This is an opinion piece. I’ve been talking about tech’s “5 year plan” at design lecture events 2 years. Let’s talk about tech’s 5-year plan and the future segmentation of brands over time and how everyone else will just be bought-out, merged in, or overrun natively.
Every year end, I write a manifesto for the year to come. In December 2010, I wrote my 5 year prediction for the tech world called, “In 5 years there will be 5 platforms, everyone else will be a plug-in.” The biggest change that I see coming as these brands mature is that platforms will start locking each other out from inclusion of any apps and information on their devices. We are at this weird time where computers (to a user) are less useful than they used to be. That is entirely a result of mobile computing IE the iPhone has taken over. It’s no longer a Mac Vs PC era. It’s about apps! Especially because use of the term “PC” no longer describes personal computing in the traditional sense at a desktop and mobile computing has taken over as dominant for search, local plays, gaming and even social connections. Mobile has also taken over desktop in almost all regards. As Google steps up into physical hardware and OS production and Amazon introduces new hardware products and application environments, we now have a choice. Mac (Apple) vs. PC (Google) vs. Amazon vs. Microsoft vs. Wild Card (who is the wild card, more info below.) As these 5 platforms tighten the grip on their unique environments, I predict that they are going to play “less nice.” For example, there is a reason why Google Maps isn’t on the new iPhone and it’s not because “Oops, we weren’t ready,” as Google released in their official statement. Apple pulled the plug on Google Maps a year early from the Google contract because they made their own. Apple basically said fuck you Google in a big way. (Google Maps was later added as was the entire Google apps suite.) And that is going to continue and segment the environments more. Currently Apple uses Yahoo weather, removed YouTube and Google Maps as official apps and allows integration from the big guns… Facebook and Twitter. They still allow all mail accounts and I would be SHOCKED if they pulled the plug on Gmail in Mail, but it could very well be a possibility. Every company wants their closed ecosystem so they can drive as much revenue themselves without sharing it. Why in an business model, would Apple Maps start you off on your journey, Safari give you suggestions (and serve you ads) and then handoff to Google for the conversion? They wont. Currently, Yahoo and AOL are more than happy being a plug-in for ads to Apple, Microsoft and Google, but those days will run out when respective parties want that $. So who are these future tech platforms? What are the requirements to be one of the big guys?
There are a few key elements required to be one of these 5 leaders. The more elements in place, the stronger the play for platform domination.
- Desktop/Home OS
- Mobile OS
- Desktop Device (Hardware)
- Mobile Device (Hardware)
- Email Platform
- E-Commerce Platform (Apple OS store, App Store, Amazon, Google Play/Marketplace)
- Social Network (Google Play)
- Cellular/Mobile Network (Google Fiber)
- Gaming Platform (Amazon Fire)
- Cloud Data
- Big Data
- Search Engine (to serve ads)
Newly Added (2013):
- Map System
- Connected Home (Will Jun ’15 Apple TV be the connected home Hub)
- Connected Home Devices (Next, acquired by Google)
Apple Apple is already there. MacBook + OS. iPhone & iPad + iOS, the App Store, iCloud, .me email addresses. The biggest missing piece here for Apple is a Social Network. Apple really hasn’t even tried to jump into this at this point except for in a very small way with Game Center. The synced iMessage is a huge messaging win for Apple. It’s ridiculously easy. It’ll be easy for everyone to catch up, but Apple has it first and it works really well. No need to go as in-depth with Apple because they are hands down the most prepared. One thing I do want to note is that Apple’s “Refine, not Redesign” that has been apparent on iOS doesn’t really work for me anymore. iOS feels dated to me, and has for the last 3 major releases. (Not to nitpick, but iOS 6 top blue bar, really?) Google and Microsofts UI work has been superior to Apple in my opinion, but Apple still reigns supreme for UX. Google Google is making the fastest progress strides in the pack because they are copying Apple. And that is OK. Apple is doing these pieces really well and Google has a nice basis of comparison. If Steve Jobs were still around, he said his mission was going to be to destroy Android. He was very smart to focus on that as Android is the hands-down biggest threat to Apple and their future mobile play. One thing to note is that Google is making the biggest strides per release, infinitely faster pushes than Apple. Android’s UI has made significant visual and experience improvements since initial release, where iOS is staying stagnant. Google has the best eyes on social of all the predicted leaders. Google+ is a disaster, BUT it IS integrated into all Google devices, so it might be a slow grind, BUT it’s going to be more seamlessly integrated and used by Android users. Google hands down has the best play on Search Engine and Email. Gmail is not only the best personal email address, but also the best business email client. Most people don’t see it, but Google has that on lock in terms of ease for small businesses (and big ones.) So why is having a search engine so important? Because search has changed in the last 5 years. SEO is dead. Paid search, social and local results are going to 100% dominate search in the future. As the search engine leader, you can curate those results however you see fit. Oh yeah, and people will pay you to be there. Mobile search will continue to be more important and everyone’s eyes will be on who can help users find the product, get there and get the most complete info and best deals during the trip. I’ve added Maps because Apple controlled most of that trip, but people were leaving to Google for the last step of “getting there” and Apple didn’t like it. Microsoft Microsoft is an odd player having the best connections of the pack. They are also the underdog of the last 15 years and need to prove that they “get it.” Microsoft is invested in Facebook (+Instagram) & Skype. This play intrigues