Briefly (and incorrectly) put, Moore’s Law estimates that the cost of computer power halves every 18 month. Got a grand to spend? Wait a couple of years and you can buy twice the amount of computer for the same cost. Or, if you prefer, the old computer for half the price.
The Nokia N95 – the last great Smartphone before the iPocalypse – cost around £370 in 2005. That’s about £560 in 2021’s money.
For £550 today, you can buy an iPhone 11 or a OnePlus 8T – or any number of amazingly powerful computers. For the £370 you can buy an iPhone X or the OnePlus Nord – both brilliant phones which can do everything you need and far outpace the N95. Hell! For a smidgen under £200 you can buy a no-brand Android which is perfectly usable and would knock the spots off the Nokia.
In 16 years (fuck, I’m old) we’ve gone through 10 steps in Moore’s way. 210 = 1,024. Are today’s phones a thousand times better than those of the mid-noughties?
In raw computation speed, probably. In battery life? LOL nope. In charging speed? Eh, the N95 took 4 hours, a fast charge on smartphone is more like 30 minutes. In picture quality? There aren’t a thousand times more pixels – we’ve gone from 5 megapixels to 12 megapixels – but the image quality from low-light lenses and AI post-processing is huge. The top network speed of the N95 was about 7Mbps – the latest 5G phones can get about 150Mbps in the UK.
Simply put, other components just can’t keep up with Moore’s Law. We’re an iteration or two from requiring phones to have cooling fans and a permanent charging cable.
But there’s something else which can’t keep up with Moore’s Law. A business’s need to make money. The latest, top of the range, all bells-and-whistles iPhone will cost you £1,000. Double the inflation-adjusted cost of the N95.
Apple are free to charge as much as they want – and people are free to buy what they want – but buying a flagship computing device is irrational. In 18 months, that amount of power will be half the price. On a rational basis, you’d never buy any technology.
Which brings me to cars.
Cars are now computers and batteries on wheels. They haven’t seen quite the drop in price as regular computers – but they have seen a huge rise in reliability and safety features.
But, take the new SEAT Mii – an all-electric car with a 160 mile range. It has lane-assist, traffic sign recognition, rear parking cameras, Bluetooth, a remote phone app – and basically all the features of non-self-driving car. And it costs under £200 per month.
Compare that to the most expensive iPhone of £90 per month.
(OK, with the iPhone, you own it at the end. With the car lease you have to give it back at the end.)
Electric cars are cratering in price. Like the iPhone, no one needs a blinged out Tesla. Sure, there will be plenty of people who buy them. But the vast majority will be satisfied with Moore’s Law driving the cost of motoring down to rock bottom.
At some point – probably in the next 3 years – there will be a widely available EV for under £100pcm. It’ll probably have a low range – but how often do you drive more than 100 miles? And it’ll only seat 2 people comfortably – perfect for young couples. And it’ll technically be a low-safety quadricycle – but you won’t care because it’ll cost the same as your phone.
And that will anchor people’s expectations for what a car should cost. Yeah, you’ll pay a bit more if you want a “brand” or if you need more seating – but for a huge swathe of people a car will be a monthly expense on par with their phone bill or Internet bill.
Perhaps we’ll even hit a weird point when your top-spec iPhone will come with a “free” car.
Either way, people will soon expect that their cars receive a significant upgrade ever few years. Can the industry keep up with the rate of change that consumers expect from their electronics?