OSD 197: Frickin laser beams
Last week we posted this review of an airsoft PEQ-15 clone:
Brass Facts’ bottom line was that the Somogear isn’t quite as robust as the real deal — but it holds zero, has a full power laser, and is more than 80% cheaper. So for a lot of users, it’s actually a better fit than the real deal. And for anybody, it’s better than nothing.
Back in “OSD 191: Business time”, we talked about EOTech’s plans to release an IR laser targeted at the civilian market:
Now, maybe that’s vaporware. Maybe when it’s actually released, it’ll cost twice as much. Or maybe it’s real. The bigger question is a parallel one: what has stopped products like this from launching years ago?
Jumping back to “OSD 145: Guns, Andy Warhol, and Coca-Cola”, we laid out the idea of a product shifting from being one where more money buys you better quality to one where the best available version is the mass-market version. This comes from Andy Warhol’s quote that “You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.”
So you can think about any product as either having already undergone its Warhol shift, being in the middle of it, or not yet having started it. The examples we laid out were:
Striker-fired polymer handguns (Glocks and similar designs)
Rimfire firearms, for the most part (excluding niche competition target guns)
Most software products and internet platforms
ARs and other common centerfire rifles
Scopes and red dot optics
Night vision goggles
IR devices like the MAWL and PEQ-15
Radios and comms
What do you notice as you move down the list? The “post-shift ←→ pre-shift” spectrum is essentially the same as the “consumer market ←→ government market” spectrum. The less a product is exposed to the consumer demand, the more expensive and less innovative it gets.
Let’s dive further into that. Yes, there’s a correlation here between products making the shift and their level of exposure to the consumer market. But what are all the factors? What actually moves a product through this shift?
We’d propose three.
1. Consumer dollars as a percentage of revenue
This is the OSD 191 hypothesis. The more an industry can get by on selling to governments or large institutions, the more insulated they are from the competitive rigor that comes with selling straight to consumers. End users are extremely demanding. Large institutions are not (more specifically: they’re not demanding about the things that actually make a product better for end users).
2. Regulatory arbitrage
Lack of opportunity on this one will gatekeep #1. If regulations prevent consumers from getting their grubby relentlessly-demanding-improvements mitts onto a product, consumer dollars will be roughly 0% of revenue. E.g. belt-fed weapons have all the problems you’d expect in a monopsony, because regulations on their ownership make it so.
But regulatory arbitrage is a way around this. The fact that the Somogear PEQ-15 incorporates a full power laser is a good example. So is the existence of pistol braces, and the way they’ve accelerated innovation in the carbine market. Finding regulatory arbitrage opportunities is a key way to start firing consumer dollars at a market.
3. Someone has to think of the innovation
There are competing philosophies on this one. Great man theory suggests that you need the right genius to come along, and there just aren’t that many of them.
Then there’s the opposite view, which you could call an innovator’s version of the efficient market hypothesis. The idea is that inventions get created basically about as soon as it’s possible for them to be created. There’s something to that. People had always thought it would be cool to have some place you could see any video ever made. But that wasn’t feasible until the right foundations were in place — widespread broadband internet, sufficiently fast computers, sufficiently cheap storage, and web browsers with good video players. And YouTube was launched within a year or two of that confluence of factors finally being present.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. People are always throwing stuff at the wall, and as soon as it’s technologically possible for it to stick, it probably will. But not quite instantly, and not in a predetermined way. Discrete individual ideas can bend history.
Here’s Google’s prototype of the first Android phone from 2006, a few months before the iPhone was publicly unveiled:
That prototype went straight into the garbage, and the entire Android project was reoriented around full-screen multitouch devices. If not for the work of a couple dozen individuals at Apple, smartphones would have gone down a very different path. They’d probably have gotten to multitouch eventually, but the eventual design language (let alone the path to get there) would almost certainly have been very different from what we’re used to today.
However you get there, whether it’s a team of geniuses or the inevitability of decentralized innovation, someone needs to think of the good idea. But those innovators won’t be able to really get to work until consumer dollars are aimed at the industry, and they can sometimes solve that chicken-and-egg problem with regulatory arbitrage.
This week’s links
Speaking of individual actions that change the course of events, there is this from the Club Q shooting:
Mr. Fierro looked up and saw a figure as big as a bear, easily more than 300 pounds, wearing body armor and carrying a rifle a lot like the one he had carried in Iraq. The shooter was moving through the bar toward a door leading to a patio where dozens of people had fled.
The long-suppressed instincts of a platoon leader surged back to life. He raced across the room, grabbed the gunman by a handle on the back of his body armor, pulled him to the floor and jumped on top of him.
“Was he shooting at the time? Was he about to shoot? I don’t know,” Mr. Fierro said. “I just knew I had to take him down.
The two crashed to the floor. The gunman’s military-style rifle clattered just out of reach. Mr. Fierro started to go for it, but then saw the gunman come up with a pistol in his other hand.
“I grabbed the gun out of his hand and just started hitting him in the head, over and over,” Mr. Fierro said.
As he held the man down and slammed the pistol down on his skull, Mr. Fierro started barking orders. He yelled for another club patron, using a string of expletives, to grab the rifle then told the patron to start kicking the gunman in the face. A drag dancer was passing by, and Mr. Fierro said he ordered her to stomp the attacker with her high heels. The whole time, Mr. Fierro said, he kept pummeling the shooter with the pistol while screaming obscenities.
The Trace’s coverage certainly comes from a gun control perspective, but this case was historically important. The Wikipedia article is an important read, too. A catastrophically bad DGU.
Federal judge strikes down New York’s law that required posted approval from the property owner for concealed carry to be legal on private property
Currently at the district court level. Lots more to go here.
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