Response to A Future of Mobile Computing

Mr. Fechner's A Future of Mobile Computing presents a believable future for computing. The idea is that sometime in the future a single hub device (perhaps a *shudder* phablet) with different size and kinds of screens acting as portals into one device. I will refer to this theory as “one device, many screens” . I was in agreement with Mr. Fechner right up until I read this:

However, agreeing and implementing required industry standards and the willingness to cannibalise existing product franchises and therefore large revenue streams is what makes us get there much slower. Apple might have something similar in the drawer already, but won't release it while their current portfolio is still blossoming [sic]?

I have to disagree with Mr. Fechner on that last statement. What helps make Apple great as a company is its willingness to kill popular devices and replace them with something better. I’ll turn it over briefly to Mr. Lopp to explain:

In an Apple music event announcement, Steve Jobs got on stage, gave the usual state of the business update, and then he did something I’d never seen before. He killed a wildly successful product.

In Someone is Coming to Eat You, Mr. Lopp briefly chronicles how Apple killed the incredibly popular iPod mini. Replacing it with the markedly superior iPod nano. Apple didn’t milk the mini for what it was worth, but replaced it with a better product when they had something good to replace it. Mr. Fechner’s assertion that Apple’s success (read greed) is responsible for holding back the industry is off the mark. If Apple wanted to release new products only after they’ve sufficiently milked existing lines, it’s possible Apple may never again enter a new product category in our lifetime.

Conversely, I find it highly likely the rest of the computer industry is responsible for delaying the “one device, many screens” future Mr. Fechner imagines. Much of the industry is too busy chasing Apple’s current success, spending less and less time looking to supplant Apple. They’ve spent a lot of time skating to where the puck is currently instead of hitting the puck to make it go a different direction. Samsung didn’t appear to be interested in the “smart watch” business until well after the Apple watch rumors started. Windows Laptops and Chromebooks are looking so similar to Apple’s MacBook Air it’s uncanny. The iPad was just a big iPod touch until everyone else figured out how to copy it.

Apple hasn’t entered a new hardware product category for a few years but I believe that’s because whatever they’re working on isn’t ready. Unless Apple has really clamped down on security since Fall of ’13, we should already be seeing hardware leaks for a watch or TV. I haven’t seen anything that looks remotely close to a finished product.

Mr. Bajarin wrote back in November that Smartphones are Becoming the Hub of our Digital Lifestyles. In the article, Mr. Bajarin briefly chronicles iBeacons and how Apple seems more keen on making the smartphone a hub like the Mac has been in the past. While this approach and “one device, many screens” aren’t mutually exclusive outcomes Apple has a very specific way they like to do things. The rest of the industry should move on if another strategy makes sense. They shouldn’t take the future hostage so they can become the next Apple. That’s not how Apple became who they are today. Apple sees a future, creates and polishes it repeatedly until they think they have it right. Samsung’s watch isn’t anywhere near polished.

Mr. Fechner’s computing future is compelling idea shared by many. I think it’s a great idea. The reasons we aren’t there yet have nothing to do with Apple’s greed. The industry seems to be missing the forest for the trees. They try to create highly successful one-off products instead of building a future that’s refined and useable. Blaming Apple because computer companies need glasses (smart or otherwise) isn’t helping us get there.

Reagan Knopp