How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything
Available here in e-book and print:
Chapter 1: The Shape of The Wave
Introduction – Mobile Computing is Different, Not Just Smaller – The Universal Computer – Replacing Physical Products with Software – Planting Your Software on Your Customer – The Changing Nature of Software: From Solid to Vapor – Disruption Ahead – Operating Businesses in Cyberspace – Accelerating the Information Revolution
In late June 2010, I happened to be eating lunch at New York’s Blue Water Grill with my niece Lauren and her mother. Lauren was turning 13, so I had flown them up from Sarasota, Florida, and shown them the town.
“Well, Lauren, what do you think of the Big Apple?” I asked as we settled in.
It took a few moments, but realization dawned. To her generation, Apple was a company, and the “Big Apple” was the iPad—not the city. I knew teenagers liked iPhones, but the iPad had only been available for three months, and the eagerness she showed for it came as a surprise.
“Why do you want an iPad?” I asked, leaning forward.
“I can do my schoolwork on it, and I can play games on it,” she said. “I can read my email on it. And all my friends have one.”
“How many of your friends?” I asked.
“Hundreds,” she insisted. For me, this was an epiphany. Already her circle had snapped up the twelve-week-old tablet like candy.
I had already come to believe that businesses would be keenly interested in tablet computers because of their ability to provide information anywhere and anytime to their workers. But suddenly, I realized that this same device was likely to transform the consumer space as well. The confluence of business interest and consumer interest would create a virtuous cycle of adoption, lower cost, and application innovation.
Whenever teenage girls and corporate CEOs covet the same new technology, something extraordinary is happening.
Over the following weeks, I had a series of additional telling observations. Once, during a walk along the beach in St. Tropez, I spotted a child, probably three years old, in a stroller. He was playing with an iPad. A Swedish woman leaned over and spoke to him.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m working on my music,” he said.
Such a thing would never have occurred with a laptop computer! And I doubt this three year old was some kind of prodigy. I think his parents were simply early adopters of what will become an essential learning tool for the next generation. Indeed, if you browse through the Apple App Store today, you’ll find a wide array of learning and creativity applications that are more approachable than anything ever produced before.
Watching that three-year-old boy, I realized just how envious I was of this young generation. I would have loved to write music or build skyscrapers with the unlimited resources available in cyberspace, rather than with the xylophone and wood blocks my generation had available to it. One might think $499 is too much money for a toddler’s toy, but consider how much families spend on toys, books, and videos. In addition to creating music and architectural wonders, this $499 investment would also enable the youngster to read books, sing songs, watch movies, and play games, and it would even help parents to monitor their child, as needed. With new software and updates continually becoming available, the iPad will become the obvious platform for many new birthday and holiday presents.
Suddenly, $499 seemed less like an extravagance and more like a necessary replacement for older, out-of-date equivalents. Games, toys, music, books, and even nannies are being transformed into software, and this new device will become the universal container for all of them. And the adult population will be impacted just as much, and perhaps more, as many physical objects we find in our pockets and purses today—like keys, wallets, credit cards, calendars, cameras, recorders, maps, and mirrors—become software, too, thanks to the mobile computing technology.
I also heard from a friend who bought his seventy-year-old mother an iPad. She has never been able to use a PC very well. The mechanics of the mouse and the bewildering array of interactivity on websites were too great a barrier. Infirmities prevented her from spending much time sitting upright in a chair, staring at a monitor. But she could easily sit on a couch with a tablet cradled in her lap.
Now she receives pictures every day from her children, who snap them on their cell phones and email them to her. She does her banking and shopping using mobile apps because they are far simpler than websites, and she watches her favorite television shows “on demand.” Once she learns how to use FaceTime or Skype for video connections, she will be able to read bedtime stories to her distant grandchildren and virtually attend birthday parties thousands of miles away.
So here was a new technology that appeals to three-year-old toddlers for play and learning, to thirteen-year-old girls for games and social interaction, to fifty-year-old CEOs for real-time information and enhanced decision-making, and to seventy-year-old grandmothers to stay connected with their children and grandchildren. All in a fraction of a year since its introduction.
But the effects of mobile technology reach far beyond the personal level, to have a startling impact on society.
For decades, rulers such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Qaddafi of Libya had cowed their citizens with censorship, spies, and military strength. But in the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011, people defied the national muzzle. Revolts flared up and were sustained by real-time social media and other platforms enabled by mobile devices. Such communication power in the hands of large numbers of individuals could not be suppressed, and today Mubarak and Qaddafi no longer reign. Though the ultimate winners and the new equilibrium remain unclear, the tumult was unprecedented, and all governments have come to realize that there is a fundamental new dynamic afoot.
