It was interesting reading on CNet recently that Goldman Sachs was pessimistic about Microsoft’s 2011 (This article is not about Microsoft – so please read on). This was on top of a report the day before of 54 million Tablets sold this year, 37 million were iPads, the rest were based on Google’s Android OS. As we entered the New Year we began with the preeminent trade show, the Consumer Electronics Show. This show has grown in strength each year as people line up to see what type of technology gizmo will change the landscape of consumer behavior and of our day-to-day lives. Analyst line up to see what the next big innovation will be and what new breakthroughs it will drive. Reading about all this made me stop and think about the future, and as is usual I first started thinking about the past. I will admit I am a product of the dotcom era, where everyone’s ideas were big and going to be revolutionary. At the time everybody got caught up in it. When it ended it was a let down on the future, it was not just not just a market bubble it was an emotional bubble. It’s legacy is we are all waiting for the next internet tidal wave to hit us.
Information has always brought about change, but in today’s world it moves a lot faster than it used. If you think back to the Cold War one of the defining moments was the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”. The book that depicted the lives of the Soviet people in the prison camps during the Stalinist regime. To get that book printed it had to get out of the Soviet Union. It had to be hidden in homes and far away from the Soviet KGB. Copies had to be made and there were no computers with floppy discs or CD’s/DVD’s. It required the support of high level politicians in the United States to facilitate the process (we all know how fast they move…). The book finally got to the west in 1968, but would not be published until 1073. It was a long, slow, and very winding road to get there. Those days, luckily, are far behind us.
Fast forward to today and we see the world is changing before our very eyes and technology is driving that change.. Nearly two years ago when a wave of violence and protest spread through Iran we saw “tweets” posted via Twitter regularly. Videos came online as protesters took to the streets and captured video with small digital cameras and mobile phones and it came near real-time to the public online. Many of the most gruesome videos from these protester came at us from the cable news networks, as the cable news companies scoured the web for the latest content. Not their camera men but just ordinary people in the streets like you and I. Now we fast forward to today and we recently saw this same act play out successfully in Tunisia. Even now as I write protests have set the world (and the markets!) on fire in Egypt as violence has spread through mystical cities like Alexandria and Cairo. Everyone in the media waiting for the next relevant “tweet” or video. Despite the efforts of the Egyptian government to shut down the internet the information steadily flows outside its birders, coming from the Egyptian citizens. The big key to this is not the PC, but the rise of mobility and the mobile internet. Former President George W Bush in his book, “Decision Point” took a long-term view of history that the invasion and liberation of Iraq in 50 years would be the turning point in the middle east spreading democracy throughout the region. My view is that road was already starting, but id did not require war to get there. Technology is the major unifier as information flows freely across borders, no matter how autocratic the regime. Democracy and opportunity is on its way as a world order, thanks to the mobile internet.
The idea of mobility and access to immediate information is transforming our lives, both in the big ways like Egypt and Tunisia as well as a small way, like paying our cell phone bill from a mobile phone while on vacation in Yellowstone Park. If you think back in history these changes have all been about personal freedom. Look at what the automobile did to the human experience. The sheer idea that a person could go drive 300 miles by themselves in six hours was unheard of, now it is fairly common as kids drive off to college. But the automobile led to so many things in the course of the next 100 years, from the roadside Motel to the shopping mall. Today we are looking for freedom from our keyboard and monitor (Bill Gate’s just vomited). The mobile internet will lead to similar change and economic opportunity like the automobile. There will be those companies and those individuals who recognize the opportunity and will drive changes in society beyond anything previously imagined. Then there will be those who maybe saw it and did not understand it or missed out entirely on the change in front of them. It is one of those times where in 10-15 years we will all look back at those that failed and say “How could they not see it?”. A few companies come to mind today that are embracing the mobile change, and in some cases defining it. The obvious ones are Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter. Mobility is the single biggest transformation in society since the birth of the automobile and will continue to grow and change society throughout the 21st century. Like the automobile it will lead to new modes of life that we have yet to discover. Those companies that embrace mobility as an overarching strategy versus a line of business offering will be poised for greater success, while those that drag their feet will be irrelevant.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 8, 2011