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Previous USAToday Columns

November 17, 2016
Trump election likely to drive new tech investment priorities

October 24, 2016
Are we teaching AI or is it teaching us?

September 30, 2016
Fast-food mentality of digital data is a problem

September 19, 2016
Small businesses will be big winners from IoT

August 15, 2016
Intel's battle for relevance

July 29, 2016
What happens when the digital assistants get (really) good?

July 19, 2016
Is semi-autonomous driving really viable?

June 28, 2016
Your average car is a lot more code-driven than you think

June 11, 2016
Augmented reality comes to phones — and kitchens

May 18, 2016
The future of computing will be ambient and invisible

May 3, 2016
The hottest new technologies are coming to cars

April 22, 2016
The shifting landscape of tech platforms, services

April 10, 2016
It's time for upgradable cars: O'Donnell

March 31, 2016
Forget 4K, It's Time for UltraHD

March 24, 2016
AR and VR Driving Major Innovations in Tech

February 24, 2016
The why's and what's of 5G

February 17, 2016
Dark clouds over cloud services reflect pull of legacy technology

January 25, 2016
Biometrics is the latest shield against password hacks

January 6, 2016
Navigating the in-car tech experience

2015 USAToday Columns

2014 USAToday Columns

USAToday Column

December 8, 2016
Tech’s biggest battle yet is for your time

By Bob O'Donnell

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — It turns out your mother was right. There really are only 24 hours in a day.

While everyone may intuitively know that, very few in the tech business have really started thinking through the implications of what that really means. In a world increasingly full of amazing technologies and experiences all battling for the finite resource of your time, things could start to get pretty ugly, very soon.

Take, for example, virtual reality and augmented reality devices, content, and experiences. I’m a huge fan of the technology and expect it to become a major success in both the consumer and business market for a wide variety of applications. I also believe it will be delivered in several different forms, including fixed-location devices, mobile add-on devices, and standalone mobile devices.

But in order for AR/VR to become a major factor, we’re going to have to give something else up. We’re no longer in an era where things can simply be added to what we’re doing, especially from a tech device usage and media consumption perspective. At this point, we’re all tapped out. So, if we spend more time with AR and VR-type devices and applications, which other devices and applications will we spend less on?

It’s not an easy question to answer, nor is there a single correct answer for every person. It really depends on a multitude of factors. Every person has a unique set of preferences and priorities, and it’s those specialized interests that will impact the choices about time reassignments that each individual will be forced to make. But regardless of the motivations, we will all have to start doing or using some things less. There just isn’t enough time in the day.

One obvious category that might be due for some trimming is watching TV. For most Americans, other than working or sleeping, this is the activity we engage in more than anything else—and typically by a wide margin. The truth is that, with the rise of Internet usage, traditional TV viewing has gone down by quite a bit—at least at first glance.

When you dig a bit deeper, however, it turns out we’ve just shifted our TV viewing onto other devices and through other services. Traditional TV watching via a regular TV is much lower than it used to be, but that’s been offset by streaming shows on Hulu, watching movies on Netflix, and other “non-traditional” methods of viewing on devices like tablets, PCs and smartphones. So, actually, total viewing time of TV-like content hasn’t really changed all that much.

What about social media, then? Many consumers spend an increasingly large amount of time on this activity via many different devices. The problem is, companies like Facebook appreciate all this new time and traffic and are working even harder to try to not only avoid time decreases, but to actually increase the amount of time we spend there. Despite the fake news challenges, adding news and entertainment to our social media streams increases engagement and that translates into more time spent.

Part of the challenge may be that we have to think differently (and think first) about what it is we want to do and worry less about what we use to do it. In reality, that’s how most people think already—specific devices are secondary to what it is they want to get done.

This is why services like music and video streaming, communications, document creation and storage, and a wide range of others will be increasingly important for the consumers (and businesses) who use them, as well as the companies that provide them. Most of these services are not device specific, but are instead built to work across a range of different devices and platforms.

Even with the variety of services available, though, there’s still the problem of figuring out which devices we’re willing to invest in, knowing full well that each of them is going to get less of our time than they might otherwise have.

Smartwatches, drones, VR headsets, and a host of other new devices will continue to vie for our attention and our dollars, but the potential opportunity for any of them is likely to be less than many might have originally thought or hoped. Part of the challenges for these new devices is also that they need to essentially provide a better way to do some of the same things that we already do on other devices. Just adding new capabilities that have their own time demands is going to be much more difficult than it used to be.

As great as it is to live in an era when we have so many amazing innovations that can keep us happily occupied, the flipside is that it leaves little opportunity for new things. The net result is that the battle for our time is going to start getting a lot tougher. How that battle ends, well, only time will tell.

Here’s a link to the column:

USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, and Qualcomm. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.