Right about now I'm asking myself why it is that IBM doesn't own a phone company. It used to. It was Rolm. Tipped off by Enderle, I am thinking about what moves and what doesn't move in the computer industry.
What's moving now is the peripherals market, and the hottest peripherals are now owned by Apple. They are enabled by the network market and the hottest networks are still boring, but the changing of new and old protocols are making it interesting. Matters of net neutrality, Flash vs Ogg vs H.264 and the adoption of cloud strategies are what's making it interesting. Database technology is undergoing a renaissance too.
Only Google seemed to have its head in the game of comprehensively coming up with a 'new' computing paradigm which is network centric and going after the desktop. That was until the introduction of Apple's iPad. Apple now has an opportunity and is showing evidence of the vision to disintermediate Microsoft's desktop domination.
Think about it this way. The desktop has been, for a generation, the dominant computing metaphor. It is how must computing work is done today and it is the desktop metaphor including the mouse and keyboard that is how must of us do what we call 'computing'. 30 years ago it was the green screen. 10 years before that it was the punched card. What are you touching when you are using a computer? That is the question. Those who define and dominate win, and it starts with the generation of data and ends with the consumption of data. That, broadly speaking is what the computer industry is all about, it is about interface domination. What goes on in the black box is only of concern to the industry professionals - the battles in the marketplace are won and lost on interface.
For example. What is gaming? Gaming is an interface market with competition between the iPhone + iPad, XBox360, PS3, DS, Wii, and the Desktop. The game console wars are pretty much over and the winner is Microsoft. They dominate and so now everyone must write to XBox. However Microsoft has opened up a new front with Project Natal. Interface.
All this has to do with HP + Palm because HP has perhaps determined that it needs to be its own software integrator. HP can now extend its compute capacity into a new interface. This is key.
As the number of interfaces goes
up, the influence of architects of APIs increases as well. What Apple is
doing to squish out competition on it's platform begins to defy the
mantras of interoperability. Apple can afford to do so because what I
call 'development economies of scale' make it such that organic
developers are not really competitive. Once a small group of in-house programmers have access to resources that allow them to develop technologies at a sufficient sophistication, a labor market for programming becomes surplus, and then barriers to entry build. Who actually needs to build a better spoon? You cannot get many jobs in spoon design. It's not because there is no spoon, but because the spoon has already been perfected.
Interoperability was important when teams of developers were still working on technologies that had not been completed to human scale. What do I mean by that? A technology that is complete to human scale means that you have a technology whose marginal improvement cannot be perceived by most humans. It's not about distinguishing them from magic, it's about distinguishing them at all. For example, it has long been the case in the audio electronics industry that the capability of the technology to record, transmit and reproduce sound has gone beyond the capabilities of human perception. Any good salesman at the stereo store will tell you that only 1 out of 50 people can actually hear the difference between a good $500 speaker and a good $5000 speaker. Why pay for the difference if you can't hear the difference? The clever stereo salesman would steer the prospective customer into believing he could hear the difference, but most of the time the customers could not - especially if they liked Cindy Lauper.
do people choose speakers today? Fashion, style, interface. The
technology is complete to human scale - as such there is no need in the
mainstream, to innovate. That's why 30 years ago, stereo components were
the hot item, whereas today video components are hot. People can
certainly perceive the difference between black and white and color. And
now we are seeing the difference between low and high definition define
the market. When everybody has HDTV, we'll all just buy for fashion,
style, interface. The technology is done. It doesn't need to move.
While the technology is still developing to human scale, small innovators can make a difference. Market makers will corral them and interoperability will matter. Once there is no more need for integration, the industry won't care about interoperability just like the TV industry no longer needs pin socket standards for the tubes in their audio amplifiers. Single companies can integrate the technology from end to end, streamline, lower costs and improve quality - but sell interface.
HP, with its acquisition of Palm now has an interface for mobility. It can now build phones. Does anybody care about the developers of Palm apps? No. They will now be HP apps and the API can be streamlined to fit HP's needs for mobility.
So what technologies are done and not moving in the computing industry because they have now reached human scale - the limits of human perception? Well, that's an interesting question that I'll start to think about. And while I do so, I'll keep an eye towards what happens when another interface solves another problem moving that problem towards human scale. This is how I can identify shifts in markets and opportunities for different vendors to leapfrog.
For example. I think a class of applications will emerge in the multitouch paradigm that will approach human scale that have never reached it in the desktop metaphor. I think that multitouch gestures can become a vocabulary for expression that will allow a much greater throughput than could be expected from keyboard & mouse. Guitar Hero showed a way to game that closer approximates the human scale of musicianship. There could never be a better way to play guitar via keyboard. You need to approach a guitar. Furthermore, as I've indicated previously, I think that sorting, distributing and shuffling will be better accomplished through multitouch interfaces than with mouse & keyboard interfaces.