Looking back at last year’s “Things to watch in 2009”, I’ll narrow the field a little bit: no more discussion of the auto industry, electric car markitecture notwithstanding, nor disquisitions of congress shenanigans, too much raw sewage material. Let’s stay with safer and generally cleaner/happier computer industry topics.
Microsoft 2.0 a.k.a. Google.
What is known: In its heyday, Microsoft strived to be all things to all people, from Office applications to Consumer Electronics (Windows CE), to Enterprise Computing (Exchange, Windows Server, SQL and Jet Servers and more), to mobile phones (WIndows Mobile just re-christened Windows Phone), to games (MSX and now the Xbox), to the Internet Explorer, .Net and now various Windows Live offerings and the Bing search product. And even more, such as various attempts at image processing for pros and consumers.
Now, we have Google with a similarly all-embracing land grab on the Web, from books to smartphones, from CAD software (yes, Sketchup) to music, video, “office” applications, collaboration, digital photography, application hosting, a payment system and more.
What is worth watching: When will Google’s “organic” growth start showing its limits? No tree ever reaches the sky. Google’s current strategy is eerily similar to Microsoft’s old “jump on anything that moves”. And, yes, it is smart to make Google a universal destination by using advertising revenue to finance free offerings that, in turn, channel more viewers to Google advertising.
But, eventually, the organism starts drowning in its toxic waste, meaning Google will face management tasks beyond its reach, or advertising revenue wont be able to subsidize everything else for ever, or it will slip and miss an important emerging trend such as social networks, see Facebook below.
Or, Google will become too powerful for the public good, destroying competition only too well and politicians will have their way with the Mountain View company. Unless Google learns, gets the better lobbyists and has its way with us like Wall Street, Big Pharma and Telecom companies, to name the best, do.
What is known: The company makes tons of money but fails to be a player in the new world of smartphones, search, advertising, media players, content sales and social networking.
What is worth watching: How long will Microsoft’s Board keep supporting its current CEO, Steve Ballmer. Is the Board too influenced by the Bill and Steve team, or will it realize it needs a Carlos Goshn?
The Linuxification of Android.
What is known: Linux promised to take over the desktop but failed to do so. The main reason? There is no real enforcer with the power to impose one and only version of Linux. Not of Linux the OS, but Linux the total end-user solution: OS + UI (desktop User Interface) + a minimum set of standard applications. As a result, Linux succeeds inside server farms where IT organizations control it and mold it to their requirements. But, on the desktop, Linux is babelized and fails to achieve significant market weight against Windows and Apple’s OS X.
What is worth watching: Android is an Open Source Linux derivative for smartphones. As such, handset makers are free to modify and adapt it to their own needs. Handset makers desperately need differentiation; otherwise, they’ll all race to the bottom, to infinitesimal margins. As a direct consequence of such urgent quest for differentiation, they’ll babelize Android in the same way netbook makers have fragmented Linux (and refocused on Windows as a result).
Google is well aware of the risk, that’s why they’ll introduce a Google Phone this week, a handset made by HTC but whose design, hardware and the whole software “stack” (OS + applications) is under their total control. Ironically, “à la Apple”.
What this will do to other Android adopters such as Motorola (even if the Droid suspiciously looks like it’s made by HTC) and carriers such Verizon is definitely worth watching.
Facebook becoming the Internet.
What is known: Facebook now has more than 350 million users and generates one in four pageviews on the Net. Sometime this year, Facebook will reach half a billion users. Even more interesting: Facebook is no longer a network for college kids and young adults, recent Web analytics show the category of users aged 35 to 54 has grown 190% and the 55 years and older segment grew an astounding 513%. For many users, Facebook is the destination, the jumping point from which they see the Web.
What is worth watching: What happens once Facebook gets more assertive in selling ads to their user population? What if Facebook ends up launching a neat micro-payment system. Could they sell digital content as effectively as iTunes does? Could they take significant advertising revenue away from Google who missed the social networking wave?
What is known: Tablets (or e-readers, e-books) are touted as the next “in” gadget. No self-respecting electronics company can be seen without one. I don’t know if Apple execs will show one late this month and, if they do, if it will be successful. (See the Jesus Tablet note.)
In any event, Apple manages to top the pre-iPhone rumor frenzy with (third party) predictions of 10 million units for 2010. I hear Apple execs having a good laugh and a few grateful thoughts for the free advertising. Playing the mysterious diva clearly works.
What is worth watching: The business model. This will be an expensive product, it will require subsidies. Will it force newspapers and magazines to rethink their paywalls and subscription models to go for single copy sales? Will it force a “paradigm shift”? I mean moving from a paper-centric design with the Web version as a secondary product to a Web centric design (see the Bonnier demo Frederic points to) with the paper version being secondary, culturally and financially. I hope the establishment wakes up and does it. But you know I’m being polite.
For today, I’ll conclude in wishing you a better 2010. 2009 was a difficult year, let’s hope it planted the seeds for a healthier economy, more and better jobs in 2010. Thanks for reading and commenting.