Five years: yet another long strange trip …

Posted: 08.27.13

And in half the time!

I was asked recently to write about the five most important market develop¬ments of the last five years. I have no idea why; David Letterman was busy or something. As I considered what I would write about, I found myself thinking about how mobile we’ve be¬come and how much we’ve been freed from our familiar places of work and entertainment. So, I looked at the prod-ucts and technologies that have made that possible.

Without further ado, the five most influential market developments of the last five years are:

  • The evolution of the smartphone
  • The apps development model
  • The iPad
  • Smart TVs
  • Windows 8 (really!)

Let’s take these points in order be¬cause I do see their development as cu¬mulative and interrelated.

The evolution of the smartphone has been ongoing, and maybe I’m cheating a teensy bit on the five-year guideline. But remember, five years ago many of us were still using feature phones.

In 2008 Steve Jobs introduced the App Store, and we all went crazy for apps—dedicated, low-cost products that do one or two things really well. Google followed on with the Android, and phones no longer had much to do with making phone calls.

The iPad was introduced in 2010, which is utterly amazing, isn’t it? It seems like we’ve had them forever. Any¬way, with the introduction of the tab¬let, Jobs and Apple saved the rest of the world from its foolish fumbling with the idea of a tablet. Here ya go, you idiots, this is what a tablet does, now go im¬prove on the idea, he might have said.

So now, what do we need a smart TV for? Indeed, there are people who are getting along just fine in households where the tablet reigns supreme. Maybe some enterprising types play their tab-let content on the TV, and maybe the Apple-addled have an Apple TV in¬stalled for seamless living in an iOS world. But, the forces of Google and its Android world are gaining ground, and they’ve helped popularize the idea of the smart TV by providing access to alternative sources of entertainment, the most obvious being Netflix. In the U.S. at least, there is a revolt brewing as peo¬ple decide against paying high monthly subscription fees for content bundles and opt instead for the pay-as-you-go options offered by Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, etc.

To sum up the first four points then, a seamless continuum has emerged that allows people to consume content wher¬ever they are using whatever device they happen to have handy. The experience can be just as good as watching TV in the living room, or even better consider¬ing it might be personalized and conve¬nient on a device like the iPad.

Windows 8?
Yes, Windows 8. While we’ve all be partying and frivolously playing on our little toys, Microsoft has stayed home worrying about how we’re going to get our work done. There is a chasm be-tween the apps on mobile devices and our everyday work tools, and transfer¬ring between the two worlds is awk¬ward.

Microsoft hopes to bring the party back to work by bridging the two worlds via Windows 8, and despite all the scorn heaped on the new Windows 8 interface, it does a pretty good job. Not that there isn’t plenty of room for improvement, but let’s just look at the bright side for now. The Windows 8 interface is pretty easy to use once you stop whining about how different everything is. Honestly, do you like gadgets and computers or not? It’s just not that hard. The new generation of tablets en¬abled by Windows 8 make it easier to go from the couch to the desk using the same device and to move content from the small screen to the TV. With keyboards that may or may not detach, variably sized displays, stylii, and touch, it’s easy to pick up a device anywhere in the house and get it to play a movie or update that spreadsheet. Windows 8 is a continuation of the work Steve Jobs did to make the tablet an appealing device that we really want to carry around, be¬cause now it gives us the ability to do serious work as well.

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Now, maybe it’s worth wondering why we have to do all that danged work. Apple has enchanted users by showing them how much fun they can have with technology, yet developers have figured out ways to make iDevices productive. On the flip side, Microsoft has really projected a work ethos, and we all work hard to find some fun in computers. That’s probably why people love Apple and hate Microsoft. Yeah, yeah, protest all you want, I won’t be¬lieve you. Now Steve Ballmer is throw¬ing in the towel and announcing his retirement. So maybe in the next five years, we can all learn how to play more and work less.