What’s new in tech? Instead of rattling off specific devices like the latest iDevices, cell phones and laptops, allow me to guide you through the general direction I believe current technologies will be headed.
Ideas dictate the direction of technology, not specific devices. Although sometimes a specific device becomes the icon of a revolution, eventually, people find other devices that provide the same function that they need. On the other hand, the ideas that formed the core of the revolution never fade away.
The Revolution that is the iPad
As much as people appreciate Henry Ford’s reinvention of the production process, we still often think that his revolution was the car. WRONG. It was the fact that he made cars cheap. The real revolution was the production process that allowed him to sell cheap cars.
The magic of the iPad is not the invention of the tablet form factor. It was more the re-invention of how we interact with the tablet. Whereas Microsoft tried to force a PC mouse centered interface on the tablet, Apple decided to start from scratch, because mouse centered buttons were too small for our fat fingers. The hardware idea was right, it was the the interface that was wrong. However, if you are still waiting/insisting on using a tablet based on Windows, let me just ask you this… What touch interface does “Modern Warfare” have?
Ironically it was Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates who predicted the success of the tablet form factor in 2001, while Apple is generally credited with the adoption of the mouse centered interface. Apple seems to have thrown away their baby and then adopted and perfected Bill Gates’ idea.
In the future, Apple may fall by the wayside, just like how Ford is struggling to survive today, but people will still credit Apple with making tablets the prefered device for doing most of the stuff we do, instead of a PC.
The Ecosystem IS the Product
As I type this article, the news of Nokia’s replacement of it’s homegrown Symbian OS, in favor of using Windows Phone 7, is still reverberating throughout the digital realm. Accusations of internal sabotage have floated (because the current president of Nokia was a former Microsoft employee), disgruntled employees of Nokia have used flextime to go home en mass, and the stock price of Nokia dropped close to 20% in two days.
I think that the reason why Nokia decided to go to Microsoft has been overlooked and lost in the brouhaha and panic that ensued. Bear with me as I explain.
Today when we buy a device (not necessarily a phone), we don’t just buy hardware. We buy it for what it can do as well. A healthy variety of software applications (aka games), guarantees that our investment in such a a device will be well worth parting with out hard earned money.
The ability to extend our phones functionality is now called an ecosystem. It is a combination of hardware (your phone) and software (how to install apps on your phone). Android has “The Marketplace”, while Apple has the “App Store”. Both ecosystems offer tens of thousands of applications for the user. And it’s continuing growth assures us that our devices will continue to suprise us with more and more functionality as the days go by. It’s like a dog that learns a new trick every day. You’d be very happy with the price you paid for the dog as compared to a dog that just sleeps the whole day.
Currently there are five major brands in the cellphone ecosystem arena: Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS, HP’s WebOS, R.I.M.’s Blackberry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Among the five only Windows Phone 7 and Android are being licensed for phone makers, the rest are keeping their OS’s to themselves. Nokia must now choose between Android or Windows Phone 7.
Two years ago, Motorola was a dying company. Motorola found resurgence when they started producing Android based phones. Today Motorola is better than ever and soaring to greater heights. SO it make sense for Nokia to choose Android right? Why didn’t they?
Nokia took a gamble. They are not trying to survive. Nokia wants to be the top phone maker in the world again. Nokia cannot be dominant if it is just one of the many Android phone makers. Choosing WIndows Phone 7 allows them to steer the direction of Windows Phone 7 and potentially allows them to own the Windows Phone ecosystem and hence their destiny.
An alumni asked me if the Samsung Wave was a a good smartphone becasue it was on sale. I know the Samsung Wave is a solid Linux based phone, but it doesn’t have much to offer in terms of apps, so I told him “A smartphone that can’t do much, aside from call and text, isn’t very smart now isn’t it? Better get a dumbphone instead and save your cash.” Good thing Samsung has Android phones as well.
The battle for cellphone supremacy is just the precursor to a larger revolution that is about to happen. The emergence of the Digital Ecosystem. Soon all our devices will be bought not just on the basis of price and hardware specifications, it will now be judged by how “smart” they can be. In the future, salesmen will be trumpeting their “Ecosystem of Applications” that can extend the functions of their devices/appliances. Imagine a refrigerator that can email you if you’re running low on eggs and offers to order some from www.egg-r-us.com.
Ask people to track the progress of the internet and you’d probably end up concluding:
It will be the primary means of communication in the future It has become faster. (it used to be 56kbps on a modem, now a 1 mbps DSL connection is considered slow)
Both observations are true. So what’s the next step for the internet? Faster speeds? More functionality?
As the internet becomes more deeply integrated into our lives, it will have to transform and become easier to access than ever. With the recent revolution in Egypt (organized via facebook), the importance of the internet can no longer be ignored. Nor can the need for constant connection for internet access be underestimated. Although faster internet access will always be desired and sought after, “availability” will most likely be the next frontier for internet providers.
In the future, wireless internet connection will be the norm. Instead of being a privilege of the elite and the rich, cheap and unlimited wireless internet access will be as ubiquitous as electricity. Internet access will be so prevalent and so easy to get that voice calls will be eliminated in favor of Skype or ther video conferencing services. SMS will be replaced by internet messaging and email. The era of the expensive international phone call is numbered. In fact Google already provides free calls from the web to any local US or Canadian phone number.
Phone companies will lead the charge in this area, they will transform their business model from providing traditional phone services to being Internet Service Providers.
Change is not something to be feared. It is the only constant in this world. We must embrace it and accept it. We must prepare for change and master the nuances that it will bring. Those who do not will be overwhelmed and washed away by the coming flood.