So a typical day tends to go like this: Someone sends me a critical e-mail with a rich attachment that needs my input. Can’t do that on the phone because the screen is too small, so I bring out my tablet. Now I can see the attachment, but typing on the screen takes up too much real estate and it is way too slow. So I bring out my laptop… Oh wait, I either didn’t bring it or it doesn’t have a 3G connection. So I end up with three devices, one that is connected all the time but can’t talk to the other two, one that is a bigger version of the first one but can’t do phone calls, and one that is even larger but often can’t connect.
It would be great if someone came up with a single device that could provide the connection to all three… Wait, someone did. That was RIM, but they couldn’t figure out how to promote this capability and are in the process of going out of business. Argh…
Why personal technology sucks
I first started going down this path when I was at DEMO 2012 and saw the Delta DVR from Whitman Technology. (DEMO is a show where small companies go to get backing.) It was nearly exactly what I’d felt the Media Center from Microsoft should have been 10 years ago. It had six tuners, ran an embedded version of Media Center (so you didn’t have to mess with the Windows native interface), and it was a stunning product. Only problem is the company doesn’t have the money to build and sell it.
This often seems to be the case: We either end up with marginal compromises, or a great product finally gets designed but then no one has the money to build it, or they screw it up.
Another case in point: HP bought Palm, the only company that might have had the capability of running against Apple, and then delayed the product, misnamed it, panicked, and killed the company and effort, effectively burning over US$1.2 billion in the process. Sad thing was it was a pretty good offering, it just needed to be updated, renamed and rereleased.
Apple is the problem
I think Apple is at fault, not that this issue isn’t working for them, but because they have everyone chasing them and no one is ever going to be a better Apple. They define the market for two of these devices, tablets and smartphones, and everyone seems to be trying to build a better iPhone or iPad. Neither product is perfect, as we are reminded year after year when Apple brings out a new model correcting issues with the old one. But no one appears able to leapfrog Apple and get where they are going first, or to come up with something better because they are so focused on Apple’s hindquarters that they can’t see the path to the real goal ahead of Apple.
So you get all of these Apple knockoffs, and we end up in litigation up to our armpits, and nothing really compelling or new comes out to actually make things a lot better.
Nokia and RIM: The last hopes
In the mobile space, there are two big hopes, but both are struggling at the moment. Nokia, partnered heavily with Microsoft, has done reasonably well with their new Lumia 900 selling out in many markets. And RIM has QNX, which is the same operating system used in cars. This last device could be really interesting as it could result in a series of devices that work better in and with cars. That would be distinctly different than Apple, and might carve out a new fan base of folks like me who love our cars and go a little gadget crazy.
On Nokia’s side, their real push comes late this year or early next when the joint Microsoft/Nokia products hit the market. The integration efforts between Microsoft and Nokia started largely too late to change the Lumia 900 much, but the next cycle should show the joint efforts of both companies.
Mobile products today interoperate poorly, rarely share data connections, and require you to carry more redundant products than you’d like to at once. My hope is that someone will see beyond Apple to a future—where Apple itself is going—and get there first with a family of integrated offerings that can allow you and me to more successfully leave one or two of these things at home and still be able to function.
In the end, a faster, better future may require RIM or Nokia to step up first, but if they don’t, there is no doubt that Apple will get there eventually, and those two will likely become obsolete.
Rob Enderle is a principal analyst at the Enderle Group.