Mobile Computing Is Different, Not Just Smaller
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that a new technology is very similar to its predecessors. A new technology is often perceived as the linear extension of the previous one, and this leads us to believe the new technology will fill the same roles—just a little faster or a little smaller or a little lighter.
Yet every now and again, a truly disruptive technology appears and causes major changes to business, society, or economies. It yields nonlinear effects on so many levels and at such a grand scale that it’s very hard to grasp the scope until after the dust settles.
Mobile computing is this type of disruptive technology.
Mobile computing encompasses tablet computers and the newest generation of cell phones that I will call “app-phones” in order to distinguish them from previous generations of smartphones and feature phones. Those earlier models ran a limited range of applications and enabled users to browse the web. App-phones are true computers, with operating systems that are capable of supporting a wide range of applications and programming languages. In fact, they should be thought of as computers first and phones second.
But if app-phones and tablets were just small computers, they wouldn’t have much impact. We had small portable computers in the form of Windows-based “handhelds” and “pocket PCs” as early as the late ’90s and early 2000s, and they didn’t have much impact. So why should we think that small phone-computers and tablet-computers will be much different?
It turns out that the new mobile computing technology brings much more than phone calling to small computers. It also brings a dramatic new model for applications (the app), a whole new ecosystem in which to create and distribute those apps (app stores), and a whole new user interface experience (multi-touch). They are the least expensive computers on earth with the lowest-cost applications, making them affordable—for the first time—to the majority of consumers. And because most mobile devices are also phones, they will be the first computers to become truly pervasive, in most every pocket, purse, or backpack.
The Universal Computer
Mobile computers will become the standard universal computing platform on the planet.
As of 2011, more than 5.3 billion people in the world possessed cell phones. That’s about 70 percent of the earth’s population. The use of traditional cell phones is waning, and most of these people will upgrade to full app-phone capability in the coming years. That means more than 5 billion people will soon be carrying a computer in their pockets.. The sheer scale of these numbers will cause mobile computing to become the standard universal channel through which people will receive services from businesses and governments, and through which they will interact with one another using social media.
Currently people ask, “Why do I need a tablet computer or an app-phone to access the Internet if I already own a much more powerful laptop computer?” Before long the question will be, “Why do I need a laptop computer at home if I have a mobile computer that I use in every aspect of my daily life?” In 2010, 42 percent of Americans surveyed said they “can’t live” without their cell phones, and two thirds slept with their cell phones next to their beds.
You will never see those statistics with laptop computers.
Greater computing power does matter, but it matters a lot less than pervasive access to computing power and availability of a wider range of applications.
No other computing technology can beat the 24/7 accessibility of mobile technology. No other computing technology can beat the wide range and low price of applications available for mobile computers, and the supply of those apps will explode. In the mobile computing world, a developer could create a $1 app that might be used by five billion people. That’s economic incentive!
This new mobile computing platform will cause two fundamental changes to how businesses use software in the conduct of their business. It will cause companies to replace their physical products and services with software equivalents, and it will cause companies to extend their business processes beyond the four walls of the business and out to the software resident on their consumers’ mobile computers.
Replacing Physical Products with Software
Mobile computing will cause many companies to replace their physical products and services with software equivalents. The software versions of products and services will embody radical new features that are not possible with their physical counterparts. And the software-based products and services will be inherently cheaper to create. Factories will not be needed, distribution networks will be less necessary, and bricks-and-mortar stores will disappear. Vast amounts of capital will be driven out of the production equation.
We’ve had a taste of this upheaval in the music industry. In the physical-product world, if you decided to buy a specific song, you drove to a record store, pored through the racks, and paid $16 for a CD that was physically packaged with a back-load of songs you probably didn’t actually want. To get the engine you had to buy the train.
Then MP3 and the iPod came along and turned music into software. As software, music no longer had to obey the physical constraints imposed by physical media. Thus it became possible to distribute music electronically (via iTunes), sell music by the song (for $0.99), and market music directly by the artist, without the involvement of any middlemen.
The iTunes store wasn’t a linear extrapolation of the record store model. It didn’t just replicate the physical music packaging and sales model. It reinvented music. Between 2003 and 2007, more than 2,700 record stores vanished, freeing up real estate and capital that could be used for other things. And thanks to the inexpensive nature and ease of the modern music purchase, consumers have more money to spend on other things.
Music is just one example of the new business models spawned by the shift to software on mobile devices—there are others in various stages of evolution. Publishing is turning into software. Travel agents have turned into software. Advertising is becoming software. News is becoming software. The credit and payment industries are under attack by software-based rivals like PayPal and many new start-ups who want a piece of the billion-dollar money stream currently going to the credit card companies. The software revolution is happening all around us.
Because software-based products and services require so much less capital to manufacture and sell, there will be an explosion of start-up companies that will enter markets that previously had high barriers to entry. These start-ups will be hungry, aggressive, and innovative.
