“Considering only memory, processing, and broadband communications power, duplicating the iPhone back in 1991 would have (very roughly) cost: $1.44 million + $620,000 + $1.5 million = $3.56 million.
This doesn’t even account for the MEMS motion detectors, the camera, the iOS operating system, the brilliant display, or the endless worlds of the Internet and apps to which the iPhone connects us.
This account also ignores the crucial fact that no matter how much money one spent, it would have been impossible in 1991 to pack that much technological power into a form factor the size of the iPhone, or even a refrigerator.
Tim Lee at The Switch noted the imprecision of the original analysis and correctly asked how typical analyses of inflation can hope to account for such radical price drops. (Harvard economist Larry Summers recently picked up on this point as well.)
But the fact that so many were so impressed by an assertion that an iPhone possesses the capabilities of $3,000 worth of 1991 electronics products – when the actual figure exceeds $3 million – reveals how fundamentally difficult it is to think in exponential terms.
Innovation blindness, I’ve long argued, is a key obstacle to sound economic and policy thinking. And this is a perfect example. When we make policy based on today’s technology, we don’t just operate mildly sub-optimally. No, we often close off entire pathways to amazing innovation.”