A new era is only a new state of mind

The following interview was conducted by Bruno Ferrari a writer about technology for EPOCA, the weekly magazine of Organizações GLOBO, the largest Brazilian media company on March 30 2011. The article (published in Portuguese here) is an edited subset of the following exchange.

Q: In your analyses, you mention tablets as part of a new era, the “Post PC era”. Why do you think the PCs will be replaced by tablets?

This is not quite correct. Post PC does not mean the end of the microcomputer. The way to think about it is this: The stone age did not end because we stopped using stones. Same with the iron age and the industrial era. The era of jet travel did not end automobile or even ship travel (though that changed to recreation rather than transportation for passengers.) Each phase of technology does not fully replace its predecessor. It offers a new set of solutions and perhaps a slightly different way of solving old problems. We’ll still have PCs but we will use a new type of computer, an even more personal computer. The world still uses the microcomputer’s technological ancestors.

In terms of what new jobs will we hire the tablets to solve, they will vary greatly from what we used PCs for. Just like we used microcomputers for different things than we used time-shared minicomputers and mainframe computers. I expect social interaction, media consumption and entertainment will move from a PC to a tablet. New uses will emerge from the vast experiment that is the app phenomenon.

Q: What are the new ways to interact with machines? With gestures? How will this change the market?

Each major disruption of computing came from a new generation of input and/or output methods. Terminals (vs. punch cards) enabled minicomputers. The GUI enabled the rise of the microcomputer and touch is enabling the rise of the tablet. Perhaps this era will last decades perhaps only years, but there will be new input and output methods available. The world’s research laboratories are filled with ideas from projection screens (from high brightness LEDs) to motion sensing (as implemented partly by Kinect) and even novel voice control methods. I believe that each major innovation will create a new wave of growth and, if coupled with a new business model, a new set of companies and platforms.

Q: What are the main differences between PC and Post PC era?

The main difference will be in the context in which the product will be used. Tablets and smartphones allow “computing” to be done in previously non-consuming contexts: while standing, while in the active company of others, while commuting or while lying back and relaxing. It will also allow more individual use. Like the transistor radio allowed teenagers to listen to rock-and-roll out of hearing range of their parents who had control over the family stereo, a truly personal computer will allow people to “escape” into a world of more intimate consumption and communication.

Q: Do you think physical keyboards and mouse will be extinct?

Even physical keyboards have been evolving dramatically. If you look back to the earliest IBM PC keyboards, they were mechanically complex and had a rich feel. Modern laptop keyboards are flimsy things with barely any feedback. Early PC keyboards were patterned after the needs of professional typists (aka secretaries). Current keyboards are designed around space constraints. Same with mice. They went from two to three to one to no buttons. With laptops we ended up with track balls,  little knobs in the middle of the keyboard or with trackpads. Users adjusted over time.

What changed with tablets is the removal of an on-screen pointer. The pointer was there because the mouse/touchpad was one layer of abstraction for controlling what was on screen. Without a pointer you have direct manipulation. I’m sure many people who never used a mouse would find the direct method more intuitive and in a generation people will wonder how we put up with mice. Conversely, those who are used to a mouse will find it uncomfortable at first. Remember that in the 80s many keyboard experts found mice something that slowed them down.

So I believe that people will adjust to a world without mouse pointers. I suspect children born today will grow up without ever using a mouse (or a phone with a wire permanently attached to the bottom).

Q:  Apple has more than 90% of tablet market worldwide. Do you think Apple will be the leader of technology market in the next few years?

The challenge for Apple is that they cannot serve the whole world. They can only grow so fast. On one hand we have their inability to meet demand and on the other we have alternative products which can. Market leadership may not be sustainable just because the market is so big and no single company can supply it. I do believe that Apple is not sitting on its hands however. Their culture promotes pushing forward.

Q: At smartphone market, do you believe on a risk of a new duopoly, Apple-Google? Some analysis says that they’ll control the channel sales of software, content and hardware. The conclusion is companies like RIM, Nokia and HP (Palm) will not be able to keep up.