With the parallel rise of cloud-based computing services, these start-ups can avoid even the capital they once needed for data centers to run their new products and services. They can grow their computing capacity incrementally, and at pace with the uptake of their products and services. It’s a remarkable low-barrier formula for innovation and commercialization of new products, and one that will be tapped by start-ups around the globe.
This is the start of a golden era for business-savvy twenty-something software engineers with great imagination and nothing to lose.
Planting the Software on Your Customer
Mobile computing will force every consumer-facing company to establish a direct application linkage with its customers.
Given the ability to plant their software directly on the person of every customer who owns a mobile device, businesses will open an explosive new front in the battle of competition. They will extend their business processes to include the customer directly in the sales process, influence and advise customers in a more intimate way, deliver value-added services to better differentiate their products, and interrupt the customer’s relationship with competitors. This direct application connection will shorten the value chain from manufacturer to consumer, cutting out middleman operations of retail, distribution, and service. Consumers should enjoy lower prices made possible by the elimination of the middleman costs, and enjoy more direct and personalized service from their preferred suppliers.
With a compelling personalized mobile application, a company will be able to achieve a one-to-one marketing relationship with each of its customers that can influence buying decisions that already are underway—even when those buying decisions are taking place in a competitor’s store! Many of the big box retailers have already seen this. Consumers browse the bricks-and-mortar store, examine the products, identify their favorite, and use an app on their mobile phones to scan the barcodes and identify an online retailer with a better price—and then the consumer will have the product shipped directly to their homes.
This is “hijacked retail.” One retailer hijacks the sale of another retailer simply by inserting himself into the sales process through their mobile app.
Every company will quickly recognize the potential benefit—and inherent danger—of this new connection. There will be a scramble as companies try to figure out how to offer special deals, discounts, loyalty programs, virtual sales assistance, product advice, and other services directly through their apps on their consumers’ mobile devices. The goal will be to offer the most useful app in your industry so that your app captures the attention, the usage, and the loyalty of the consumer base first.
First movers will take and hold a disproportionate share of a consumer app usage—especially in the world of social networking and viral references. Whereas in the 1990s companies scrambled to acquire the best Internet domain names, today the winners will be those companies whose app icons appear on the first two pages of people’s phone screens.
The Changing Nature of Software—from Solid to Vapor
Mobile technology is changing the nature of software.
It’s causing software to transform from a “solid form” to a “vapor form.” With desktop computers, software exists in a solid form—like a large rock that sits on a desk, to which people must go to use the software. That imposes severe restrictions in when and where people can use their software, but lacking anything else, we’ve been very happy to have those rocks.
With laptop computing, software exists in “liquid form.” It’s available along river ways and oases demarcated by coffee houses where people can sit at the Wi-Fi watering holes.
With mobile technology, software has boiled off into a vapor form that surrounds us everywhere we go. Unlike the visits to the rock or the drinks at the watering holes, we will use vaporous mobile software as constantly as we breathe.
To fully grasp the new gas-like nature of mobile software, visit a shopping mall and observe a group of teenagers. In a group of four, you might see one person talking, one listening, one texting, and the fourth connected to the Internet on her phone. Yet these teenagers will all be engaged in the same conversation. The texter is extending the conversation to distant friends. The one on the Internet is posting the conversation to a Facebook page, as well as checking the time of the movie they intend to see. These teenagers are breathing the mobile technology that is available to them. They are using it as an integral part of their immediate social activity.
Alternatively, observe a group of business people engaged in a meeting. In the traditional model, each person will be talking or listening, and when a topic comes up that requires outside information, someone will say, “I’ll get back to you on that,” or “I’ll e-mail him later and find out.” The decision-making slows down or grinds to a halt. With desktop computers, people get their information and communication only when they visit the rock. Even liquid software on a laptop is not a replacement for mobile software since it requires participants to be seated, with Internet access, a fully booted up computer, and superimposes a screen in between all participants.
But as the teenagers have shown us, mobile software can be used in every moment of daily activity, whenever and wherever it needs to be available.
Imagine what it will mean when decision-making information is always available during the course of any business conversation. Imagine discussions with employees where the latest production numbers are just a tap away. Or conversations with customers where their latest orders can be reviewed and prices can be compared in an instant. Or conversations with suppliers where years of performance data can be reviewed and analyzed from every angle.
Not only will business be a lot “smarter,” it will be a lot faster, too.
Mobile computing technology will cause software to replace physical objects and services. It will provide a universal computing platform to the majority of humankind, and it will spur the creation of innumerable new applications that are not possible without a universal networked computer that is carried on one’s person 24-hours a day.
This new capability will disrupt long-standing behaviors and institutions affecting consumers, businesses, governments, and the global economy.
