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Smart Mobile And The Thin Cloud

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Editor’s note: Guest author Keith Teare is General Partner at his incubator Archimedes Ventures and CEO of newly funded just.me. He was a co-founder of TechCrunch.

All that is solid melts into air. There will be no web 3.0!

When HP CEO Leo Apotheker announced that the company was seeking options for its consumer PC business and abandoning the hardware mobile business its stock dropped 20%. When Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, after a 12 hour pullback, the stock rose to go above the previous close within 48 hours.

These two stories of corporate change are widely discussed, often in terms that assume the men at the center of each company are the story. However, something far bigger is in play, and it will transform the entire software ecosystem over the next 5 years. The changes will be so dramatic that the current discussions of a bubble will appear silly. Huge companies will fail and even bigger new companies will be formed.

The fundamentals of the era we are at the birth of have the following characteristics{

  • Desktop computing devices, including laptops, are being reduced to machines that are used to perform serious work tasks. Less people will buy them in future, and those who do will use them less of the time.
  • Software written for the Web 2.0 era, assuming services in the cloud are consumed by people sitting at desks with browsers, will be increasingly less relevant and used less often. Even relatively new projects like Facebook and Google + will become “old fashioned” quickly.
  • Mobile devices, and especially smart phones, will accomplish more and more of the things an individual will want to get done, and will do so more easily and productively. Adoption will be fast and volumes will be huge due in part to the ease of use and convenience of an always on device combined with powerful software and services.
  • Software and services will run on these devices and use the cloud for storage and delivery. Rich clients will use a thin cloud. The cloud will get bigger but simpler. The old web 2.0 web apps and web services paradigm will decline.
  • Apple’s iPhone architecture is best suited to this emerging human experience.
  • Google’s Android, being mainly a thin client to Google’s thick cloud (Docs, Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Picasa, G+) will please geeks but will need to change to be the mainstream choice of discerning consumers. Its large volumes will be driven less by passion and more by commodity price points, not unlike Symbian in an earlier era.
  • Facebook, the archetypal thick cloud ecosystem, will be very vulnerable during this transition as almost its entire business relies on a cloud based architecture holding a person’s social graph and being the means of acting on that graph. A Facebook mobile app as a thin client onto this will not be as easy or as powerful for users as a real mobile social network.
  • Anybody building almost anything in 2011 should be thinking “mobile first” and possibly “mobile only”. They should be empowering smart phone owners to accomplish complex and simple tasks with the minimum of fuss and the maximum productivity. They should not require a person to go and sit at a desk for anything.

This entire shift is being driven by the ecosystem that started with the iPhone. Android, by contrast, is a backward looking architecture. It is a means of distributing old web services to a mobile audience, but it is not transforming software to meet the opportunities mobile affords or the simpler, new architectures it opens up.

Looked at from this point of view, HP is right to want to get out of the hardware business. It’s game over there for the next few years. Apple has a huge lead.

Google still has a shot at being relevant because of Android, but it needs huge changes to the Android philosophy to accomplish that. HTML5 will not be enough to modernize the web 2.0 ecosystem for a mobile future. A new ecosystem is emerging, driven by user delight with a more decentralized, user-centric mobile application ecosystem.

Facebook will be challenged to retain its lead in social networking unless it can pivot to an entirely different, decentralized, architecture. But as the most centralized of the web 2.0 success stories, that won’t be either obvious or easy until it is too late.

The next 10 years are going to be wonderfully interesting. And the thanks goes to . . . Apple and Steve Jobs. Think different is no longer a choice.

Photo credit: Pedro Szekely