Analysts differ in their opinions. IDC just released a forecast that shows Microsoft growing beyond iOS in four years. I don’t try to make this type of prediction. At least not to a high degree of precision. I do believe that there will be more than two platforms. This is because the market is so large and so diverse and there are so many ways to reach customers (through operators, through retail stores, through online).

Q: Can we compare the beginning of the tablets with PCs? Apple developed the interface and made ​​the first computers nice and easy to use. But Windows has allowed hardware manufacturers to invade the market, popularizing it. This will be repeated with Android? Or with other systems?

Innovations are always copied. Even when protected by all sorts of laws or patents. What makes a company successful with innovation long term is to always keep innovating. Often coming up with the next big thing means damaging the old thing. That’s hard to do for many companies so they don’t do it and somebody else does. This is why great companies end up as formerly-great companies. As I pointed out above in the discussion about input methods, innovations are always bubbling up. As long as Apple takes these ideas and polishes them and brings them to market, they’ll do all right.

Q; How about Microsoft? Do you think the company will lose the podium in Post PC era?

Microsoft already has lost its position as leader in personal technology. The end actually came in about 2000. Once Windows became “good enough” and did not crash so much, they have had a hard time finding something to improve. If you go back and watch every CES keynote that Microsoft presented since then it’s been a litany of dead end ideas.

Every major innovation since 2000 has been in consumer technology and that’s never been an attractive business for Microsoft (with the exception of XBox which was really aimed at Sony and Nintendo without the intention of creating a new market.) Microsoft struggles not because they lack talent (engineering or management) but rather because their business model is relatively rigid. They make money through software licensing. You can see how that’s a hard thing to sell to consumers (“I’m buying what?”) Consumers tend to pay Microsoft through the purchase of another product. If the market demands hardware/software integration (like in a phone or tablet) or making money by giving software away (like Google), they struggle. This business model rigidity is present in almost all companies, so Microsoft is not uniquely troubled.

Q: Most of the tablets will use mobile networks to connect to the internet. Do you think the world is ready with an infrastructure that supports this growth in access via mobile networks?

This is a good question because the growth of mobile broadband is a major enabler (or constraint) on growth. Fortunately, the roll-out of mobile broadband is fairly predictable and it looks good. There are some challenges for operators long term in paying for the infrastructure, but they don’t lack for financing today and the business case for more infrastructure seems to be very attractive. It will take time and it won’t be even globally, but the incentives are clearly there. A lot of value is being created with mobile computing and much of that value will end up paying for the bandwidth.

Q: How about the App Market. You posted recently a chart showing how fast developers are buying thickets for both Google and Apple developer events. You said that it is one signal of the Post PC Era. What will be the importance of apps on the next years. Do you think Apps market will be more important than hardware, content and OS market?

Developers are one more sign that something big is happening. It’s not the only sign and may not be the cause of the change, but it’s yet another signal. But apps are a phenomenon that will result in something bigger than we can imagine. The way to think about apps is as a new medium, similar to the emergence of radio, television, cinema and even books. The app is a new art form as well as something that provides functional value. We don’t know whether the app phenomenon will be tied to one platform or will evolve to something like HTML5, a common standard. But the value of having an app for everything is plainly evident. The economics, creative energy and dynamism of apps cannot be overestimated. I will write more about this subject as I think it’s one of the most important consequences of the post-PC era.

Q: What’s the destiny of the PC? Are they on their last years?

Again, it’s not so much that PCs will disappear any more than mainframes or servers have disappeared. What is more likely is that they will be used for isolated, focused jobs. The “end of an era” is the end of growth, not the end of existence. The PC has arguably reached end of growth in most developed markets. There is still strong growth in emerging economies but even there, much of that growth will probably be replaced with smart devices growth.

Q: We had the Mainframe Era, the Terminal Era, the MiniPC Era, The PC Era and now we starting the PostPC Era. Do you imagine what Era we’ll se after the tablets? When do you think is it going to happen?

I don’t try to be a futurist who can see with clarity technological change. I try to see the patterns of markets through the motivation of companies. With that in mind, my answer will be that large companies will acquire promising new technologies from start-up companies and implement products with global distribution. To see the future you therefore need to look at what small companies are doing today. I note that there is a lot of innovation in new communication methods (social media) and new input methods around gestures and display technology. I am skeptical about the power of voice controls.