The Destruction of Paper: Paper has been the most common container of information on our planet. It holds novels, news items, magazine stories, homework assignments, and business reports of every type. But the mobile screen is magic paper. It can show any page and blend text with multimedia seamlessly. It’s searchable, send-able, and zoom-able. It weighs the same few ounces whether it holds one book or one thousand books. Why buy a physical book when you can hold the entire Library of Congress in your hand? Why pay for a map when a free one can speak to you? Soon the long-mocked “paperless office” will become everyone’s office.
Instant Entertainment: Other containers such as DVD cases and film stock have held movies, television shows, video games, and photos. To enjoy their content, you had to accommodate their restrictions. You had to travel to where they were made available. Or you had to watch them according to a broadcaster’s schedule. But on the mobile screen you can watch what you want, where you want, and when you want.
The Intelligent Wallet: Money, credit, and loyalty programs will all become software on your phone, taking a myriad of new shapes enabled by software. You will be able to give digital cash to your daughter, but limit the time window in which she can spend it. Or let your son use your credit account—but only in a few predetermined stores to buy school clothes. Digital cash knows who owns it, who should have it, and it can alert police if either of those is suspect. With digital cash, credit fraud could drop so sharply that companies could justify giving every patron a mobile device for free with the money saved.
A Showroom World: With mobile technology, we will be able to purchase any item we see in the world around us, instantly. If we see a neighbor’s sofa that we like, we can order one instantly and have it shipped to our home from the lowest cost supplier. Our environment will become a megastore showroom, and the need for retail inventory and physical showrooms will diminish. The effect will be especially pronounced with big-ticket items like furniture, electronics, and cars, but it will impact low-end items, too.
Hyperfluid Social Networks: People spend far more time on social networks sites than on any other internet destination. Mobile technology will amplify that usage, making social interconnection instantaneous and pervasive. People will live in social telepathy with their friends. With more than 800 million subscribers at the start of 2012, Facebook holds the world’s richest repository of consumer demographic and psychographic data. Businesses will tap into that data to create an array of new “friendly applications” that tie businesses to consumers in more rewarding and loyal relationships.
Worldwide Availability of Medical Care: Genuine globalization will occur when it will be possible to hire a doctor in Bangalore to examine us through our mobile screen for $10. That physician will check our temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and conduct an EKG through med sensors connected to our phones or available at a medical kiosk. Medical service centers, like call centers, will arise in places such as Brazil and China to serve the world, creating tremendous price competition. Mobile technology will also bring doctors’ presence to sick farmers in isolated villages, and will monitor populations for outbreaks of disease.
Universal Education: U.S. public education is costly, and it’s less effective than education in many other modernized nations. But why should an education system incur the costs of 20,000 people to teach eighth grade algebra, if only 2,000 are excellent at it. Mobile technology can bring the nation’s best teachers and top experts into every classroom, and improve the quality of education while freeing-up budgets. Skilled engineers can be trained for the cost of a few hundred dollars a year instead tens of thousands. In developing nations, where approximately one-fourth of children never finish primary school, and one billion people remain illiterate, mobile computing will spread education where it hasn’t gone before.
Jumpstart to the Emerging World: Mobile technology is a stunning gift to economies in places like India and Africa, which can leapfrog older capital-intensive infrastructure and join the newer mobile-enabled world. In some areas, mobile devices will be the first true infrastructure that residents have ever seen, and already their economies are accelerating because of it. Perversely, developed countries find themselves at a disadvantage as they must replace entrenched infrastructures and institutions before they can take advantage of newer mobile-enabled technologies. The rise of developing countries through mobile infrastructure will remake global trade and human resourcing.
Operating Businesses in Cyberspace
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you,”
This quote is loosely attributed to Trotsky and its idea applies to our situation today. Your business might not be interested in software, but software is interested in your business. Industries will be transformed by mobile software much more quickly and substantially than the Internet transformed them. Mobile technology will create new manifestation for common products and services, new mechanisms for delivery, new partnerships, new customer relationships, and new economics. In this software-based world, many businesses will make big mistakes by assuming the wrong “physics.”
In our physical world, goods and services are subject to the forces we observe every day: gravity, air pressure, and friction. On earth, a pitcher can throw a baseball 3 feet in water and 300 feet in the air. We understand this and we design a game around these physics. If we were thrust into outer space, things would be very different. There’s no gravitational field. There’s no air pressure. There’s no friction caused by ambient atmosphere. In space, a pitcher can throw a baseball 300 million miles, and if a base runner misses his slide into second by just a millimeter, he will careen on forever.
It’s hard to imagine at first, how one might design a game for baseball in outer space, but at least Newton’s laws of physics still apply. So with a little thought, we could design an outer space version of baseball, and no one would be killed.
