Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Looking for the next disruption

Many of us are aware of disruptions in markets, but like recessions we can only identify them by looking at evidence from the past. It's difficult to identify what new emerging technology or capability will create a market disruption. We typically can say a new product or service was disruptive months or years after the fact. But that shouldn't stop us from trying to decide where a new disruption might arise. In fact, we should be scanning the horizon constantly for emerging trends and evidence of leading indicators. Or perhaps challenges to be solved.

I was thinking about this recently when it hit me - there's a clear need for a disruption in personal electronics. We've had, by my count, at least three big breakthroughs. First came a rapid decline in the cost of memory. Remember when Bill Gates said 640K was all the memory anyone would ever need? I have thumb drives that have gigabytes of memory. Second came processing power. Remember when Intel would tell you how great their next Pentium or Septium or whatever processor was going to be? They made you care about the processor. Who makes the processor in your iPod or SmartPhone? Who knows? Who cares? Most of us have far more processing speed than we'll ever need. Next came broadband and wireless access. We have access to fast data transmission, wired and increasingly wireless, just about everywhere. So, currently our personal electronics are fast, efficient processors of information and are constantly connected. What more could you want?

Well, a couple of things. Since the early data input vehicles were typewriters, most of our electronics are dependent on manual data entry through a keyboard. Heck, even our smartphones are more keyboard dependent than voice dependent. But this is a limiting factor. Too many of us aren't great at thumb typing and want to have a more robust interaction with our Smartphones and portable machines. We are hampered by the input mechanism. What would these smart electronics look like if our main source of data input was voice? Could we eliminate the keyboard all together? I think this is one clear disruption waiting to happen. Voice driven electronics that can determine when I am speaking if I want to create a document and dictate the content of the document or record my voice for storage or make a call.

Also, another challenge of the form factor of most smart electronics is the size of the screen. Unlike teenagers, many of us are finding the size of the screen and the amount of information we seek to convey on those screens a challenge. What's clear is that as we become more reliant and dependent on mobile computing, we need more robust presentation capabilities, either as the 3-D holograms of Star Wars fame or perhaps something a bit more mundane, like a set of glasses that stand in for the screen. I could imagine a set of glasses that has a built in microphone that allowed the user a heads-up display of the information from his or her smart device.

Further, what's also happening is that all of the processing speed and memory are sublimated back into the cloud. We don't need tremendous processing power or memory on the device if we can stream a significant amount of information wirelessly and process it in the cloud. We need to improve the human interaction with the information and allow people to process and use information in a more natural context. We are still too tied to the concept of a computer terminal at a desk when our needs and interactions are increasingly less like that original concept.

The next major innovation or disruption in smart electronics should be in human form factors - allowing us to use ubiquitous information and process it in a much more effective way than we can today. If you are looking for a significant disruption that's likely to happen, I can't think of a more likely place to start looking.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:30 AM


Anonymous Ricard Bou said...

I think battery life will be the next barrier to break. It's ok if the device can keep awake as long as I can keep awake :)

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