I’m most confident that there will be a re-definition of television, a “socialization” of almost all media. So I’ll abstain from answering directly what happens after the Tablet Era. Perhaps something more personal and more of a companion than a tool.

  • Dick Applebaum

    Wow! Great interview — thanks for publishing it!

  • First Class, Horace!

  • Kwyjibo

    I’m flabbergasted, a media person gets technology! Hopefully they will turn out something better than paywalls and The Daily.

  • FalKirk

    Horace, I was going to write a long post with the intent of praising many of the thoughts that you expressed in your interview. Instead, let me just say that I'll be bookmarking this interview and referring to it often in the future. I hope that that simple act somehow begins to express how much I enjoyed the clarity of your thoughts and the depth of your insights.

  • ARJWright

    Indeed, solid interview. As with the above poster, I will be bookmarking this. There are a few questions and answers I'd be up for pulling out and touching some more.

    This much I will say, I don't buy it that tablets = post PC anymore than mobiles aren't extensions of PC concepts themselves. The PC has matured, and brought several other ages along for it's ride. What's next is indeed being explored and worth looking at from several constructs.

    • John

      Have you used a tablet? Is your usage of a tablet in any way similar to your PC?

      PC: Multi-user (even simultaneously with remote access).
      Tablet: Single-user (at least for now)

      PC: Physical keyboard and one cursor
      Tablet: Virtual keyboard and gestures/multiple touch points (radical distinction)

      PC: Luggable, barely usable while standing up in some cases, almost never used that way
      Tablet: Highly mobile, can go with you everywhere and be used anywhere

      PC: Great for complex text input
      Tablet: Awful at complex text input (imagine writing a Perl program on a tablet, oi)

      PC: Cluttered, complex visual environment
      Tablet: Radically simplified visual environment

      PC: Interchangeable peripherals
      Tablet: What peripherals?

      PC: User is detached from the display
      Tablet: User is intimately involved with the display

      Certainly, tablets can and will be made more PC-like, but that's not the point. They are a radically different experience, and it's no more helpful in the long run to turn a tablet into a PC than it has been for Microsoft partners to turn a PC into a tablet.

      Tablets are not PCs. There will be movements in both directions from both sides, but the world has shifted on its axis, and we're not going back.

      • rattyuk

        Not entirely correct John…

        Tablet: Awful at complex text input (imagine writing a Perl program on a tablet, oi)
        Panic's SSH app and a bluetooth keyboard will bring back exactly that functionality if required.

        Tablet: What peripherals?
        Bluetooth keyboard, HDMI connector, USB connector, Midi interface, Credit card swiping for physical purchases, Apple TV for Airvideo sharing… the list goes on.

        The main difference is that the iPad can be used by kids who've never used a computer and older people who have always shied away from computers of any kind. A friends mother, who is undergoing chemotherapy has been given one for her long hospital sessions and is finding it a fantastic way to do things while hooked to a machine.

      • John

        …Panic's SSH app and a bluetooth keyboard will bring back exactly that functionality if required.

        Add a bluetooth keyboard and get 1/10th the functionality of a real UNIX workstation (or a Mac): no way to run perl locally, no way to see a web page with docs (or talking to your app) concurrently with your coding, you can only see a small section of your code, you can't trivially see your code while debugging, etc, etc, etc.

        This is exactly my point: a PC is wonderfully flexible and bafflingly complex. A tablet has a very different skillset.

      • rattyuk

        You've changed the subject…

        Firstly your argument was that you can't do complex text input but now you've modified that to read "writing perl programs" With a keyboard you can write as complex a text string as you so desire. But now you are syaing that you can't run perl locally.

        Here's the thing. My toaster can't make coffee. Just as true as your latest argument and just as stupid.

        Your definition of the iPad as a toy could have just as well as applied to the original Mac. No native dev tools were available to people back then either…

        I think what I am getting at is that you are being very shortsighted as to the limitations of the iPad.

        The iPad is a general purpose computer. Just dressed differently.

        For example up until now registers have been made from low cost PCs with a visual basic app slapped on it. Well I have two restaurants near me that are already using iPads to do the same job.

        I fear you are making too much of what a PC is.