But in cyberspace, where software lives, there are no laws of physics to provide an anchor. There are no laws of conservation of mass, momentum, or energy. In cyberspace, a baseball can loop around the pitcher twice, then accelerate to the speed of light before turning into a beach ball that explodes into a thousand baseballs. Software-based products are constrained only by what the developers can imagine and by the physical things with which the software might ultimately interact.
Most companies that provide physical products and services today will make the mistake of trying to re-create those physical products in cyberspace. What they must do is re-imagine their products, services, and businesses altogether.
For example, a traditional lock company that is accustomed to the physical world might consider creating a software-based key for your cell phone that can open your home door. They might even extend the idea of their “software key” so that if you lost your phone, the company could deactivate your old key and download a replacement.
On the other hand, a software company wouldn’t stop there—it would re-imagine keys altogether. It would create a key that I could send directly from my phone to another person’s device, so a delivery person could get into my house to deliver a sofa while I was at work. But I could also specify that the key not be transferred to anyone else. It would only open the front door, and no interior doors. The key would only be valid for a two-hour time period that I stipulate, and then it would expire. And it would work only if none of my children were at home—something I could track by the use of their software keys. I could give keys to any of my neighbors, which they would use to watch my house while I was away, but none of those keys would work while I was home. And the variations can go on and on. Whose key would you buy—the traditional lock company’s key or the software company’s key? Obviously the challenge for all traditional companies that are accustomed to operating in the physical world will be to forget about physics and “think like a software company.”
Traditional businesses that are suddenly thrust into the cyberspace with mobile software will be like the earthlings in science fiction books, who suddenly find themselves in outer space and get everything wrong. For instance, the executives in the newspaper business have given up on advertising, yet the executives in social networking are raking in tremendous profits. In 2011, Google and Facebook together were worth more than $300 billion. They could buy every newspaper, every publisher, and every television company on the face of the earth. And somehow the traditional media companies seem unable to copy them. Why isn’t the Wall Street Journal free, for instance, and why don’t its executives expect to get 500 million users, so they can finance it with advertising? In physical space, they can’t.
In cyberspace, they could.
In a friction-filled environment here on Earth, if I drop an item I need, it will roll downhill until it stops and I can walk over to pick it up. Drop the same item in outer space and I might have a split-second to grab it before it floats away and I lose it for eternity. Trivial events on the earth can become deadly mistakes in outer space and cyberspace. Companies that do well in cyberspace are ones like Google, Facebook, and Apple, because at the core they are software companies and they think like software companies—unconstrained by physics and scale. Those that do poorly are the bricks-and-mortar companies because their thinking is still bound by earthbound physics.
Many existing companies that fail to transform themselves into software companies and compete in the new cyber economy could disappear.
Data Source: Ycharts, 2012
Figure 1.1: Software minded companies are rapidly growing while bricks-and-mortar companies are declining.
Accelerating the Information Revolution
There have been three great economic revolutions in human history—the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and now the Information Revolution. Each great economic revolution was triggered by technology advancements that harnessed some form of energy, and by so doing, it freed up human energy that could be shifted to more varied and productive uses. The end result was an overall gain in worldwide wealth and better living standards.
In the Agricultural Revolution, humans harnessed bio-energy by domesticating plants and animals, thus freeing people from the daily burden of foraging and hunting for food. The resulting food surplus created a surplus in human energy that allowed hunter-gatherers to transform themselves into farmers, builders, craftsman, and shopkeepers. Nomads became city-dwellers, and everyone grew wealthier as the depth and complexity of their economies increased.
Likewise, with the Industrial Revolution people harnessed chemical energy from coal and oil to replace animal power, and in so doing opened the door for the manufacture of innumerable new products on a mass scale. Electricity then propelled the lumbering industrial complex past the limits of petrochemical fuels and steam-driven devices. Along the way, human energy was channeled from food production to product production and transportation systems, increasing the availability of physical goods at lower costs and increasing the overall wealth of mankind.
The Information Revolution is also about harnessing energy. In this case it’s the “information energy” that makes everything we do in our economy more productive and more efficient. Computers are at the heart of the Information Revolution, helping us track and manage the assets of the world and automating many of the services that currently are labor-intensive, time-intensive, and error prone. Mobile computing, with its universal platform, will be the force that propels the Information Revolution to a dramatic new level. Just as electricity was the tipping point technology that accelerated the lumbering Industrial Revolution past the limits of petrochemical fuels and steam-driven machines, mobile computing is the tipping point technology that will accelerate the Information Revolution past the limitations of traditional computing.
