such shared platforms, is in the medical world. With the rapid spread of electronic medical records across the United States, and with the increasing computerization of healthcare institutions around the world, it is truly in everyone’s best interests to use products that build up a single ecosystem. The more widespread such an ecosystem, the more vendors that can participate. Consumers prefer buying products that comply with the standards of such an ecosystem, and will increase their purchasing in order to take full advantage of all of the tools available from all the vendors who comply.

Just as with micro USB connectors, creating such a unified platforms does not necessarily require any major advances in technology. One does not have to create a whole new communication protocol, or new physical devices to carry signals, in order to participate in such an ecosystem. Admittedly, there is a tremendous amount of innovation going on which involves the development of new software and hardware. There are new chips that are being specifically designed to work with in these new ecosystems. But the point is that as long as the platform stays a relative constant, it will be possible to continue to build on top of it even for many years to come.

One can think of all of this in the same way as one would think of the Windows operating system or that of Apple or Android. all of these environments have been around for quite some time and it is still possible to run older software even on the newest versions. Admittedly, trying to run a Windows 3.1 program on the upcoming Windows 10 environment might be problematic. On the other hand, it might work. If you think about it, this is an amazing accomplishment especially in the technology world where time moves so quickly.

One new group of technologies that desperately need  to share platforms are those that live with in the world called the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The principal behind IoT is for eventually billions of devices to be able to communicate with each other, despite the fact that they were developed at different times and by different companies. Such universal sharing of information and updates will allow for a whole new level of automation and functionality. The day will soon come when the idea of designing a new device or piece of software that does not share its information via some standardized pathway, will be unthinkable. More importantly, it will effectively be commercial suicide.

It’s always fun to work on the latest and greatest technologies. But finding ways to move information around in a technology-agnostic fashion will be the foundation of our entire digital future. It will definitely be interesting to see how CES 2020 has fully embraced this world.

Thanks for listening