      • chandra

        I understand the point you're trying to make, but it is made in a shallow.
        You are comparing 30+ years of PC technology evolutions with a single year of current iPad-style tablet design. Unless you know that this is it and there'll be no further advancement in tablet evolution your point is not well made.
        I believe that, with the evidently manic speed of adoption of Apple's idea of Post-PC computing, the rate of evolution and the emergence of variants for every major purpose will be breathtaking. Personally, I am waiting for a 6 foot by 1 foot iPad that enables me to play an 8 octave keyboard one moment and then curve it around a 120 degree arc to play an immersive game, a full drum kit or a new musical instrument of my own invention assembled from a series of tone generation and modification modules. Oh and killer spreadsheets that stretch as far as I can focus on with my bifocals.

      • handleym

        Written by someone who clearly has never actually programmed in the last ten years.

        Programming nowadays is not UNIX-style banging in emacs on a terminal. Modern programming utilizes rich GUIs with multiple simultaneous windows open. Heck, even if you want to write emacs style in a single window, you probably have three browser windows open showing sample code, or dealing with the area in which you're programming.
        Programming is, like many professional activities, an occupation that is substantially more efficient the more screen space you have. iPad gives little screen space, no simultaneous window views, no coding GUI, and even with a keyboard there are few keyboard shortcuts. Even something as basic as selecting text is primitive and slow.

        The point is not that iPad sucks — I have an iPad and I love it for what it does well.
        The point is that this bizarre idea that we're all going to throw away our 27" iMacs and replace them with iPads for serious work is STUPID STUPID STUPID.

        I do't see the transition from pre-GUI to GUI as analogous. A mouse and a GUI AUGMENTED what you could do before. The one attempt to fight this, Apple's lack of arrow keys on the keyboard, was soon reversed. You could (and people did) do everything keyboard'y on a Mac, especially once we got to say the 68020 based macs. Touch is very different. Selection is painful, the lack of chording means that all complex operations are split into multiple slow "select" then "do" steps, ands it's not at all clear how to fix these.
        Of course in THEORY you could fix these to some extent today. You could add chording buttons along the side; you could require (or at least support well) a stylus. But there's a basic tension between what makes pads delightful and what would be required to make them as powerful as desktop PCs. I don't see the point in denying this.

        PCs are just going to get cheaper, just like pads are just going to get cheaper. All professional people will own both and use both productively. No intelligent person says "well, a motor bike does fine getting people from here to there, therefore no-one will ever buy cars in the future".

      • rattyuk

        But the difference is that most people don't want to program. Apple has managed to tap into the market that actively didn't buy computers.

        The really horribly truth is that for most people the iPad could replace the computer completely.

        I agree that it won't force people to throw away their 27" iMacs BUT most people don't need them either.

        To be clear – anyone posting here is not in the same league as the majority of iPad users. Most people who are contributing to a discussion on a forum are not exclusively iPad users.

      • davel

        I think you are equating a pc to a programmer.

        The programmer is a small subset of the pc universe.

        I have used computers all my adult life. At home I prefer the iPad. I rarely pick up my pc at home.

      • Hamranhansenhansen

        I think you guys are using different definitions of "PC." But I don't think it matters. Everything is a post-PC device now, because we are in the post-PC era. Like Horace says, the new era is only a state of mind. It's the eras that matter, not the devices, or even how they are constructed.

        The PC era was about using a single generalized personal computer. You had only one PC, a "desk PC," and it had to do all of your computing tasks. No matter what computing task you wanted to accomplish, step 1 was always to sit at your virtual desktop, then step 2: compute! Multitasking was important because you were asking this one PC to be dozens of devices at once, all sharing the single computer. The post-PC era is about using many specialized personal computers. You have many PC's: a music player PC, a phone PC, a tablet PC, a set-top PC, a camera PC (digital camera,) and yes, even a desk PC. Now, step 1 is to choose which kind of PC is most appropriate to the task you want to accomplish. We trade multitasking for battery life because we're multitasking across a handful of devices now, each running one app, not running a handful of apps on just one device. And even the desk PC, whose main talent is generalization, it more likely to be asked to specialize. An accountant might run Excel all day long on their PC, while doing their calendar and email on an iPad. Just having Excel always in the front, always with the full PC's resources, is a feature that's more valuable than the ability to run Excel+calendar+email now. Same with a video editor who is running Final Cut all day on his Mac, while he has his annotated script on an iPad.