However, every revolution has also brought disruption to the social structure, political systems, and economics. The transition from nomadic lifestyles in the Agricultural Revolution forced human societies to learn to live in large communities and to cooperate economically. It shifted the balance of economic power from the most talented hunters to the most talented planners. It shifted the political power from chiefs and tribes to kings and empires. In the Industrial Revolution, people left farms to live in densely populated cities. New lines of economic power were drawn between labor and management, and political power shifted from monocratic structures to more democratic structures.
And so, too, disruption will also be part of the Information Revolution in which we find ourselves today. It’s early to say what form the disruptions will take, but it appears that privacy issues and social networking will drive new societal norms. Political power will be harder to hold by a dictatorial few. Bricks-and-mortar establishments will be replaced by virtual storefronts. And labor will be displaced from the lower-skilled service workers as those jobs are automated away by software. As with all of the previous economic revolutions, the Information Revolution will free up human energy and capital that will be re-applied to the greater wealth and health of more people across the globe.
Mobile computing will be the most disruptive technology of our generation, and the revolution it leads is happening fast. The Agricultural Revolution took thousands of years to run its course. The Industrial Revolution required a few centuries. The Information Revolution, propelled by mobile technology will likely reshape our world on the order of decades. But despite the turbulence ahead, we live at one of the greatest times in history. Software will suffuse the planet, filling in every niche, and exciting opportunities will lie everywhere.
I’m a technologist. And technologists, by our nature, embrace change, radical change. The technological wave marking this second decade of the twenty-first century is indeed radical. It is disruptive and transformational. But there is no need to fear it. We, as individuals, must learn to understand its current state and its future potential to affect our daily lives; leaders of corporations and heads of governments, as well, must adapt to its powerful forces or risk seeing what they have built perish in a relative instant.
I’ve written The Mobile Wave with the kind of appreciation for today’s formidable technological currents that a veteran sea captain or sailor might have for the Deep Blue and the rogue waves that can suddenly appear in its midst. Understand the wave, you can ride it. Refuse to adjust, you will be swallowed. We have seen, in a short amount of time, the disappearance of a large number of household brands that failed to take sufficient and early heed of the software revolution that is upending traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses and creating a globally pervasive digital economy.
Products we’ve lived with our entire lives are becoming software because of mobile computing technology. Magazines and newspapers are becoming software, as are books. Everything in our wallets from IDs to cash will become software, as we adopt pay-with-your-phone technology. Music, for nearly a decade, has been software, as Steve Jobs and the team at Apple so thoroughly understood. We see this transformation of physical objects into software rippling through ind
What amplifies the transformational power ahead is the confluence of two major technological currents today: the universal access to mobile computing and the pervasive use of social networks. Social networks radically increase the use of computing devices, and mobile computing increases the usefulness of social software. It’s a virtuous cycle that magnifies the impact of both waves.ustry after industry, driving changes like the bankruptcy of Kodak and Borders Books, which were rooted in the physical world, and the ascendancy of Amazon, which is rooted in the cyber world.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of information. Mobile technology puts real time information in your pocket, allowing everyone to magnify his or her knowledge in any setting. In the hands of business executives we see faster and smarter decision making. In the hands of consumers we see smarter buying via “hijacked retail.” In the hands of third world farmers we see much more efficient markets. And real time information distributed through growing mobile social networks has proven powerful enough to drive revolutions, toppling long-standing governments in a matter of days. Information is powerful and we are living through an Information Revolution, with consequences comparable to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.
Developing nations are leap-frogging into the twenty-first century with the help of smartphones and tablets and cell towers. I firmly believe this will be a game-changer for the global economy: the ability to deliver a First World education—as well as critical, time-sensitive information—to nearly everyone for a thousand times less capital. By 2015, at the rate the world is building and consuming smartphones, we’re going to have 4.5 billion such devices connecting people worldwide. Mobile communications can only improve the quality of life for most, particularly in those parts of the world where paved roads and crowded airports are things left to the imagination. This is incredibly exciting for all of us who are interested in progress in general.
It is not just a question of economic betterment. Technological forces today—in the form of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter—are offering a chance at overnight democratization, a leveling of entrenched power in some of the most authoritarian states on record. These software application networks are giving new constituencies a voice. They will continue to destabilize many traditional institutions, as we have seen in the remarkable Arab Spring uprisings. Let there be no doubt: these same mobile networks and social networks will fundamentally impact politics in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
These are forces that combine to form the Mobile Wave, a surging tidal force bearing down on corporations, governments, universities, non-profits, and nearly every facet of society. These fundamental forces can either be harnessed for good or bad. As a founder and CEO of a large publicly traded company, I can assure you that they can be harnessed to help you grow your brand and build your business. They, alternatively, can be ignored and be harnessed by someone else—someone out to tear down your brand and destroy your business.
