An Innovation Perfect Storm?

An Innovation Perfect Storm?There have been several recent product announcements or launches that move a step closer to the future vision of computing that I began advocating two years ago. That vision that moves computing to the pocket, home, or office and envisions display and input devices relevant to the context the person is currently in.

I believed two years ago and still believe that what the world needs is not more smart devices, but more flexible and plentiful dumb devices that are driven by the one smart device to rule them all – an extensible smart phone that can not only drive multiple display and input devices wirelessly, but also augment its processing and storage capabilities via wireless devices or the cloud.

Here is a flashback to what I said the Apple iPhone should become two years ago:

“People don’t want a fourth screen. What they want to do is extend the screen they have in their pocket.”

What would be most valuable for people, what they really want, is an extensible, pocketable device that connect wirelessly to whatever input or output devices that they might need to fit the context of what they want to do. To keep it simple and Apple-specific, in one pocket you’ve got your iPhone, and in your other pocket you’ve got a larger screen with limited intelligence that folds in half (or quarters) and connects to your iPhone and can also transmit touch and gesture input for those times when you want a bigger screen. When you get to work you put your iPhone on the desk and it connects to your monitor, keyboard, and possibly even auxiliary storage and processing unit to augment the iPhone’s onboard capabilities. Ooops! Time for a meeting, so I grab my iPhone, get to the conference room and wirelessly connect my iPhone to the in-room projector and do my presentation. On the bus home I can watch a movie or read a book, and when I get home I can connect my iPhone to the television and download a movie or watch something from my TV subscriptions. So why do I need to spend $800 for a fourth screen again?

So what are some of the devices that show that we’re getting close to realizing this vision?

  1. Motorola AtrixMotorola Atrix – A dockable 4G smart phone that while apparently it makes a pretty good smart phone, the lapdock that it connects to in order to give you laptop type functionality has received pretty poor reviews – making it sound like it’s not very-well designed or compelling.
  2. RIM Blackberry PlaybookRIM Blackberry Playbook – RIM’s entry into the tablet market is the Blackberry Playbook. RIM failed to take the full leap and release an inexpensive dumb screen that connects to the user’s Blackberry. Instead it appears to be a fully functional (and priced) 7-inch tablet computer that uses the bigger screen to display the user’s email from their mobile handset without cables. RIM’s lack of commitment to the vision I’ve laid out has resulted in a ‘stuck in the middle’ device that is unlikely to catch on in the marketplace.
  3. Nintendo WiiU – Nintendo is launching an oversize motion sensing controller that also has a display for game developers to utilize to extend the gaming environment out of the TV and closer to the gamer. This opens up the opportunity to either remove some of the visual visual clutter from the big screen onto the little one (creating a more immersive experience) or to leverage the second screen to deliver more game information (imagine flipping through pages of item inventories, maps, etc.). In this case the Nintendo Wii has the smarts and delivers the images wirelessly to the WiiU controller.

Now, let’s discuss Apple’s efforts in advancing the vision I laid out a couple of years to hopefully encourage device manufacturers to make it real so that we can all enjoy a more flexible, useful, valuable computing experience across multiple contexts.

Apple is launching Airplay Mirroring in iOS5 (PICTURED AT THE TOP) which allows you to display what’s on your Apple iPad2 (or part of it in the case of specially programmed games or other apps) WIRELESSLY. Apparently Airplay Mirroring works with all 90,000 iPad apps. There is one catch – you must have an Apple TV connected to your TV. Taken a step further, the next Apple iPhone will have the same (or better) processor that’s inside the Apple iPad2 and will run iOS5 so it may have Airplay Mirroring as well. These latest developments may also be part of the reason we are hearing rumblings of Apple and Samsung possibly partnering together to bring out a line of Apple branded televisions. Personally I think that would be the wrong way to go. Apple should focus on selling the minimal hardware necessary to facilitate an Airplay Mirroring connection to anyone who wants to build the connection capability into their televisions (or tablets or monitors or conference room projectors or laptops). Here is a video that shows all of the Apple Airplay Mirroring capabilities:

As you can see Apple is getting very close to fully realizing the potential of the vision I laid out a couple of years ago and it’s all very exciting. Of course they will probably make it work with only Apple hardware, so that leaves a huge opportunity for someone like HP or Dell or Samsung to take this and run with it in the way I’ve described now that the major hurdle (the video transmission) seems to have been solved, and to bring it to the mass audience. Here’s one company that has a conference room flat panel solution. Hopefully the big players will get together and build a standard so we can all enjoy the benefits of mobile-centric, extensible, flexible, context-sensitive computing very soon. Come on folks you’re almost to the finish line, just a little bit more innovating and you’re there!

How exciting!

P.S. I still believe there is an opportunity for someone to subsidize the cost of a bigger screen (to drive massive adoption) by allocating a portion of the potential incremental media purchases or search advertising that it would drive but nobody has done that yet.

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