Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is mobile innovation slowing down?

A provocative posting Wednesday to Infoworld:

Has mobile innovation come to an end?
Eerie parallels to the desktop PC's history suggest that smartphones have reached boring sameness -- or completeness of capability -- even faster

By Galen Gruman

In June 2007, the iPhone instantly obsoleted all previous smartphones (the BlackBerry and Palm families), finally approaching the promise that carriers and device makers had been making about the mobile future for a decade: Real Web access. A touch UI -- that rotates. Accelerometer and location detection. E-mail and instant messaging. Photos and music. A year later came the App Store and the tens of thousands of apps -- from games to time-wasters to serious business tools -- that also made the iPhone into a computing device.

Since then, there's been an ever-increasing number of competitors, but nothing fundamentally game-changing. Apple continues to refine the iPhone and iPod Touch, adding capabilities such as a compass, Exchange e-mail support, and video capture -- but the last round of devices didn't pioneer anything significant. Both Palm and Google delivered their own iPhone-inspired OSes (WebOS and Android, respectively), but did nothing significant beyond adding (very welcome) support for multiple simultaneous apps to what the iPhone had already brought to the table.

Is there no more innovation to be had in mobile? Has mobile matched the PC in becoming a stable platform where innovation happens slowly and mainly around the edges? After all, what does a PC in 2009 do that a PC in 2000 couldn't do -- even if not as fast -- beyond using different ports?
In other word, changes are incremental of of degree rather than disruptive and transformational.

What I find intriguing is that both as an observer and a participant, I think tech industries consistently underestimates the maturation/commodization of their respective segments.

I think there are a few more revolutions left so that smartphones will supplant laptops (or desktops) for more applications:
  • large screen (HDTV 1080p) display, e.g. via goggles
  • portable keyboard, whether via fold-out, virtual laser, chording or some other.
  • voice input with reliable dictation with arbitrary speakers
Of course, the most interesting radical innovations are unanticipated. It may be software and platform innovation is slowing down, but there are still some hardware improvements possible.

1 comment:

Mike Demler said...

Here are a couple more features coming to smartphones:
>3D displays without special glasses
>augmented reality, with location-based services