What Is Consumer Technology? A Guide
Consumer technology, or consumer tech, refers to any form of technology that is intended for use by consumers in the general public, as opposed to technology created for governmental, military or commercial use. Consumer tech comes in a variety of different forms and offers a wide range of technological capabilities, encompassing many of the most commonly seen items that people utilize daily.
A brief history of consumer tech
The roots of consumer tech can be traced back to the 19th century, with inventions from the likes of David Edward Hughes, Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, Nikola Tesla, Jagadish Edward Bose and several others facilitating the manipulation of electricity for widespread use throughout the world. In 1896, Guglielmo Marconi developed the first practical radio-wave communication system, allowing contact to be made with parties at a distance for the first time.
Marconi’s utilization of radio waves opened the door for consumer tech and allowed others to explore cutting-edge methods to improve the ways we interact with our world. Bose’s experiments introduced the use of semiconductor junctions and extreme high frequencies, while John Ambrose Fleming and the combination Robert von Lieben and Lee De Forest were able to pioneer the use of diodes and amplifier tubes in the 20th century’s first decade. In 1927, Philo Farnsworth publicly demonstrated the first television, and by just 1947, William Shockley and Bell Labs invented the transistor — fundamentally altering the way signal is amplified and significantly reducing the size of electronic components. In 1959, transistors became small enough to be packaged in quantity within a single chip, known as an integrated circuit (IC) and laid the groundwork for the technological innovations that continue to be implemented today.
Consumer Tech Companies
- Alphabet (Google)
Much of the consumer tech we still interact with daily was invented during this period of innovation between the end of the 19th century and the mid-20th century, including computers (first developed between 1940-45), transistor radios (introduced in 1954), and the microwave oven (1946). Technology has continued to develop over time, improving and creating products that are thousands of times more capable than predecessors while enabling form factor to shrink and prices to decrease — creating a technological revolution with the power to reshape our world. Computers were once an exclusive product and would require an entire room to store just a few megabytes. Today, more powerful computers exist in the pockets of 81% of Americans in the form of smartphones, capable of housing hundreds of gigabytes of data with unlimited amounts of cloud space available at all times. Give it another few decades and the advances in consumer tech would be unfathomable to us today.
Types of consumer tech
Technology has evolved to better meet and fulfill the needs of people, and as a result, people are now constantly interacting with consumer technology. Several categories and subcategories of customer technology exist, with plenty of overlap. As more products are introduced at conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show and others, these categories will inevitably expand. Some of today’s most notable consumer tech categories include:
- Devices connected to 5G networks (or 4G, LTE or any other form of cellular network) are able to receive network signals from cellular towers and provide users with online connectivity. Many of the most common forms of consumer electronics fall into this category, including smartphones, tablets and portable hotspots.
- Internet of Technology, or IoT, devices connect to specific applications via the internet or other forms of wireless networks for unparalleled user visibility and control. Some commonly found consumer tech IoT devices included smart home appliances, such as app-controlled thermostats, locks and lights, sensor-based products like doorbells with cameras set to alert users to movement, and various Bluetooth devices.
- Computers have developed mightily over time. As their capabilities have increased and costs decreased, more people have access to the resources needed to utilize different computers for different uses, from work to gaming, production and much more. Laptops, desktops, tablets, gaming computers, video game consoles, smartphones, hard drives and several other types of devices fall into this consumer tech category.
Self-Driving Cars and Vehicle Technology
- Since their emergence in the early 20th century, cars and motor vehicles of all kinds have grown to become one of the most critical forms of consumer tech to most societies around the world. And as technology has improved, so have cars, with vehicles now commonly possessing high-tech features such as built-in GPS, self-driving capabilities, automatic braking, lane sensors, rearview cameras, power steering, and a bevy of additional online and offline capabilities that enhance both safety and comfort. Many vehicles today are even powered entirely via electricity and have eliminated much of the need for wasteful natural gas resources.
Televisions & Smart Screens
- Television became a cultural phenomenon in the mid-20th century and its status has since become cemented as a focal point of modern society. The average American adult watches 4 hours and 16 minutes of television per day, as of 2020, which is only bolstered by the many advancements that the near-century old medium has undergone. Today’s top-end “Smart Televisions” come loaded with WiFi/5G capabilities, built-in applications, internet search capabilities, built-in gaming features, computer monitoring and more.