        So the Microsoft tablets were PC era tablets, they assumed they were your one and only PC, complete with desktop, except in a tablet form factor, like raising a desk up a meter to make it a stand-up desk. With iPad, Apple attempted to give you a tablet that fit into a broader post-PC family, iPad specialized in only the things a tablet is really good at, like book reading, or emulating a musical instrument like a piano, or art tools, or reading the Web, knowing there were other kinds of PC's for other things. iPad recommends itself on its own merits, not as an imitation desk PC. So instead of doing the same things as a desk PC but doing them worse, iPad does a subset of those things but does many of them better.

      • davel

        I will echo some of the comments already made.

        pc: multiuser. For the most part not so. Most pc licenses are single user only.

        input methods. keyboard/mouse vs. multi touch. So? you type in text you point and click and now pinch and zoom. a slight difference but most of the input methods are the same – enter text, point click. We havent really gone to voice yet although you can do that with both types of pc's.

        mobility. yes. the one true difference.

        text input. who cares? attach a keyboard hook up to a big screen. same thing.

        visual interface. stupid programmers. you can have cluttered or clean on both.

        peripherals. the day is still young.

        you can put a touch screen on a pc. it has been done.

        to sum. a tablet is a pc. the difference is the input method from a traditional pc and mobility.

  • brian

    Makes me wonder if there's truth to the rumor that Apple has asked one of it's suppliers if it can quintuple production of certain parts.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      I wonder if they are hoarding cash so that they can invest in some next-generation manufacturing. One distinctive thing with NeXT is they didn't just build an innovative PC that was more than 10 years ahead of its time, they also built a highly-automated factory that built those PC's. What if Apple designed machines that make iPads?

      • chandra

        Maybe, but I doubt it. I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit an Apple factory in Singapore in the 80s (very approx) and I was astonished at the level of organisation and efficiency even then. I visited the production floor, which was huge, and I visited the warehouse which was tiny. They had contracted with suppliers that they wanted parts delivered every four hours. The incoming goods-bay was only about 20 feet wide. Endless queues of lorries bringing stuff in and taking finished goods away.
        This was JIT inventory in practice, with a vengeance.
        I was nearly run over by one of many large robot trolleys that roamed the production floor so that workers could get rid of the clutter of packaging that assembly parts were delivered in.

        However, what Tim Cook did upon arrival at Apple, was to prove that design was the key, not manufacturing. Apple has never had any problems with dead working capital tied up in moribund (superseded) product ranges. That mastery of operational efficiencies has probably been Tim Cook's most significant contribution at Apple. I can't think of another company that does it better on such a scale, even as it ramps so forcefully.
        It also serves Apple well to keep its earnings outside the US, outside the USA for tax and other reasons, but also to ease the funding of supply and manufacturing issues with the higher level of free cash that results.
        Of course, if any company could revert to making its own products in the IT space, it is Apple. they have the margins to do that and still show (more modest) profit.

    • Kristian

      Yes. I think it was up from 5000 units to 20 000 units and then later this year up to 40 000 units when the new chip fabrication plant in Austin Texas is ready and we are talking about Samsung and wafers to produce. A4/A5 processors.

  • Xian

    I just love that you speak Portuguese. That's why you the man Horace!

    • Andrew

      Speaking Portuguese is very easy.

      All you have to do is speak Spanish with a Nazi German accent.

  • From YouTube, one can see an ad for corning ware glass. All surfaces inside the house, the car, on the freeway, subway, bus stop, office, and shopping: ALL OF IT INTERACTIVE TOUCH GLASS. Tablets, with touch faces, lead us to an immersive world: the glass floor at the edge of the bed that our feet touch, the windows to look outside, the mirror in the bathroom, the kitchen stove top, walls in the rooms, signs on th freeway-all become touchable and responsive. Sure, tablets will still be there: gotta have something to choose the size of the mountain you wanna climb next! To choose what ya wanna see outside the bedroom window! To change course on th freeway…


    • Now we read of such a thing as a SOG: a system on a glass, from Sharp, for the 2012 iPhone 6… The glass becomes increasingly smart; smart glass becomes ubiquitous: voila! Immersivity, the next step after tablets!

