Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's next now?

Back in 2007, before the iphone had even launched, when Brad Burnham asked ‘What’s Next?’, I pointed to Christensen and said:

“Christensen paints a picture of various elements of a ‘stack’ disintegrating and re-integrating (ie re-aggregating) over time with value moving back and forth between those elements (thus his “law of conservation of attractive profits” referring to adjacent elements of the stack going through cycles of commoditization.) … An obvious example: the PC disintegrated the computing-device stack and pushed value to some of the individual elements of the stack – benefiting Intel and Microsoft among others. More recently, the ipod (and to some extent the mac) has reintegrated the stack arguably shifting value back to the ‘hardware’ or ‘device’ as an aggregated whole.”

Four years on, with the success of the iphone and the Kindle, and now, Google’s decision to buy Motorola Mobility, the “integration” cycle seems to be nearly complete.

"Nearly": First off, it seems unlikely that Google will become an integrated player like Apple is today. My bet would be that Google integrates not only Motorola’s patent portfolio but also much of their technology expertise and talent to create reference architectures designs and may be key hardware for their partners like Samsung. But once Google integrates the key engineering teams, it can only make sense for them to sell the Motorola brand, distribution and a hollowed-out hardware business to a company like HP. Ironically, this Googorola may begin to look more like the wintel of the 1990’s (without the Motorola brand.)

So what’s next then? What is the next big strategic shift (say, 3-4 years from now), which could put us back on a dis-integration cycle?

Purely theoretically, it seems like that value could shift to the network – ie the mobile operators. But that seems so unimaginable at this point, that I will leave it there.

What else, besides Microsoft ( ;-) ), could save us from the constraints of a Google / Apple duopoly, and jump-start dis-integration? The only things I could imagine are (1) HTML 5, and (2) personal information integrators.

1. HTML 5 could finally render the os obsolete… finally(!) That’s what everyone hoped and/or feared from the early days of Netscape, and ironically, it could make a Firefox the new king maker (again.) HTML 5, built on the advanced hardware platforms of a couple of years from now could remove much of the advantages of integrated platforms like Apple and Googorola. Evolving standards would create a seamless experience even in a dis-integrated world. The OS wouldn’t matter to the experience, and nor would the hardware. And the equivalent to the App Store or Android Market would be distributed, like the web is today, but with room for giant market makers like Amazon.

2. Be it Facebook, Google+, or even iCloud or a Dropbox, or rather I hope, a still to be formed startup, one or more companies may be able to build on top of the existing stack and create value by solving one of the other much sought-after holy grails of the internet – to be a repository and manager of your information and interactions across devices, clouds and web services. Such an animal will free us from increasing constraints imposed by the integrated stack duopoly, and shift value creation away from the existing stacks to itself… One can only hope that the winning solution here will be an open-source / open-data P2P platform.

That’s what the world is looking like to me.

(If I turn out to be way off, I will need to blog more often to push this post down beyond page 1 and into oblivion.)