Judging this year’s Tech of the Future category in the Global Mobile awards, I was struck by the range of entries. They addressed many different market spaces, with different combinations of technology, and came from companies and collaborations of different sizes and shapes. While tech as an industry may still have its issues with diversity in hiring, its outputs are incredibly diverse.
This should perhaps not surprise us. The connected computing revolution has stripped much of the friction from innovation, equipping more people than ever with the tools and the knowledge to create. It has brought global organisations closer together, reducing the friction of communication and increasingly demolishing the remaining barriers, like language. A shared platform of connected computers has allowed more people to innovate, and to find an audience for those innovations in an enormous network of niches.
Given this breadth of innovation and the increasingly fractured nature of the audience, I have to wonder if we should be looking for a single ‘next big thing’.
This is a question that is asked frequently in the mobile industry, in one form or another. It takes the form of questions like: “What is 5G for?”, and “What will replace the smartphone?” Perhaps we should stop looking for a single answer to these questions and think much more in terms of answers, plural.
The whole point of 5G for me is that it can support a diverse range of applications with a level of ubiquitous connectivity we have only been able to dream of until now. If I still have to think about whether or not I am connected in five years’ time, then it will have been a spectacular failure. I should only have to think about the applications, and more specifically, my chosen blend of applications, unique to me. Some will be more popular than others, and hungrier for bandwidth or low latency. But with the rapidly growing array of connected devices, perhaps the biggest category in any analysis of traffic in the future will be ‘other’, an enormous group of individually small but collectively very large bandwidth consumers.
Beyond the smartphone
Perhaps the devices running those applications will be equally diverse? I am compelled by the vision for the future of mixed reality, and the replacement of handsets with headsets. But it is unlikely this will suit everyone. Processors, baseband units, cameras and batteries can be assembled into a huge variety of form factors. As design and manufacturing capabilities continue to advance, the size of a profitable market for individual devices is likely to shrink further. There will likely be a device for every niche, well beyond the current diversity of handset designs. And that’s before we get into the incredible range of M2M (machine to machine) or IoT (internet of things) devices that we already see appearing.
In summary, perhaps we should be less concerned about what is ‘the next big thing’. Instead we should focus on the things, plural. On continuing to enhance the environment for innovation and experimentation. On putting the tools of creativity into the hands of those that understand their niches and can build great things that they will love.