  • Ottawaman

    Great read – thanks for posting!

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    > Market leadership may not be sustainable just because the market is so big
    > and no single company can supply it.

    I'm not sure about that. If I buy an iPad that was made by Foxconn and run Angry Birds and Infinity Blade all day on there, and you buy an iPad that was made by Wintek and run Salesforce and OmniFocus all day on there, then are we both really being supplied by just one company? If we both run MS Office for Windows, but I have an HP PC and you have a Dell PC, isn't that actually less diversity that we have with our iPads? What is on the screen for both of us on our PC's is identical, but we're using our iPads very, very differently. And Intel actually makes the CPU's for almost all PC's … Apple just has to make designs. Even the A5 can be made by multiple fabs.

    And if you have 3 factories in China, one making iPads and the other 2 making tablets for HP and RIM, how is that able to supply more users than if all 3 factories are making iPads? And if iPad has many more apps than the other 2 tablets, then aren't they able to cover a more diverse user base with 100% iPads than with the 3 tablets? Diversity of apps is important, and diversity of manufacturing, but not diversity of the core platform, you want that to be the same. And iPad is cheaper.

    I think Apple can be thought of as making glass for picture frames, and then app developers make the artwork to go in there, and case makers make the frame to go around it. Users care about diversity of artwork and diversity of frames, but it doesn't even cross their minds to think about diversity of glass. If the glass is flawless, they won't even notice it. It's only when the glass has a flaw that they notice it. Just like they only notice their operating system when it crashes or shows an error or can't run an app that they want to run.

    If you think of iPad as iPod computer and iPhone as iPod phone and lump them in with all the other iPods, then don't you have the worldwide demand for iPods starting at zero in 2001 and increasing every year with Apple always scaling up to meet it for 10 years straight? So why wouldn't they just continue to scale up to meet future demand for the next 5 years or 10 years?

    • asymco

      You make a valid point. There is no reason that all production capacity can't be controlled by a single company. In theory. In practice I believe there is a limit.

      • JonathanU

        It depends on the level of economies of scale that can be garnered in the manufacturing process. Clearly where economies of scale are largest, industries tend towards monopoly and vice versa. One of the key reasons why the competition is failing to compete with the iPad is due to these very economies of scale being exploited by Apple.

        If you believe that there are significant economies of scale to be extracted through the manufacturing process (and procuring process) then one could make the argument that Apple could in theory supply the whole market.

        Personally, I think this might work in theory, but in practice I agree with you. These markets are so huge that not one player can supply the whole market…

  • paolo

    i like it. Especially the part where you say: "I’m most confident that there will be a re-definition of television, a “socialization” of almost all media. "

    • asymco

      Television is the next digital frontier. When I was involved in ebooks in the late 1990s I thought ebooks would be first media to change business models since they had minimal bandwidth requirements. Then music would come and then television and then film. Music ended up first, books (and newspapers and magazines) are a fait accompli. Even movies have moved to digital distribution with Netflix. That just leaves TV the last bastion of old media. It turned out that the obstacles were not technology but business model evolution.

      Television is a stubborn holdout because it still makes money, but the signs of over-service are all over it.

      • Andrew

        Television as a medium should no longer exist, as it is "the last bastion of old media". However, when TV was developed, many people regarded TV as signaling the death of the movie industry, which Asymco quaintly refers to as "film". Since then, both visual media have managed to co-exist, with TV remaining as the ad-sponsored, low-quality and less artistic visual medium, while the older movie industry has retained hold of the higher quality visual entertainment medium addressed towards individuals prepared to pay for their entertainment.

        So the real question is not why "Television is a stubborn holdout because it still makes money" but, since the internet has replaced both over the air and celluloid film as the medium for delivering visual entertainment, how can consumers receive the entertainment they enjoy and get good value either by paying to receive it or watching paid commercials?

