The 10 Year Battle for the Digital Ecosystem is just Beginning…

In this article, I review the current state of technology dominance across the landscape, and ask questions as to what’s next for us all over the next 10 years.

I was born in 1983. My first memories of using technology were watching an old TV with two knobs, one for channels and one for volume, until the age of 6 or 7. At this point, my family purchased our first computer!

amstrad.jpg
Our ’88 Amstrad, The Beast!

A pre-windows Amstrad PC with not one, but two 5.25” Floppy drives, with included safety latches!  Actually, I think the latches were intended more as electromechanical triggers to alert the computer that a disk was present, but none -the-less, they were fun to play with, and this was my first foray into computers. It had a few basic games and a spreadsheet programs, as well as a sort of digital rolodex and basic word processing program, all accessed through numeric menus. Cutting edge at the time!

 

Back in the 80’s, there was little if anything in the way of platform dominance. What there was in way of dominance was driven by Hardware, and which vendors could produce the most compelling hardware product at the time. On the software side,  the PC industry was such in its infancy in comparison to today that the majority of the programs that ran on the (menu based) navigation system, were baked in by very small development houses and extremely basic. In fact, the most major discovery I found a couple of years into playing with my first computer was a pinhole button on the back of the monitor, which when pressed, ‘upgraded’ the monitor from CGA (16 colors but 4 max simultaneously) to EGA (all 16 colors running simultaneously)!

It feels both nostalgic and daunting to think how far technology has moved in the 30+ years since. There has been a fundamental shift in every aspect of technology, led by a number of factors, but among the most important have been key developments in the following areas:

  • Widespread availability, protocol standardization, and speed/infrastructure of internet to the masses. 
  • Rapid (almost exponentially rapid) advancements in electronic hardware components. 
  • Cost decreases for hardware components and assembled systems, opening the PC market to a wider audience. 
  • Design scope & miniaturization, facilitating different form factors, from laptops to tablets, phones, wearables and more. 
  • The emergence of digital pure play companies and advent of cloud computing. 
  • Work put into developing common advancements to programming languages.

I could write a very long article on the 30 years that have transpired since my first “digital” encounters since the old PC and TV, but instead, I decided to summarize into a graphic that loosely shows the way our world has changed.

When putting together this graphic, what jumped out to me is the sensory nature of different developments, and how the leading companies today are in a battlefield to effectively ‘control’ these sensory stimuli through their platforms.  Senses including Vision, Audio and Voice have emerged as the key battlefields.

To keep things clean, I’ve excluded a number of defunct or more minor current impact firms (ex: Nokia), as although they have had profound impact in the past, they are not positioned to capitalize on the next technology wave.

Sensory-Battlefield.jpg

The largest change that has emerged is the impact that software & digital/internet dominance has had over hardware during the last 30+ years. In past times, unless you owned the O/S, hardware was generally king, and companies have had to adapt their service offering to remain competitive. Over the last 10-15 years we have seen a shift to O/S ownership being the leading factor governing power over the consumer.

User journey is fullly at the heart of the digital technology evolution and front of mind for the players who have managed to stay relevant to the new goal of ‘owning the ecosystem’.

The convergence of hardware and software platforms will become a huge impact in the next major technology revolution.

What’s coming up for 2020 – 2030?

Looking at the timeline is quite telling. In my view, there will be four hugely impactful developments that shape customer experience in the next ten years.

  1. Evolution of monetized ‘Service Worker’ generated activities from the dominant players to third parties.
    This includes more widespread use of intelligent chat bots, image recognition, voice recognition, and other AI related services, fueled by neural network learning by the provisioner, and benefit realized within client organizations related to higher quality of service, capability and efficiencies.
  2. Expansion of the Wearables Ecosystem to include Augmented Reality Glasses.
    This is a very ambitions goal that all the big technology companies are working towards fervently. The requirements are hard, as a great deal of processing power and hardware needs to be compacted into small spaces, and supported by advanced visual presentation layer through either digitized glasses lenses or contact lenses.  If a major company can come out with a market friendly and fully baked product, it will be fascinating to see if this takes off.  Of course, through doing so, that same vendor would own the App & ecosystem that the user is experiencing, so the energy being put behind his by leading tech companies cannot be understated.
  3. The Evolution of  Robotics to  smart learning and self-optimization utilizing AI.
    2020 – 2030 will be the decade of robotics. Many jobs will become obsolete or profoundly change with the introduction of fast, continually learning and tireless robots that will provide ROI over the course of a few years of initial investment.  We are at the cusp of this currently, and a great deal of automation has already been seen in warehouse environments. In fact, some fully automated environments are already operational, I see a continuous evolution and expansion of such services in the coming decade.
  4. Integration, Integration, Integration… or possibly, Acquisition, Acquisition, Acquisition!
    In the 2010s we have seen a number of prominent acquisitions of smart home technologies by the largest players (ex: Nest acquired by Google, Ring acquired by Apple), but a significant number have also flown under the radar. It’s almost impossible to find an independent image recognition software house now since they keep being acquired.  Generally, the rule seems to be… if the target is too big to buy them (ex: Philips Hue), then integrate with them. I also see further simplification of the integration process of multiple-technologies around the home, either facilitated directly by the Top Tech firms, or through the introduction of third party services.

Summary

From all indications, the companies that will enjoy the most success in the next 10 years will be those currently competing to ‘Own the Ecosystem’.  To do so, certain skills will be paramount. These include:

  • Strong hardware development and design skills 
  • Amazing user and contextual environmental data availability and immediacy of said data 
  • Ability to integrate feature to function, meaning taking the idea of doing something and translating it into the practical application that exceeds existing options in simplicity and value.

This puts an interesting battle at stake. Certain companies (specifically IBM, Google, Microsoft, AWS), are pushing hard into the cloud computing space, and becoming facilitators to others looking to leverage their new pools of data to change the world through Neural Network processing.

Others, including Apple, Google (again), and Facebook, appear more concerned about the direct user experience, and breaking into the next frontier on this front (Phone ==> Headset/Glasses).  Microsoft and Google are dipping their toes in the water on both sides, building a strong cloud suite, but also pushing the innovation envelope with projects such as Hololens and Google’s acquisition of MagicLeap.

Only time will tell who brings the watershed product to the market that fulfills the potential that AR brings, and it’s interesting to ask what will represent the tipping point, corporate adoption & utilization in specialty scenarios, expanded to wider corporate adoption & engagement, versus consumer grade engagement for entertainment and other daily life conveniences.

I’m excited for the journey the next 10 years will bring in this space, though the thought of one or two key players leveraging their vast capabilities and data profiles to become the sole source for data is also frankly, a little scary. I guess that’s why I’ve resisted putting an Echo, Google Home or other smart listening device in my home so far!

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