me the most. Microsoft is invested in Facebook, who owns Instagram as well as in Skype and a bunch of other smaller tech tools. Instragram is probably the most exciting new social network at this point and the hope is that Facebook doesn’t fuck it up. Facebook is a mess. There Marketplace never took off. Ads and paid results don’t work and Facebook is figuring out how to actually make money. Facebook’s inherent value is in the information it has about millions and millions of people. I typically use my friend group as the earliest adopters AND earliest killers and almost all of my friends find little to no value in Facebook anymore. I personally expect a Facebook pivot in the next few years to stay relevant, BUT Facebook will remain a key player. At this point, to me, Instagram is a more intriguing play than Facebook. Microsoft is the competitor here with the most to prove. They got stale and tech noted it. They tried to launch phones (remember the Microsoft Kin) and they didn’t gain any traction. That said, they are learning. They are the underdog, but have the most to gain to share the market. Microsoft’s biggest asset is their OS. Unlike Apple, they are not typically a hardware creator, but they don’t need to be. Microsoft’s Xbox has done an excellent job of being “not-Microsofty.” Microsoft is ahead of the pack in gaming however Apple is doing a good job of keeping gaming “on their devices” not on a new platform. Amazon Amazon clearly cares about books and media. Where Apple has iTunes and the App Store and Google has the Marketplace, Amazon has the largest collection/network of physical media and is pushing hard with the Kindle platform. What Amazon lacks in some of the most important elements to compete in the future (Email, OS, mobile-OS), they are a leader in digital books. They are going after a different market than Apple in digital media and stand a chance. So much in fact that I don’t ever see the iPad killing the Kindle, which is ironic because I don’t think anyone can stand a chance against iPhone & iPad. I see the Kindle apps disappearing from the iPad and iPhone in the near future and the Kindle Fire becoming even more robust and more like the iPad. The Kindle line-up, especially the Fire line-up in less than half price of the iPad and although the Amazon store and user experience is a little bit messy, they are learning and figuring out new features (book loan) to keep users on their platform. Amazon’s e-commerce platform, Amazon.com has always been a leader and will continue to be. Although Amazon.com and the Kindle platform are strong assets for the company, Amazon’s BIGGEST asset and one that most people aren’t aware of is Amazon’s massive Cloud data storage. Some of the biggest and highest traffic sites (Pinterest, Netflix, Instagram, Dropbox and Zynga) all use Amazon cloud storage and will continue to do so because it’s robust and cheap. However, when Amazon goes down. So do their sites. Wildcard Here’s where it’s going to get wild. Over the last 3 years, I’ve seen companies jockeying in my eyes for this spot, Yahoo and Comcast/Xfinity are my wild card picks. Comcast/Xfinity surprisingly has many of these in place already. Comcast.net emails. Physical hardware in different places than the others (TV, a location Apple and Google are focusing on) an e-commerce system of pay-per-view movies, but here is where it gets weird, Comcast owns 51% of NBC Universal which gives them not only rights to, but ability to promote digital content in a way that can dramtically effect the others. Apple, Google, Netflix, Hulu, etc. WANT that content. Comcast holds the best hand. Comcast also owns part of Hulu, which is their sneaky way of being able to potentially charge you twice for the same NBC content. ABC/Disney & NewsCorp also are partners. Oh yeah, Comcast is also one of the biggest providers of internet and telephone, which helps. You need Comcast internet to download apps, Apple TV content to your computer and phone via Wifi. The biggest thing going against Comcast is that everyone hates them, which is why they are in the process of changing their name to Xfinity. I don’t believe Yahoo has a chance. They have the same pieces in place as Google, but have shown their inability to adapt over the last 10 years. Yahoo’s hiring of Google’s Marissa Meyer, shows a spark of life and is pretty ingenius, however one of her first moves was to give everyone at Yahoo an iPhone 5. Mayer held key roles in some of Google’s best products: Google Search, Google Images, Google News, Google Maps, Google Books, Google Product Search, Google Toolbar, iGoogle and Gmail. Mayer gets it and I would be surprised if she doesn’t push Yahoo into a totally new chapter for the company. Wildcard… who knows.
So What About Everyone Else
Everyone else is just going to be a plug-in and most likely platform-neutral. Twitter will have an app in the marketplace for Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. I wouldn’t be surprised if applications (where the mentioned leaders have an investing role) start disappearing from all platforms. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Twitter popping up as an app on your TV (Xfinity, Apple TV, etc.) Sky Is The Limit (None of the items below were acquired at time of writing this.)
- Instagram (Acquired by Facebook)
- Skype (Partially owned by Microsoft)
- Waze (Acquired by Facebook)
- GrubHub (Yahoo in talks to purchase 2015)
- Magazines (Digital distribution through Newsstand & Google Play)
- Newspapers (Digital distribution through Newsstand & Google Play)
- Banking (Apple Pay, Google Wallet)
- Specialized Transportation (Google self-driving car, Tesla)
- Tesla (Also exploring
- Music Programs (Spotify, Turntable.fm, Myspace, etc., Apple’s HUGE purchase of Beats)
- AND Pretty much everything else that currently exists on these devices.
So those are my thoughts. I think the future holds closed and more exclusive platforms, addition of new services from the above list, and maturation into new environments. If the next Apple TV doesn’t look and function EXACTLY like an iPhone, I would be shocked. Post Conclusion (TV & Music Content) This is the last section, I promise. I think now is also a good time to mention that MySpace should go BALLS TO THE WALL and purchase Soundcloud, Turntable.fm and Spotify to create the big play in the future of music.