      • nomster

        "… with TV remaining as the ad-sponsored, low-quality and less artistic visual medium, while the older movie industry has retained hold of the higher quality visual entertainment medium addressed towards individuals prepared to pay for their entertainment"

        I think in recent years TV has provided far higher quality than the Movie industry. Most high profile movies are trite rubbish, whereas TV has brought us The Wire, The Sopranos, Homicide Life on the Streets, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under,The Shield, Dexter etc etc etc

        Very few films reached the quality levels of the above TV series. Almost all of which I have bought as box sets – so yes – digital distribution is bound to take over, and yes there is a market for quality series – as there is for sports coverage

        For low quality fare – no, there is no market for sales and ad funded is the way to go – the old/current distribution method still works for that stuff as it's still the cheaper way to distribute AFAIK

      • addicted

        I will have to disagree. While I agree that the Sopranos, and The Wire are some of the best visual pieces in any medium, there are many, many, really good movies being made. The only difference is that they aren't all the megablockbusters that you notice. There are many fantastic directors doing fantastic work.

        There is a lot of bad stuff in film too, but nothing as terrible as the complete wasteland that reality tv is (well, I guess Jackass is, but lets not forget, that was a TV show first).

      • nomster

        Of course there are some good films per year but mostly independent ones and they're not indicative of the 'Movie Industry' which is about the most risk-averse industry out there and, consequently, nowhere near as creative as it could be. (Let the Right One In, for example was great – the original Swedish one, that is – the remake was good but paled in comparison)

        Virtually everything the mainstream film industry does these days is a remake, rehash, re-imagining, retrograde and, often-times, retarded.

        Here's a couple of articles on how many sequels and remakes the industry pumps out
        not exactly a sign of creativity or high quality

        and yes there is, of course, tons of crap TV – but saying TV is where low quality resides is about as useful as saying newspapers are low-brow because a large proportion are tabloid – despite the existence of quality ones

      • Brenden

        Note that the HBO shows listed here do not fall under the category of ad-sponsored TV, but I think that most network television qualifies and is generally inferior to film. HBO goes to great efforts to distinguish itself from network TV and justify their premium price with high-quality programming (and the slogan: "It's not TV, it's HBO"). It's hard to blame the networks, though–it's tough to churn out that much new material each week and their budgets are not infinite. Different business models produce different results.

      • KenC

        It is interesting to see how the latest experiments by the big cable companies like Time Warner and Comcast turn out, where they stream tv shows directly to your iPad, instead of thru your cablebox. I have TW and get 59 channels now on my iPad, all appear to be 720p, where I get something like 70+ channels thru my cablebox. They are fast approaching parity.

        An interesting aside is that ESPN has their own channel app, instead of being included in TW's app, though it requires TW's cooperation to stream. What's interesting is that the ESPN app does not show advertising. Strangely, the lack of advertising feels odd, since they put a placeholder on screen during the tv ads, and pipe in obnoxious music. That does 2 things: one, it makes me miss the ads, because I hate the music; and two, it makes me worry that maybe the feed is frozen in a loop, and I should restart the app!

      • chandra2

        When you say "TV" you mean not the physical unit but the content that is produced for TV, right?

      • asymco

        Yes, TV as a medium (or television or broadcast television). When you go from broadcast to on-line video everything changes.

      • chandra

        And, although it's a much smaller market, I guess, Art and Photography, in digital form, will also be opened up for sale in much greater range and volume soon.
        So Bill Gates' and the Getty's collections will start to earn significantly more for them as investors.
        Is there anything else to digitise for mass distribution?

      • Childermass

        "Business model evolution", or lack of it.

        What is the glue that holds these TV companies together? They emerged as winners in a battle that rewarded advertisers' certainty. Those that were able to create compelling programming, or juggle their less compelling offer well, created viewer stickiness that was rewarded by ad placement. Coca Cola needed to know where the eyeballs were going to be. For a while CBS, ABC and NBC ruled. (The US is a good case study as there is, in effect, no Government TV.)

        Fox were able to break into the triopoly by acquiring trump card programming – sport. Film is not the same as the various pairing of studio and TV channel is potentially large, preventing monopolies. Sports rights are monopolies that guarantee viewers and ad money. They are the most compelling TV as they combine news and drama. They respond well to technological innovation. Slo-mo, split screens, textual overlay, local mics, computer generated graphics don't add much to The Wire, but transform MLB.

