Why Mobile Technology is "Eating the World"

Posted by Benjamin Gran on May 17, 2016

Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz recently published a provocative new presentation from partner Benedict Evans called “Mobile Ate the World" that analyzes some of the latest trends in mobile technology, and suggests new ways of understanding what mobile technology really means for the world. There remarkable statistics, concepts and projections in this presentation that technology professionals should know.

Smartphones are the first "universal tech product." By 2020, 5 billion people will have a smartphone – and today's smartphones are 625 times more powerful than a business-grade PC in 1995. As the presentation says, in the new world of mobile, “Everyone gets a pocket supercomputer." We've gone from a computer in every corporation (the old heavy mainframe systems of the 1970s) to a computer in every home and every desk (the vision of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, which started to be realized in the 1990s), to a computer in every pocket (2020). This has profound implications for the way we live and work.

Mobile is not just a type of device, it's an entirely new ecosystem for technology: Every new generation of computer technology has brought a massive shift in scale in multiplying what technology can help people achieve. We've gone from 100,000 mainframe computers to 10 million workstations to 1.5 billion PCs to more than 5 billion mobile devices (smartphones plus tablets). Mobile is not a “device," it's a new technology ecosystem that – for the first time – scales to reach everyone on earth. And new innovations will develop around this ecosystem, many of which were unimaginable just a few years ago.

New products for the mobile ecosystem: As the mobile ecosystem takes over from the PC ecosystem, new mobile components will arise for different use cases, but powered by software. We are already seeing this happen with new drone technologies – as the presentation states, “A drone is a smartphone that flies." The mobile ecosystem is going to create a “Cambrian Explosion" of new products – the Internet of Things, wearable devices, smart home monitoring systems, virtual reality, and connected cars. Consider the way that different generations within our lifetime have thought about and related to the technology products that they owned. As the presentation suggests, “Our grandparents could count their electric motors. Our parents could count the things they owned with a chip inside. We can count our connected devices. Our children…" It's possible that our children will grow up being so familiar with and comfortable with Internet-connected mobile devices that they will no longer think of the Internet as being a separate entity from everyday life – the Internet will be all around them and supporting their daily lives in ways that we cannot fully understand or envision today.

"A car is a smartphone with wheels:" One of the most exciting and widespread implications of the mobile ecosystem is the rise of driverless cars. Cars are poised to become “smartphones with wheels" – within a few years, they will be electric, on-demand and autonomous. Whether it's the Tesla Model 3 or the Chevy Bolt or some other new model not yet developed that proves to be the tipping point for mass adoption, the technology for sustainable electric car transportation is almost here and it is likely to be an unstoppable force. What does this mean for supply chains, for city traffic patterns, for urban planning and design of public spaces? What happens to cities when most car ownership is replaced by autonomous fleets of on-demand cars that don't have to park or sit in a garage overnight? If people don't have to spend their time driving and searching for parking spaces, what will they do with their time instead, and what new business opportunities will this create? As Carl Sagan once said, “It was easy to predict mass car ownership, but hard to predict Walmart."

Mobile is changing work and productivity in ways that we do not yet fully understand. At every stage of digital technology adoption – from mainframes to PCs to mobile devices – the nature of work and what “work" really looks like goes through a big transformation. Over time, work changes to fit the capabilities of the new tools, and we can't always predict exactly how this will look or what it means until it's already happening. As the presentation says, "The future comes looking like something you can't use for real work. These days it often looks like a toy for rich hipsters. But the toy gets better. And the work changes." For example, instead of making PowerPoint presentations, perhaps the “work" of the future will be managing chat sessions via mobile device. Maybe most people don't really need a mouse and keyboard to do their work anymore – maybe new applications or chat bots will develop that can help people work more effectively from mobile devices, by directly tapping into human brainpower without the slow, clunky intermediary of a keyboard or laptop or tablet. It might sound unlikely, but who knows? 20 years ago, the idea of people using smartphones to reply to emails would have been thought of as impossible. Mobile technology will make work more efficient by saving time and reducing effort and helping people get directly to the root of the uniquely value proposition that human knowledge workers can add – creativity, ingenuity, discretion, critical thinking. The future of work is going to look a lot different – and hopefully better, faster and easier – than what we have today.

This presentation is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the biggest key concepts and trends that explain how mobile technology is changing the world. Read more from Benedict Evans, “Mobile Ate the World."



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