We’re now coming up to 9 years since the launch of the iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution, and some of the first phases are over - Apple and Google both won the platform war, mostly, Facebook made the transition, mostly, and it’s now perfectly clear that mobile is the future of technology and of the internet. But within that, there's a huge range of different themes and issues, many of which are still pretty unsettled.
In this post, I outline what I think are the 16 topics to think about within the current generation, and then link to the things I’ve written about them. In January, I’ll dig into some of the themes for the future - VR, AR, drones and AI, but this is where we are today.
See here to listen to the podcast we did around this.
1: Mobile is the new central ecosystem of tech
Each new generation of technology - each new ecosystem - is a step change in scale, and that new scale makes it the centre of innovation and investment in hardware, software and company creation. The mobile ecosystem, now, is heading towards perhaps 10x the scale of the PC industry, and mobile is not just a new thing or a big thing, but that new generation, whose scale makes it the new centre of gravity of the tech industry. Almost everything else will orbit around it.
The smartphone is the new sun
Resetting the score
2: Mobile is the internet
We should stop talking about ‘mobile’ internet and ‘desktop’ internet - it’s like talking about ‘colour’ TV, as opposed to black and white TV. We have a mental model, left over from feature phones, that ‘mobile’ means limited devices that are only used walking around. But actually, smartphones are mostly used when you’re sitting down next to a laptop, not ‘mobile’, and their capabilities make them much more sophisticated as internet platforms than PC. Really, it’s the PC that has the limited, cut-down version of the internet.
Forget about the mobile internet
What would you miss?
3: Mobile isn’t about small screens and PCs aren’t about keyboards - mobile means an ecosystem and that ecosystem will swallow ‘PCs’
When we say 'mobile' we don't mean mobile, just as when we said 'PCs' we didn't mean ‘personal’. ‘Mobile’ isn't about the screen size or keyboard or location or use. Rather, the ecosystem of ARM, iOS and Android, with 10x the scale of ‘Wintel’, will become the new centre of gravity throughout computing. This means that ‘mobile’ devices will take over more and more of what we use ‘PCs’ for, gaining larger screens and keyboards, sometimes, and more and more powerful software, all driven by the irresistible force of a much larger ecosystem, which will suck in all of the investment and innovation.
Mobile, ecosystems and the death of PCs
4: The future of productivity
Will you always need a mouse and keyboard and Excel or Powerpoint for ‘real work’? Probably not - those will linger on for a long time for tens of millions of core users, but not the other billions - computing and productivity has changed radically before and will change again. Big screens will last, for some, and maybe keyboards, for some, but all the software will change. It will move to the cloud, and onto 'mobile' devices (with large or small screens), and be reshaped by them. The core question - is typing, or making presentations, actually your job, or just a tool you use to get your actual job done? What matters is the connective tissue of a company - the verbs that move things along. Those can be done in new ways.
Office, messaging and verbs
Tablets, PCs and Office
5: Microsoft's capitulation
Microsoft missed the shift to the new platform. Xbox is non-core, Windows Mobile is on life support, Windows 10 is a good prop for the legacy business that can slow but not prevent this change, and Satya Nadella has explicitly stated that the decades-old strategy of ‘Windows Everywhere’ - of trying to be the universal platform - is over. That doesn’t remotely mean that Microsoft is dead, but it has to work out how to use the cash and market position of the legacy monopolies to help it build new businesses. That’s a big change from the past, where everything was about building Windows and Office. But it’s not quite clear what those new businesses will look like - Microsoft has to try to reinvent the connective tissue of the enterprise.
Microsoft, capitulation and the end of Windows Everywhere
6: Apple & Google both won, but it’s complicated...MORE
The mobile generation is unusual in that we seem to have two winners - both Apple and Google won, in different ways. Conventionally, the bigger ecosystem wins and sucks all activity into its orbit, but Apple’s ecosystem has perhaps 800m active users, far larger than in previous generations, and has perhaps half of global mobile browsing and two thirds or more of app store revenue (a good proxy for overall economic activity). Android has more users but Apple has more of the ‘best’ users (from a developers’ perspective).
Indeed, one can also ask whether Google rather than Apple has a problem - Google’s existential need is reach, and both iOS and Android give it reach, but the reach it has on iOS is limited by what Apple will allow. And less than a quarter of iPhone users have bothered to install Google Maps. Conversely, Apple’s weakness in cloud services and AI may end up becoming an equivalent strategic problem over time....
HT: A VC