        If a company wanted to disrupt The TV industry all they need do is buy the rights to The Olympics, The World Cup, and for the US market, Superbowl and The World Series. But then, they would need a lot of cash, confidence in their systems, and a long-term plan.

  • Omar

    Great article.

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  • As a quibble, I’d say that the thing that launched PCs was the inexpensive microprocessor. The GUI came later to the mass market, after PCs were well established. PCs have of course undergone many significant transitions over time wherein they redefined themselves — a GUI, virtual/protected memory and multitasking, portabilty, the Internet.

  • 21tiger

    "The challenge for Apple is that they cannot serve the whole world. They can only grow so fast."

    Well put… Although pretty much everybody would love to have an iPad, you actually have to build these things. One of the great things about the software monopoly (eg. Redmond) is that you have effectively ZERO production, once the code is baked. Apple will have to find some way to fight this, but most likely they will internally keep track of REVENUE SHARE, as opposed to UNIT SHARE. After all, corporations exist to make money, that's it.

  • Waveney

    What's great about this post, is that two guys in Brazil(I presume), well removed from the so called technology epicentre, have not only an intelligent q & a, but are able to shed more light on industry's possible moves than any of the recent reports circulating from traditional sources. Oh joy.
    We could perhaps go further and posit that northern hemisphere western pundits(and their allies in the orient) are so wrapped up in the comfort zone afforded by the technology giants way-of-thinking – which makes them incapable of seeing the wood for the trees. So it's not only the computing/mobile spaces that are seeing huge changes but also that the ability to research and analyse is no longer the province of traditional sources. I welcome this as a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of the usual hot-air self-serving technorati journalists.
    Apologies for my geo-centric world view – the Greenwich meridian passes through our house 😉

    • asymco

      One guy was in Brazil and one guy was in Helsinki. The guy in Helsinki was born in Romania and educated in the US.

  • Adam

    "The economics, creative energy and dynamism of apps cannot be underestimated."

    Good thought — but you mean that the dynamism …. cannot be OVERestimated.

    • asymco

      Oops. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • suddy

    Great interview and very insightful. I had a lot of takeaways from this article. I would like to add one point though.

    "With that in mind, my answer will be that large companies will acquire promising new technologies from start-up companies …"

    I agree that innovation will mostly come from start-up companies. However, another fascinating issue to explore is if there is already an existing company, with a relatively long history to not be considered a start-up, that has the technology that will be found useful in the new emerging paradigm.

    Take the example of ARMH. They are a processor core designer and license their cores for more that 20+ years. Their sudden growth, as seen from their stock price, is because their processors have low power characteristics, that are ideal for mobile applications. However, they did not design their processors originally with Tablets in mind. When the rest of the technology enabled mobile computing (and power storage or delivery technology did not evolve at the same rate), there was a need for low power processors that ARMH was able to deliver.

    Of-course, for this condition to satisfy, the technology must be patented or protected with deep competitive "moats" in some way that it is not easily replicable.

    Other examples of this would be the demand for railway telegraph real estate when fiber optics came along, and Amazon, that is now morphing to a role of a publisher.

    With this in mind, can you think of any EXISTING and ESTABLISHED company that would suddenly find relevance in the new mobile and social paradigm.


  • davel

    Beautiful interview.

    I will quibble with the PC starting with the gui, it started way before that where the GUI was the second gen of PC's.

    "I’m most confident that there will be a re-definition of television, a “socialization” of almost all media."

    Very interesting comment. This puts facebook in the drivers seat.

  • 'I suspect children born today will grow up without ever using a mouse (or a phone with a wire permanently attached to the bottom)'.

    The World is busy changing and our generation is part of this technological revolution. It's really very exciting. Great article!!

  • Brilliant interview! I think we live a terrific times in terms of devices: I totally agree with Samantha: I think fantastic that technology evolves so fast. Yes, probably children born today wont know what a mouse or a phone with a wire is… I wish I'd be 20 years old again, not for youth, but for having the opportunity to have more time in my life to see all this technology evolution!!

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