The Mobile Phone & Independence

It’s fairly well-known by now that mobile communication has changed our lives dramatically – adoption that is reaching levels of 1 mobile phone per person int he world (Mobile is Taking Over The World), with developing countries out-pacing developed countries. And the smart phone and its apps along with text messaging and Facebook has changed every aspect of our lives: how we stay in touch, who we stay in touch with, how we shop, how we consume information, what information we have access to. Everything is at your finger tip in real time. Even how revolutions unravel have changed with Facebook and Twitter as has been evident in the Middle East in recent years.

But an interesting question is, has the mobile phone not just changed how we do so many things, but also how we think of ourselves. Has it added an independent spirit to our mindset. As this story in Forbes The Redefinition of the Entrepreneur highlights, the Millenials have a different mindset about careers and work environments that focuses on independence. According to the story by 2020 40% of the US workforce will be freelancers (I actually prefer the term Independent over Freelancer, as it’s more accurate and not based in mid-evil history).

In a way the mobile phone has allowed us to cut the umbilical cord to many things. The consumer and the employee now control many aspects of their lives, they are no longer constrained by environmental space / time / access constraints. And this has changed our expectations and our attitude as a society, has turned the entire society into a more independent set of people, with huge implications on many of our traditional structures from work place, consumption, communication, politics.

How Not To Become The Next McDonalds

Starbucks has gotten a lot of business from me over the years, drinking coffee flavored milk. They still do.

Startbucks once said that they’re not in the coffee business, they’re in the customer experience business. It was all about a premium experience that would make you seek out their coffee shop and pay the premium price for their beverage, because it had become an important part of your daily routine. That is the sign of a brand that wants to be cool – it’s not just a product, a consumable, it’s actually more than that.

But in my early years traveling the US, I always appreciated McDonalds (it’s been probably 5+ years since my last time setting foot into one of their restaurants). Not for the food, though a the Big Mac sauce had a magic touch, but because for their omnipresence and their consistency in experience. If you’re a multi-day cross-country drive, the last thing you want to do when you’re tired and hungry at the end of the day, is take a chance on a dive of a diner at the truck stop. You don’t know the area, no recommendations, and you just need food and not get sick.

It could be the best diner food you’ve ever eaten. But it could also be a totally disgusting greasy spoon. So what’s the solution. The reliable ever consistent average: McDonald’s. To be found at every major Highway exit, in every town around the US. Cheap. Mostly clean. Predictable. Not particularly memorable.

I’m currently traveling in Arizona. And I’m looking for a place to have my morning coffee. What’s the solution? Starbucks. With the app on the phone I can always find one. There are not as many Startbucks as there are McDonald’s but it’s probably not far behind.

But for the brand of Starbucks that’s not a good thing. Because now I no longer seek them out for the premium experience. Now they have become the ever consistent average, the fall-back plan if all else fails. When I’m in Manhattan, if I’m in a rush, I’ll get my Starbucks. If I have time, I try out a local coffee shop and see if I can get a more unique experience.

In my home-town, I go to the Black Cow. I know they roast their beans on Friday’s, and they don’t always have the same beans. But I like the role they play in the community. I could drive 5 miles to the next Starbucks. But it’s not that special anymore.

Companies always chase growth. But often along the way they become the next McDonalds. Don’t fall into that trap.

The Social Computer

I just read a pretty good summary and data recap of the Windows 8 adoption (or lack thereof): CNet – Asus & Win 8 Adoption.

It’s well written and not surprising given general trends in the tech industry. It doesn’t boat well for the Windows franchise. As an ex-tech guy but still geek at heart I should be a prime target audience for the Windows 8 marketing machine. Yet, other than some non-descript decals on NYC subways the message has more or less entirely missed me. If you asked me why I should be upgrading to Windows 8 and what it would get me, I would draw a total blank. Yes, I could repeat the thing the sales person at B&H told me yesterday when I asked him about the difference between a Mamiya AFD1 and Mamiya AFD2 – his take: “It’s newer, so it must be better”. Yeah, that really convinces me to spend more money.

But the CNet article has one fascinating number in it: 95% of Asus’s tablets are running Android. That is the one device category to most benefit from Windows 8 and it’s new touch interface. It should be the one device category doing strongest. Of course with statistics and Windows not really having a horse in that race before, we would have to know the baselines to validate the conclusions. But there isn’t enough time to organically grow share, it’s do or die.

I think there are two fundamental shifts going on that undermine the future of the PC market and Windows:

First there is the maturity of the PC. PCs we all have sitting on our desk can do everything we need them for and then some, unless you are a gamer or a video editor or some other niche power user. So unless our old PC dies (and with the onset of SSD hard drives there are fewer mechanical components that have built-in expirations), there really is no reason to upgrade anytime soon. The cost and disruption of an upgrade isn’t justified by the minimal gains from going from a Win 7 computer to a Win 8 computer. Or at least none of the marketing machines that should convince me otherwise have done their job, because I haven’t heard anything.

But the other more important shift is the move towards the mobile and device space. Really what the majority of the people outside of a corporate office do, is browse the internet, access web based services, shop online, and check facebook. As a person sitting next to me on the train told his friend yesterday – he had a ‘Facebook Machine’, meaning a PC that was used for nothing else other than accessing Facebook. Yes, today between your iPhone, iPad, Kindle (or Android counterparts), you really have 95% of all use models of modern computing covered. There is the update of the resume every 5-10 years. The same person on the train said, that the only time he had to boot up his ancient Windows computer was when he had to update his resume, since he never got a copy of Office for his current computing environment, and thus his old PC was the only way to update his resume. Go figure. Well, if LinkedIn has its way, the resume may be a thing of the past, and your LinkedIn profile will become the resume. So one less reason to keep that old Windows PC around or updated. And with the increasing trend towards people leaving corporate careers voluntarily to go independent (see HBR blog post on that trend), fewer people may need any kind of resume before too long.

So where does that leave us? In the 60s we started the computing revolution, and the state of the art device back then was the Mainframe in the back office. Then the 80s and 90s were defined by the Personal Computer. Everyone had one, then everyone in the family had one. Then came the iPhone, and the smart phone, and then the tablet. Now everything revolves around social media and mobile. So as the age of the Personal Computer draws to a close, the decade of the ‘Social Computer‘ starts. And the only big computing power running traditional operating systems are the server farms that power the cloud, which is what all our social computers connect to all the time to offer us the latest in information and services. And most of those servers run Linux, not Windows.

So Windows 8 may be remembered more or less like Windows Vista. As an unremarkable entry in the history of operating systems, best to be skipped over. Will Windows 9 be different? Well, that may depend whether people will still talk about Windows in a few years when that release should be ready based on typical Microsoft OS cycles.

Yet Another Blog

Blogs should have a purpose and a defined audience. I have been blogging for many years, first about learning photography, and then being a photographer. I still do.

But I also have many interesting conversations with people about life as a creative entrepreneur, debating news stories, exploring trends, musing about the what ifs. I enjoy having these conversations 1:1 or in small groups with people. But every so often it’s nice to share these with a broader audience. They have no place in the blog I write for work, so here is Yet Another Blog, which will be about the random things I ponder. If you enjoy reading them, keep coming back. Feel free to engage in the conversation through comments. If I bore you to tears, just forget that you ever read this and enjoy life.


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