- Leading consumer tech companies like Amazon and Google have recently introduced a variety of home speakers with built-in virtual assistant technology. These speakers possess internet connectivity and can play music, look up information, place orders and complete a variety of additional tasks by linking to existing accounts. Three of the most popular smart speakers are the Amazon Echo, Apple iHome and Google Home.
- Home appliances are a form of consumer tech that allow people to live easier, more fulfilling lives. From microwave ovens and various kitchen appliances to laundry machines, space heaters and more, appliances of some kind can be found in a majority of homes worldwide.
Fitness & Wearables
- Fitness and consumer tech have merged in seamless fashion, with people embracing devices that track their daily fitness goals and keep them engaged in their activities and workouts. Wearables expand beyond simply fitness, however, with devices and technology hitting the market that filter air, keep users temperate, alert the proper parties when in danger or in need of help, and much more. Wearable consumer tech includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, heart rate monitors, 911-alerting devices and tech-enabled clothing.
- The video gaming industry has exploded since it’s rise through the late 1970s and the 1980s. Today’s systems possess the processing capabilities that would have been unfathomable to game designers back in those days, such as 5K graphics, online gameplay and lightning-fast processor speeds. Video gaming consoles, games, software, VR devices, gaming computers, handheld consoles, add-ons, and accessories are all included in this category.
Drones & Robotics
- Drones have been in military use since the 20th century, however, commercial and consumer drones began hitting the market in the early 21st century. Consumer drones have the ability to take photos, record videos and deliver packages at previously unreachable heights and distances, produced in a variety of form factors and with many accessories for customizing personal drone experiences.
Audio, Music & Instruments
- Some consumers, whether audiophiles or musicians, take sound very seriously. This category is meant to address that, creating technologically-advanced solutions that help them dial in the perfect sound response to their ears, in real time. Multi-room sound systems, Bluetooth speakers, amplifiers, interfaces, microphones, instruments, and additional hardware units and software all fall into this category of consumer tech.
- The first cameras emerged in the late 19th century, since then, photography equipment has embraced digital and technological advancements to unlock capabilities like faster shutter speeds, faster lens speeds, 5K video capturing, low-light shooting and much more. Photography consumer tech includes camera bodies, lenses, sensors, hard drives, memory cards, flash units and additional accessories.
- Much of the consumer tech that people interact with is not a physical product but software that writes the rules to allow hardware to function. Software is responsible for enabling nearly all forms of consumer tech to work and interact, from menu screens to full-on computer programs.
- Hundreds of other categories could be listed here and categories will continue to expand as technology evolves.
The consumer tech industry benefits from a cycle of continuous growth, allowing prices of current and legacy generations of hardware and software to drop as technological capabilities improve and updated products are rolled out. This is driven by improvements in manufacturing efficiency, automation, varying labor costs and the constant improvement of semiconductor design, which the consumer tech/electronics industry heavily relies on. Semiconductor functionality essentially doubles every two years due to the shrinking size of physical components and the increase in the number of transistors that can fit on an integrated circuit (IC) chip, a principle known as Moore’s Law.
Top consumer tech companies
- Alphabet (Google) – 5G, computers, semiconductors, smart speakers, wearables, IoT devices, televisions, audio, photography, software, gaming
- Apple – 5G, computers, semiconductors, smart speakers, wearables, IoT devices, televisions, audio, photography, software
- Samsung – 5G, computers, appliances, audio, televisions, IoT devices, semiconductors, wearables
- Sony – computers, photography, audio, appliances, semiconductors, gaming, televisions, wearables
- LG – 5G, computers, appliances, audio, televisions, IoT devices
- Sandisk – photography, software, computers, semiconductors
- Intel – computers, semiconductors
- Tesla – motor vehicles, semiconductors
- Yamaha – audio, motor vehicles
- Whirlpool – appliances
- Texas Instruments – semiconductors
- NVIDIA – semiconductors
- DJI Innovations – drones
- Trend Micro – software
- Adobe – software
- Cannon – photography