Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Next Big Thing in Mobile Technology

I was recently asked what I thought was going to be the next big thing to drive the mobile telephony industry. I imagine many of you chat amongst your colleagues about this same question. To really understand what is it that is coming, it is useful to realize from whence we have come…..and how few times the mobile telephony market has really changed.

One of the earliest market revolutions in the mobile space was the Motorola flip phone. Protected by patents, Motorola enjoyed a tremendous market advantage as consumers quickly adopted the fold-out design over the bricks and “candy bar” phone models offers by competitors. As the phones shrunk in size, so did the flip phone. It was amazing to watch how many companies released flip phone models immediately after the patents expired. Clearly, there was a large market that liked the clamshell design.

Palm/Handspring brought out the next milestone in the mobile world when the PDA and mobile phone were merged. Yes, Handspring was first but Palm eventually mimicked Handspring and then outright bought the company. The Smartphone became a genre of mobile device that has grown into a very large and competitive market.

Research in Motion (RIM) took the smartphone market to a new level when it introduced e-mail servers that could continually synchronize the e-mail on your corporate server with the e-mail application running on your RIM Blackberry smartphone. Suddenly, the business community had a reason to take a serious look at smartphones. RIM has enjoyed tremendous success by continuing to enhance this simple concept; staying connected with the office without being in the office.

The iPhone was the next major milestone. Apple’s first introduction to the mobile device world came as a natural extension of their highly successful iPod music players. In the same way the market-leading PDA, the Palm Pilot, morphed into a smartphone, Apple’s iPhone took the easy-to-use design concepts of the iPod and morphed then into a new style of smartphone. While the initial versions of the iPhone were 2-3 generations behind in functionality compared to competing smartphones, the usability and sleek design made it an instant hit with consumers.

It is time for the next milestone to appear. The question is what will it be and who will bring it to market?

Sadly, the mobile telephony market is maturing as the past leaders with pockets bulging are not interested in taking risks. Their revenue streams are to be nursed along with evolutionary enhancements rather than internally-created obsolescence.

In the mobile operating system market, there is Google’s Android and Apple’s IOS battling for market leadership. Android is available on a variety of devices while IOS is found only on Apple devices. RIM’s OS has a following of developers whose products are primarily geared to the Enterprise user while Microsoft has killed off their earlier mobile OS in favor of something completely new. If that were not enough, Intel and Nokia and looking to push Moblin as the mobile OS of choice for the new versions of the Atom processor while HP/Palm are looking to mimic Apple with their WebOS offering on proprietary hardware.

So out of this hodgepodge of operating systems and vendors, each having its own unique distribution model, where is the next “big thing” to originate? Will a carrier be involved in the design? OK…you can stop laughing now. Will the idea come from a small company without an installed base to worry about or will one of the established players merge more technologies together to create a new genre of devices?

I have an idea of what the next new genre is all about and would like to hear what you think the next “big thing” will be. Post a comment describing your idea and target market. Who knows what ideas may be sparked from an open dialogue about the future of mobile telephony.