I personally believe that the combined forces of mobile and social software networks will transform 50 percent of the world’s GDP in the coming decade. They are reaching a crescendo level that will remake businesses, industries, and entire economies. With this book, it’s my hope to provide some navigational insights so that we may all learn to ride the wave upon us, to harness the power of information technology, and to come out on top.
Recent Reviews of The Mobile Wave
By Taylor Brodarick | October 9, 2012
With one month remaining until the presidential election, it seems every economic statistic is up for interpretation by each party. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the unemployment rate dipped from 8.1% to 7.8%, provoking both Democratic celebration and Republican consternation.
Whether or not you believe former General Electric CEO Jack Welch is right to question the integrity of this number, both sides need to pay less attention to it altogether. The denominator in this equation, the size of the labor force, excludes people who have given up looking for work, people working fewer hours than they want (the “underemployed”), etc. . . . It is a very misleading.
A better proxy for employment health is the employment-population ratio. This percentage has been flattish year-over-year and anchored between 58-59%; brushing multi-decade lows. Moreover, the growth of two-income households cannot be blamed for the relative contraction of the labor force. Median household income has been stagnant since the twenty-first century began. These are just two data points, but in aggregate households are making less money now with fewer people working on a relative basis.
Both parties are sparring to convince you its Obama’s fault or Bush’s or Clinton’s or some other scapegoat, but the fact remains we have a serious long-term jobs problem in this country. Government policy may be able to affect these trends in the short-term, but what drives economic growth if you look beyond a typical two-year or four-year election cycle? Tax policy, entitlements, healthcare costs, and military spending are important, but deal with how created wealth is used. Technological progress is what matters over time because that’s what drives wealth creation.
Technology put buggy makers and typewriter companies out of business and explains why Apple is the most valuable company on the planet. The 2010 History (formerly the History Channel) six-part miniseries, America: The Story of US reaches back hundreds of years to show how the United States’ development was primarily driven by technology, pure and simple.
Do you know why the Union won the Civil War? Not better generals and or a higher moral ground, but because of better infrastructure, including a more developed rail system and the use of the nascent telegraph to communicate with commanders in the field. Do you know which invention spurred westward expansion? Barbed wire allowed ranchers to better contain their cattle herds and secure property claims. Urbanization could not have occurred as rapidly without mass steel production enabling skyscraper construction.
The point is the key developments in American history resulted from technology and not from who lived in the White House or which party ran Congress. If we want to figure out how to prosper in the future we need to accept what the next major technological advance will be to transform the economy and absorb, adopt and it exploit it. Michael Saylor’s book, The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything makes a valid case that mobile technology is that advance.
Released in June, this book resonates loudly as we approach November. It is not another self-congratulatory CEO memoir, but a well-researched and interesting forecast for our economy. Saylor convincingly argues the growth of mobile technology marks not just another step in technological miniaturization, but an important evolution of software becoming an omnipresent force in our life in the coming years.
He uses a scientific metaphor to illustrate this point. He compares desktop PCs to solids, laptops to liquids, and mobility to a vapor that envelops us at all times. Saylor is not just an ordinary tech industry observer. He co-founded business intelligence behemoth MicroStrategy, Inc. (NSDQ: MSTR) in 1989 and is still its Chairman and CEO. This book uses an incredible number of historical examples of creative destruction, recent statistical data, and bold predictions to make the case this mobile wave will “transform 50% of the world’s GDP in the coming decade.”
Improvements in Near Field Communication (NFC) and multi-touch technologies will make mobile technology an integral part of our lives. Saylor predicts, “By 2025, we will see almost universal use of mobile computers as our primary means of navigating through modern society.”
How does this affect employment?
By George Bradt | August 22, 2012
It’s always more fun to be part of the solution than to be part of the problem. When the problem is the inefficiency and ineffectiveness created by decades of ever-expanding bureaucracies, and the solution is the next iteration of the information revolution – the mobile wave – you’re either part of the change or you’re going to get automated out.
I recently spoke with Internet pioneer and MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor about his new book “The Mobile Wave” the same week I published the article, “Steelcase CEO on How Office Layout Impacts Corporate Culture.” That column explained the difference between “I” space and “we” space, or how office setups have changed from emphasizing hierarchy to promoting collaboration. Saylor suggests that the coming mobile wave is going to untether people from the workplace, “dematerializing” offices so that they ultimately become irrelevant.
Saylor predicts that in ten years there are going to be ten times the number of people with mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, operating ten times more efficiently and better. That is a one thousand-fold multiple. This is why Saylor thinks the workplace is going to be irrelevant. We won’t need paper. We won’t need stuff. And we won’t need people that manage that stuff. So we won’t need offices for all those people.
