New Years Day is a time for thinking ahead to a new year and decade. But first, a look back. For me, the Internet started in 1994 with Netscape. I started working with AltaVista in 1996, and with Napster in 1999. My first modern and affordable cell phone was the Motorola StarTAC flip phone in 1996. It was like the Star Trek communicator, incredible. Google came along in 1999. Think about the computer, cell phone, TV, and Internet connection you were using 10 years ago, in December of 1999. Now imagine the advances we will see in the coming decade. John Battelle has some interesting predictions, including that Google will become a software company. Here are my predictions.
Trends for the Next Decade
The future of computing – Your cell phone will become your primary computer, communicator, camera, and entertainment device, all in one. The exciting new applications are running in the browser, with application code and data in the cloud, and the cell phone as a major platform. I think in the near future there will be docking stations everywhere with a screen and a keyboard. You simply pull out your phone, plug it into the docking station, and instantly all your applications and data are available to you. You can connect to the Internet via your cell phone service, WiFi hotspot, or wired connection. Your phone will have enough storage so you can decide which applications and data are stored on your phone, and which will be in the cloud. Replication will work seamlessly in the background so that you always have a backup copy of your data in the cloud.
Mobile Computing – Mainframe to PC to mobile phone - Mobile phones are clearly the next computing platform. Mainframes (IBM) dominated the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. PCs displaced mainframes in the mid 80’s, and with it Microsoft became the new king of the hill (1985 – 2000). The Internet in 2000 enabled web applications, web commerce, and the notion of cloud based computing. The iPhone took mobile computing to the next level. It delivered a beautiful user interface on a cell phone screen, with hundreds of applications, and all the computation and data storage in the cloud. Android will accelerate this trend in 2010.
Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley says Mobile Internet usage is bigger than most people think, and it is exploding. Every platform shift has 10X the number of devices and users. There were about 1M mainframes, 10M mini-computers, 100M PCs, and 1 Billion cell phones. The next wave of mobile devices will be over 10B.
Cloud Computing – The explosion of reliable broadband bandwidth, virtualization technology, cheap storage, memory, and servers, has made Cloud Computing the obvious choice for the next decade. There are huge cost advantages versus on-premise servers. Why buy servers, hire IT admin to manage them, buy operating system licenses, application licenses, pay 20% maintenance fees every year, worry about security updates/breaches, hassle with asset management, etc., when you can just “pay as you go” with cloud computing resources? You can buy compute cycles from Amazon, or hosted applications like Gmail and Google Apps. Google also provides a cloud infrastructure with an integrated development environment to build scalable web applications. The Cloud provides lots of choices and cost advantages.
Browser as Web OS – The browser is becoming more important than the underlying Operating System. HTML5 puts many OS capabilities into the browser, especially off-line storage/use. From 1995 to 2005 there was very little innovation in the browser. That will change in the next decade. Web developers will be able to write their applications to one set of web standards, with more capabilities, and not worry about OS or browser incompatibilities.
Android will disrupt the mobile business – Google’s Android will continue to disrupt the mobile business, and accelerate the pace of innovation. In the past the major mobile carriers controlled the business, decided which applications would be available, and how much they would cost. Innovation was suffocated. Later the iPhone App Store allowed developers to build all sorts of new applications, but Apple still controlled which applications got approved, and it was only available on the AT&T network. Android changes everything. More handset manufacturers and cell phone carriers will support Android. And developers will rush in to build new applications for a wide open market. No more gatekeepers suffocating innovation.
Mobile bandwidth will explode – Cell phone coverage and bandwidth has improved over the past decade, but will explode over the next decade. The new 700Mhz wireless spectrum became available in 2009, and will be built out over the next decade. Think about the dial up Internet service you had in 1995 compared to the broadband you had in 2005. Cell phones will see the same explosion in bandwidth in the coming decade, which will enable new applications and uses.
Games on your cell phone – There are already lots of simple games available for cell phones, but the new bandwidth and cloud computing infrastructure will make new multiplayer games possible. Virtual goods and virtual reality will see lots of innovation, and drive lots of revenue. Platform shifts usually leave the dominant leaders behind. New startups emerge with completely new products, and business models.
Cell phone as payment device – Your credit card is just a piece of plastic that can do nothing by itself. The magnetic strip on the back must be read by a card reader and transmitted digitally to a server in the cloud. How quaint credit cards will seem 10 years from now. Your cell phone is already digitally connected to the cloud. You can authenticate yourself in a variety of ways. Your cell phone is with you all the time, even more so than your credit cards. Other countries are already using cell phones as payment devices. The USA will catch up in the next decade, and develop many new uses.
Software companies become Application companies - Just as the PC revolution spawned hundreds of software startup companies, Android and iPhone will spawn thousands of new, smaller, software app companies of 2 to 4 people. In the past you needed to raise $20M to $40M to start a software company that would reach $50M in revenue and employ 200 to 400 people. Those days, with rare exceptions, are over. The mobile platform allows small single app companies of 1 to 4 people to build a very profitable small company. There will be thousands of small companies and a handful of them will make hundreds of millions. Come to think of it…that is not a lot unlike the old model, just smaller and less expensive to start.
Gmail and Google Apps go enterprise - I think 2010 will be the year that enterprises of all sizes start their transition to Gmail and Google Apps, and take their first steps towards the vision of the future. The move towards Cloud Computing is obvious. Gmail and Google Apps are the easy first steps in that direction. The cost savings are enormous,over $500 per user per year. Compare that to buying software licenses and maintenance from the old style software giants, and add the costs of server hardware, and IT managers to run them. There are already lots of companies and state/local governments using Gmail and Google Apps, but 2010 will be the breakout year where you start hearing about it in the press.
What do you think? What are the big trends for 2010 and the new decade? What companies and products will lead the way?