Over the past few columns, we have covered two different aspects of the new world that I see emerging around us the network computer and massputers, and the commPuting grid. To see how this new world is getting created and understand its impact on the world around us, we need to take a deeper look at multiple converging trends from different industries.
We are seeing traditional wireline telcos impacted both by the emergence of mobile phones as well as the shift of voice to IP networks. In India, the installed base of mobile phones is now greater than the land lines. Cable companies are not only offering television channels but also voice and Internet connectivity. Telecom companies for their part are starting to offer IP-TV. The music industry has to consider new forms of distribution via online music stores like iTunes and the peer-to-peer file-sharing networks which obliterate differences between what’s legal and what isn’t.
Internet portals are having to face up to the emergence of search as the primary driver for traffic, and increasingly for ads. Online gaming is emerging rapidly as broadband networks proliferate, especially in the East Asian countries. Software is being delivered as a service by companies like Salesforce.com. Open-source software is making waves across domains and devices. RSS and the publish-subscribe phenomenon is transforming content delivery and access, even as bloggers complement (and perhaps, threaten) traditional media.
Amongst all this, the giants of today’s technology world like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco and Nokia face slowing growth and are bumping into each other as they expand into other markets. Another reality that they face is that the next big users of technology are coming from emerging markets where affordability and simplicity can be critical business drivers. Even as analysts consider technology as just another mature industry, there is still a lot of flux taking place as computing, communications and the content industries start overlapping with each other.
Starbucks offers music downloads along with coffee. Cellphones from companies like Motorola offer MP3 players and webcams, along with Internet access. Computers from the likes of Dell and HP integrated with Microsoft software are being repositioned as entertainment controllers. Broadband wireless networks like Verizon’s EV-DO blur the difference between home and office, and work and leisure. Skype undermines the traditional business model of telcos by offering free Internet calling from computers.
Even as the world considers the various converging, diverging and overlapping trends, many of our mental models get thrown into confusion. What worked in the past is not as likely to work in the future. Yesterday’s partner could be tomorrow’s competitor. Past success and dominance does not guarantee future triumph. Not only has the pace of change accelerated, technologies from different industries are pushing against each other in search of growth and new opportunities. It promises to be the best of times or the worst of times! How do we make sense of this new world?
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