Have mobiles (phones/tablets) entered their “stable” phase?

Perusing the tech news this morning, I came upon a very cogent article from Wired on the current state of the smartphone technology space and marketplace. I think this crystalizes a number of things that I’ve been observing and thinking. I’ve still got my 2010 original iPad. It is beginning to have a harder time running today’s software, but getting a new one is simply having a better tool that works in the same way. I can still do a lot of productive things with my iPad that I could not do before, such as as grading papers for my class using PDF markup, which is a great use case for a tablet. I’ll eventually get a new one, but not yet. My iPhone 4S is not the sleekest or fanciest phone around, but it does run the new iOS 7, giving it new life. There’s nothing radical in iOS 7, but it continues to make the iPhone experience very satisfying. I’d like a new phone, but I think I can stretch it for another year, plus I just got a nice, new waterproof case that won’t work with the new form device form factor. There are nice Android-based tablets and phones out there, but what’s the difference, other than slightly different ways of doing the same things, plus variations in screen sizes and a few interfaces?

That’s where we are now, incremental evolution, and “me too.” I think that this is the reason for the buildup and subsequent denouement when Apple didn’t introduce “one more thing” that was truly revolutionary. Folks want to think that there is some new paradigm waiting to be exposed, when in many respects, I think that the next paradigm changes will be in business models, particular in entertainment content, as we leverage our existing tools (or incremental innovations in those tools). We’ve reached a plateau in mobile that reminds me of the PC marketplace once the basic design, form factor and software stack had been determined in the early 1990’s (Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, with the subsequent wave of application software innovation that built upon that foundation).

I think that is one reason that I’m excited about Chrome OS. It’s not that it’s new amazing hardware, it’s that Chrome OS is a new (old, back to terminals 😉 ?) way of looking at things. It challenges business models, but it’s not about hardware innovation. It may be another 10 years (or more) before we see another industry-shaping, game changing product like the iPod or iPhone. Or, it may be happening now with 3D printing and we just don’t quite know it, and 3D printing hasn’t yet had its “iPhone moment.”

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