Disruptive technologies are those technologies that brew up independently under the radar until all of a sudden they take over well established mainstream industries.
And, here’s my take on the biggest disruptive technology currently sitting under our noses, err…in our pockets: The Apple iPhone, and it’s potential to replace the traditional desktop / laptop computer. Imagine this:
What is the iPhone Desktop?
The iPhone Desktop is essentially a dock / workstation for the iPhone. Pop your iPhone into the side-loading slot, and your iPhone goes into Desktop mode. The workstation becomes YOUR computer, whether you are using one at home, the office, or casually borrowing one at Starbucks, the library, or the airport.
Wherever you are, it’s YOUR computer.
At home and at the office, you can take advantage of USB storage, syncing only the essentials to your physical iPhone unit. For improved security, you may wish to keep some files on your .Mac account’s virtual storage and only walk around with music, pictures and videos in your pocket.
Incoming Call? No Problem!
So what happens when you are docked and receive a call? Just like the iPhone, the call takes over your screen and gives you the option to answer the call. However, advances will be made, and you will be able to optionally accept eligible calls (i.e. calls placed from other iPhones, iChat, or something similar) with video enabled. iPhone Desktop’s built-in iSight camera and microphone will be used to facilitate the phone call, in lieu of a USB or Bluetook headset.
Just in case it’s not perfectly clear, let me state this in the simplest terms possible:
The iPhone is not a phone, it’s a PC (or, it’s a Mac, if you prefer).
This is precisely what makes the iPhone a disruptive technology. It’s got OS X under the hood, and there’s no reason to believe Apple has fully exploited this tremendous advantage it has over other phones and portable devices.
Unlike its Windows Mobile counterparts, Apple builds the software AND the hardware, which means it is orders of magnitude more nimble when it comes to integrating the two into a solid device that can deliver unbeatable user-experience. When Apple wants to add a feature, whether to the hardware or software — they can just do it. They don’t have to wait for the next release of the software, or for hardware partners to come on board. They can just do it.
The “Complete PC” part is what I want to emphasize, but let’s not leave out the fact that it includes a phone and an iPod media center, too. It lives in your pocket, and when it makes sense, it takes on the form of a desktop PC. Just add a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and you’re still under $850 for a beautifully sleak, ultra portable computing experience.
But the real beauty of this (for Apple) is that the PC industry will continue to ignore the iPhone…until it’s too late. And, as an added bonus (for Apple), cell phone competitors will continue to treat the iPhone as just another phone…until it’s too late.
Apple’s 30+ years of hardware and software integration puts them eons ahead of their competitors in both industries. For years, Apple was derided for not opening up its platform to cloning. To many, their strategy was considered closed, limiting, and seemed short-sighted. Yet, now their persistence and accumulated hardware / software experience is obviously their greatest advantage.
The iPhone combined with the iPhone Desktop Dock represents a truly “Personal” Computer with capabilities sufficient for more than half of PC users today. Complete with web-browsing, email, casual games, YouTube and iTunes! The average PC user doesn’t need much else — remember “web-browsing” today means Google Apps and CRM, too.
With iPhone Desktop’s ability to connect external USB-based hard-drives, storage expandability is a non-issue, and, at just $698 for a complete system, it’s one of the world’s least expensive, most portable, well-equipped PCs.
Nothing else would even come close, actually.
Before you dismiss this by saying, the iPhone isn’t powerful enough to substitute for a PC, consider Apple’s tremendous leaps toward miniaturization: the iPod Nano and the MacBook Air. Do you honestly doubt they will be incapable of shrinking a Mac down to the size of an iPhone?
So What Does All of this Mean?
- Taking into account the doubling of CPU processing power approximately every 18 months, and the doubling of affordable flash storage approximately every 10 months, an iPhone 3 years from now will be about as fast as a MacBook Air, and it will come with nearly 200 Gigabytes of storage.
- If you’re a player in the computer industry (say, you make bug tracking software like my company Axosoft), you’d better take notice! Even if I’m wrong about all of the above, and I don’t believe I am, change is coming. Today’s Desktop PCs’ and laptops’ days are numbered. People (your customers) will want their computers and the Internet with them all of the time, and even lugging around a 3lb MacBook Air will be considered cumbersome.
- Microsoft’s Silverlight engineers had better pay close attention to Mac OS compatibility, especially on the iPhone. A number of ISVs and IT departments will rely on Silverlight to help keep their software relevant.
- In addition to the iPhone Desktop (or whatever they end up calling it), Apple will produce a more portable docking station alla today’s laptops. So, you can you choose to carry your docking station with you. It’ll be a 1- to 2-lb slim device, perhaps a clamshell design, that you can also slide your iPhone into. You’ll want to take with you when you write that Great American Novel, beach side or at the park.
- Within 3 years the debate will begin: should iPhone sales be counted as Mac computer sales? Within 5 years they will, and Apple will be number 1 in computer sales with nearly a 50% market share. As a corollary to that statement, Mac OS X (or Mac OS 11?) will be the number 1 operating system, in terms of new units sold.
- Apple will create a more robust .Mac service, allowing group accounts (whether personal or business) to take advantage of iPhone collaboration features and group syncing. Also, expect to be able to operate any full Mac computer you have at home or the office with “Back to My Mac” and grab any files you need using your iPhone or iPhone Desktop. Other remote desktop options will give you access to the Windows and Linux worlds, as well. At $99 per year per iPhone, .Mac will generate significant revenues for Apple.
- The next generation of iPhones will usher in the era of video conference calls. Voice calls will not go away, and will likely remain the most popular form of phone conversation. A “Conference Call” etiquette will emerge, including the expectation of conference calls occurring mostly by appointment and impromptu calls defaulting to voice. What teenagers will do with this feature…let’s not go there, but parents beware.
- Unless Apple plays its cards totally above board and learns how to build close relationships with partners, it will build a close relationship with the Department of Justice’s antitrust group within 10 years. If this happens, the distraction could be a prelude to the next disruptive technology, which will eventually replace the iPhone.
- iPhone security will become a notable segment of the IT security industry. More work will be done toward remotely disabling lost or stolen iPhones, GPS tracking will be added, and the current iPhone slider will be replaced with a fingerprint scanner. In 5 years, leaving your iPhone in a Taxi Cab will suck even more than it does today, because the device will be a more integral part of your life — but you’ll be able to recover from the loss easier and with less fear of data and/or identity theft.
- The hospitality industry will recognize customers’ demands, and provide docking stations in restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and wherever else it makes sense.
- Laptops and Desktop PCs won’t go away for a long time, but their market share will shrink dramatically. Games, 3-D rendering, faster compilers, and beefier servers will continue to push the hardware limits and processing power of CPUs and video cards. Niche markets.
- John C. Dvorak will be proved wrong yet again.
For More on the iPhone Desktop…
Angelo Coppola (Axosoft’s Marketing Director) spent a day participating in this thought experiment with me, and he published a behind the scenes article in his blog at Axosoft’s community site. The article (along with the image of the iPhone Desktop’s many Photoshop layers scattered all over the place) is worth a look.