Benedict Evans On 16 Mobile Themes To Watch Next Year

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Benedict Evans On 16 Mobile Themes To Watch Next Year

Andreessen Horowitz partner and longtime mobile analyst Benedict Evans met with reporters in San Francisco yesterday morning to discuss the 16 mobile trends that he thinks will be the most worth watching in the New Year.

Since Evans has a long history of producing sharp analysis, we thought we’d share his observations with you. You can also listen to a related podcast here.


Mobile is the New Central Ecosystem of Tech

The mobile ecosystem is heading toward perhaps 10x the scale of the PC industry, says Evans, who calls the smartphone the “new sun.”


Mobile *Is* the Internet

We should stop talking about the “mobile” internet and “desktop” internet, argues Evans, saying it’s like “talking about ‘color’ TV as opposed to black and white TV.”

Really, he adds, it’s PCs that now offer a “limited, cut-down version of the Internet.”


Mobile Isn't About Small Screens, and PCs Aren’t About Keyboards

Mobile is no longer about screen size or keyboards but rather the ecosystems of ARM, iOS, and Android.

As Evans notes, they have “10x” the scale of personal computers (with six billion people expected to be using smartphones by 2020), and we should expect mobile devices to a.) take over more and more of what we use PCs for today, b.) gain larger screens and keyboards at times and c.) be powered by increasingly powerful software.


Our Changing Productivity Tools

Tens of millions of people may be using Powerpoint for a long time to come, but software will change how many others do their jobs.

More specifically, more of our work will “move to the cloud and onto mobile devices (with large or small screens) and be reshaped” by new tools, notes Evans.

(Slack, backed by Andreesssen Horowitz, is one tool that TechCrunch happens to be using more and more.)


Microsoft's "Capitulation"

As far as Evans is concerned, Microsoft completely missed the shift to the new platform. “Xbox is non-core, Windows Mobile is on life support, Windows 10 is a good prop for the legacy business that can slow but not prevent this change, and Satya Nadella has explicitly stated that the decades-old strategy of ‘Windows Everywhere’  is over.”

Microsoft isn’t exactly dead, Evans notes, but it has its work cut out for it.


Apple and Google: It's Complicated

Apple and Google have been winning the mobile game in different ways, says Evans.

Android has more users, but Apple has more of the “best” users from a developers’ perspective.

Google has reach through both iOS and Android, but its reach on iOS is limited by what Apple will allow.

Meanwhile, says Evans, Apple’s weakness in cloud services and AI may end up becoming a major strategic problem over time.


Search and Discovery

In this bold new era, who has the traffic and where do they send it? How do AI, or discovery, or the platforms themselves fit into this, Evans asks.

Today we have Google Now, Maps, and Apple Music. It’ a question mark how many new means of distribution we’ll see, he suggests, noting that “mobile is not a neutral platform.”


Apps and the Web

“There’s an involved, technical and, for people like me, fascinating conversation in tech about smartphone apps and the web – what can each do, how discovery works, how they interplay, what Google plans with Chrome, whether the web will take over as the dominant form and so on,” writes Evans.

“But for an actual brand, developer, or publisher wondering if they should do an app or a website, the calculation is much simpler and less technical: Do people want to put your icon on their home screen?”


Looking for the Next Runtime

“Competition between Apple and Google, with Facebook trying to butt in, plus all the unrealized possibilities of a new medium, means the interaction models of mobile keep changing,” writes Evans. “Really, we’re looking for a new runtime – a new way, after the web and native apps, to build services.”

Evans says that “might be Siri or Now or messaging or maps or notifications or something else again. But the underlying aim is to construct a new search and discovery model . . . for the web or app stores to get users.”


Messaging as a Platform

As Evans notes, “By turning messaging into a development environment, you create an alternative to the web or the app store. . .”

Little wonder everyone from Facebook to Wechat to Apple to Google is trying to figure out how to get ahead of the trend.


The Unclear Future of Android and the OEM World

Android won the handset market outside of Apple, but it’s not quite clear what that means, says Evans, who notes a mostly non-Google experience can, and is, being created, including by Xiaomi and its imitators, and Cyanogen.

“This matters because the OS, more and more, is a route to discovery of services,” he says. “If you control the OS, you can shape what people do, far more than you could on the desktop web.”


Internet of Things

“The sheer range and cheapness of sensors and components, mostly coming out of the smartphone supply chain, will make them ubiquitous and invisible. We’ll forget about them just as we’ve forgotten about electric motors.”

There will be many different platforms and standards, too, predicts Evans.



The move to electric and self-driving cars will fundamentally change what the whole automotive system looks like, notes Evans. For example, on-demand services will change who buys them. They could also change the urban landscape just as much as traditional, gasoline-engine cars themselves did.

Asks Evans, “What do mass-market retail or restaurants look like if no one needs to park?”


TV and the Living Room

“The tech industry spent a quarter-century trying to get to the TV set to take it online – that was going to be the mass-market computer. Now it looks like this might finally be happening, but it’s almost a side-show,” writes Evans.

“Microsoft declares Xbox is no longer a strategic asset, TVs are accessories to the smartphone. And it’s the smartphone, not the TV or PC, that has delivered the computing revolution and taken computing into the living room.”



“In theory they should be everything – the aim of every scifi fantasy,” says Evans. Instead, today, at least, to him, they’re mostly just an accessory — “a useful and pleasing adjust to your smartphone.”


Most Users and the "Tech Industry" are Very Different

Shocking though it may be, “Most iPhone users don’t use Google Maps, most people don’t use a calendar at all, and audio cassettes are making a comeback, as normal people take ownership of the tech in their lives and shape it to their needs,” writes Evans.

Put another way, “The future is unevenly distributed, but so is understanding and interest in it.”

While those in the tech industry are “comfortable living with the latest things and presume that everyone else does,” for so-called normals, it’s a very different story (one worth keeping in mind).