Playing fast and loose with continuity would allow Discovery to cherry-pick what works while excising what doesn’t from the different versions of the franchise. While Fuller did say this series is in the Prime timeline, this fact has been played down since, especially after he stepped down as showrunner. Given Star Trek’s long and often contradictory history, splitting the difference with an alternate/mixed reality could be its best bet. It would allow the writers to make the references and connections that fans demand while also allowing new, uninitiated viewers a fresh start point.
Star Trek has played with a multiverse before in episodes like “Mirror, Mirror” and “Parallels.” One of Gene Roddenberry’s most important contributions to the series was the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, which celebrates the innumerable variables in existence that would allow for divergent universes to exist.
There is, also, one other possibility in explaining Discovery’s technological leaps and oversights. It’s a retcon. Comics fans know what retconning is, for all of its flaws and logical leaps. It stands for “retroactive continuity.” In short, a retcon is a historical revision done intentionally to update, modify or erase preexisting events to cover up the plot holes that telling a new story may create. It’s possible that Star Trek has been doing for years.
Roddenberry always imagined the Klingons and the Romulans in a more elaborate and alien way, so when Star Trek began its film series, Gene finally had the budget to remodel the two species. Neither change was referenced on-screen for decades, but it was merely accepted that this was the way they were meant to be. Outside of a funny meta-reference in DS9, the change in the Klingons was not raised again in-universe until Enterprise, when they devised a tedious three-episode arc to answering a question no one cared about in the first place. Adopting the retcon system would explain why the ship design was in-line with the modern era rather than The Original Series aesthetics which would look bizarre and anachronistic to a present-day audience. Discovery could be applying the same logic here.
The retcon approach would allow for Star Trek to tell stories in an unexplored section of the lore, but also re-create the sense of wonder by seeing these characters interacting with technology that is truly beyond our level, but still recognizable from our modern visual mores. Star Trek has always been more about the journey than the destination. It’s about struggling and striving for something better. A large part of our lives now focuses on technology. Discovery, then, becomes an even more thematic title than before. We are discovering this news series and new creative uses and elaborations for technology. Again, Trek is returning to a place where they could inspire advancement. Where once the communicator inspired the cell phone, perhaps this new Star Trek will inspire something new.