The Mobile Market Tidal Wave

In technology it is vitally important yet very difficult to see and understand when change occurs. You can invest millions in a product only to discover upon release that the market has moved on. I was on a recent camping trip when this thought started to come into perspective. As I think of the huge Microsoft Windows Phone 7 launch it dawned on me that the market Microsoft was going after was moving on into new fields of gold.

To put in perspective there are many technologies that are ahead of their time.  Sometimes it is just trying to find the market or an inability to create the market.    It’s challenging these days because we are faced with technology purchase decisions on a regular basis.  It could be a game console decision – am I going to be a Sony, Wii or Xbox person or family.  What eReader technology – Kindle or iPad?  Not to mention all the wannabe’s.   How long will these new technologies last before I have to get the latest and greatest?  How many people still have the original iPod, but more importantly how many people bought the next release? The Nano?   It’s an industry in constant flux.

This brings us back to our latest topic – mobility.  It’s been three years since Apple released the iPhone.  Three very painful years for the Microsoft Windows Mobile team (not to mention a lot of others: Nokia, Palm, RIM, etc..).  It caused a lot of denial at Microsoft and took some people to make a big decision to scrap the old code and stat all over again.  I am not sure what the people supporting the old code were defending, it was light years behind what Apple was doing. But the question to me will be when it releases this fall it will have been 3 years since the debut of the iPhone and is the market still in a place dreaming of a new great smart phone or has it moved on to newer and greener pastures?

There are three things that I see in play in the current mobile market:

  1. A titanic struggle between Apple and Android – causing a huge surge in application development for these two platforms
  2. A rapidly changing form factor being driven by the iPad changing how we interact with technology – that seems to bridge the Smartphone and LapTop/Netbook market
  3. The rise of the “First Globalists” (age group 18-29) in driving technology adoption across the remaining groups in the market place

There is no question that when Apple launched the iPhone, beyond the beauty and experience of the device, Apple caused a huge shift in the developer community.  It seemed overnight you had companies starting up writing applications to the iPhone.  This means that developers were spending less time as a group on other platforms.  It was a rapid shift in the market.  Shortly after Google launched its Android initiative.  A beautiful example of the private sector mixing with the Open Source community.  Google provides the financial backing along with sales and marketing expertise.    Thee Open Source community, which is a developer community, provides the magic of creating a large application library.  I was talking with my friend Allen in the Silicon Valley  and he told me, “Right now in the valley it is all focused on iPhone and Android development”.  Today these platforms are each at or close to 100,000 applications.  At launch the Windows Phone is hoping for 10,000. In the tech industry if you do not have the hearts and minds of the developer, you have nothing.

The second area that is changing is the form factor of mobility.  The iPhone started that change, but the iPad is moving it forward in an ever changing direction.  The point being you can release a iPhone killer smartphone tomorrow, but it will not matter as the market has moved on. Not to mention that many capabilities we want in our smartphone are better suited for the iPad – such as browsing the web.  Another area is a phones primary function – voice.  Voice is no longer a service but an application and with the proliferation of voice enabled devices for PC’s, Netbooks and Tablets.  Though I do not expect phones to away our ability to interact with people through voice from whatever device I am connected to at that particular moment has been enhanced to the point that if I am watching TV i can interact with people through my TV while watching television.

The term “First Globalists” first came to my attention after reading John Zogby’s great book “The Way We’ll Be”.  It is the definition applied to the current 18-29 age group.  The first generation who have grown up in a world of ever and rapidly changing technology.  Who have always had the internet and a cell phone.  Who do not view technology with fear like many in my generation did.  So when the changes in form factor and how we interact with those new form factors occur they will approach and embrace these changes without hesitation and they will lead the market to new places.  Including yours truly.

Markets change rapidly and nowhere do they change faster than in technology.  You may have the best phone or at least a very competitive device but if you are late the market you are after may be transitioning to a new place.  From my days in marketing class at my university the term we used for these type of players is “laggards”.  Then it was academic but now I realize it’s not very flattering.  So my question to my past is “Where do you want to go today?”.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Sept 21st 2010

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