Saylor said, “Rich, powerful people don’t want to be tethered.” They don’t want to sit around while a clerk gathers papers, an analyst works through the data and then a secretary processes wire transfers. Leaders want information sooner so they can make decisions quicker. As information moves from a “solid state – paper” to a “gaseous state – electrons,” the rich and powerful can have more information faster.
Editor’s note: Surf’s up — Michael Saylor rides ‘The Mobile Wave’
By Dan Beyers | August 19, 2012
I was thumbing through a new book last week by Michael J. Saylor, the co-founder of MicroStrategy, when I came across this discussion of innovation:
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that a new technology is very similar to its predecessors. A new technology is often perceived as the linear extension of the previous one, and this leads us to believe the new technology will fill the same roles — just a little faster or a little smaller or a little lighter.”
Except sometimes an iteration proves to be much more: It turns out to be truly disruptive.
In my own experience, I remember trying to explain how my PalmPilot was so much more than an address book, how my iPod was superior to a Walkman, how my TiVo could do so much more than a VCR.
Just try it and you’ll see, I urged.
Saylor likens such breakthroughs to a wave. Understand it, and you can ride it. Refuse, and you will be swallowed.
His book, “The Mobile Wave,” attempts to make sense of new tidal force building right now.
“What amplifies the transformational power ahead is the confluence of two major technological currents today: the universal access to mobile computing and the pervasive use of social networks.”
IPhones and Facebook, tablets and Twitter, one feeds the other.
“It’s a virtuous cycle that magnifies the impact of both waves,” allowing everyone to know more in any setting.
Saylor has bet big on a mobile future, handing employees iPads and pushing his Tysons Corner company to turn its analytical software into apps and mobile friendly products. He details how big industries as diverse as entertainment, finance, medicine, education and anything based on paper are already feeling the effects, even if the business models are still in flux.
Saylor rode earlier tech waves up, and down. If he says a new wave is rising, it can’t hurt to pull out the surfboard and get in the water.
MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor’s “The Mobile Wave” Examines the Implications of Mobile Technology
By Carol Ross Joynt | June 27, 2012
Michael Saylor is a full-blown local legend. As chairman and CEO of MicroStrategy, a McLean-based high-tech firm that specializes in mining data from their databases for businesses and other organizations, he’s ridden the wave of the Internet revolution. His important clients reportedly include Facebook. He has a reputation as an extravagant playboy, but with his first book, The Mobile Wave, one can’t help but feel the glamour is a cover for a deeply serious man with deeply serious thoughts. In fact, he calls himself a “science historian,” a self-view backed up with degrees from MIT: one in aeronautic and astronautic engineering, the other in science, technology, and society. Once upon a time he wanted to be a fighter pilot.
In The Mobile Wave his vision is clear—we face a future in which paper, devices such as phones, credit cards and cash, entertainment venues, doctor’s office visits, and even the classroom will be obsolete, or nearly so. He wants everyone on the bandwagon, from toddlers to grandparents.
Right up front he says, “I’ve written The Mobile Wave with the kind of appreciation for today’s formidable technological currents that a veteran sea captain might have for the Deep Blue and the rogue waves that can suddenly appear in its midst. Understand the wave, and you can ride it. Refuse to adjust, and you will be swallowed.”
He’s had his brushes with being nearly swallowed—ask him about the late 1990s and 2000—but no one has ever denied his status as a tech visionary, and today he’s a certified billionaire. His vision, as laid out in his book: “The transformational power ahead is the confluence of two major technological currents: the universal access to mobile computing and the pervasive use of social networks.” He also states that soon 5 billion people will have app phones, essentially carrying “a computer in their pockets.” He calls it “disruption ahead.”
By Jeanne Destro | June 21, 2012
The mobile wave is coming. If you’re not ready to ride it, you’ll be swept away by a tsunami of change that will fundamentally alter the world.
That’s the theme of The Mobile Wave by software entrepreneur Michael Saylor. The book explores how mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads will change jobs, healthcare, banking, politics, law enforcement, and much more.
Mobile computing, Saylor says, is a “tipping point technology” for the information revolution — a revolution that began with writing on clay tablets, and continued through the invention of the printing press and computers.
Mobile will be “the catalyst that brings society the most dramatic changes of the Information Revolution,” he writes.
Readers may take issue with some of Saylor’s views on the benefits of mobile technology, but the visionary picture he paints of the future is captivating, informative, and thought-provoking.
Consider what a trip to the doctor could mean. If you’re feeling ill, Saylor says, you might be able to connect with a doctor in India via your mobile device. He or she could diagnose and treat you for a fraction of the cost of visiting a doctor in the U.S.— maybe only $5 to $10.
Public school systems could be revitalized, he suggests. Municipalities could cut costs by laying off ineffective teachers. Poor performers could be replaced with online instructors from anywhere in the world for free or at low cost.