Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are Consumers Now in the Digital Driving Seat?

Yesterday’s Apple announcements on the iPhone 5 were greeted with the usually hoops and wows but also with a few more yawns and so what’s. Its not so much that Steve Jobs is missing as much as the marketplace is shifting and moving on and more of the same isn’t that stimulating. Wired described it as being ‘mostly it is the Toyota Prius of phone updates’.

Sometime you just sense a change in the air. It’s like when winter changes to spring, the days start to lengthen, blossom and colour burst forth, and the sun’s rays become warmer and we start to think about summer. Business and technology is not different, just less marked and has many individual but intertwined seasons. The cycle can be seen as moving from innovation, to adaption to the market, to wide adoption within the market, to commodity and commodity upgrades and then, back to innovation. Because technology alone is not enough the subsequent innovation may be more commercially and market driven.

We are clearly seeing the emergence of the market demand for the technology to be device agnostic. This is because the technology itself is now becoming commoditised. Consumers are looking beyond the ‘wow’ factors and more at their own needs. Android has been the driver of much change and has clipped the wings of Apple. It may ‘borrowed’ some things on its journey and Samsung may have lost one battle on Apple’s home soil, but the change has happened and Apple now has to respond, is no longer in a market of one and that is good for everyone, including Apple. The Nexus 7 and Samsung Note are becoming serious tablet contenders and who would have thought the Kindle Fire, a basic tablet with a lower cut of Android, no camera and few Apps would secure a reported 22% of the US tablet market?

However, we are now also seeing some real convergence between mobile devices as smartphones get smarter, faster and with bigger screens, whilst tablets shrink to meet them. Just as eInk was always going to be and was clearly a significant catalyst of change, it now looks a casualty of the process it succeeded in kick starting. Amazon retain their loyalty with it some may say more as an insurance policy than a strategic bet. It is easy to see the same fate for the early smartphones and tablets. As many early ereader producers will testify, technology without the platform is now a waste of time.

It’s no longer about formats, DRM, standards and more about online, anytime, anywhere, any device. This itself changes both the package and its delivery in ways we are only just starting to see today.

The market is now focused on ‘platforms’ and less on devices, on online on-demand services and less on offline, accepting the consumer merely licences and doesn’t own files, and changing business models that continually engage with the consumer. These changes are fundamental and start to open up new business models which in turn fuel new technology. Remember Blockbuster and how we used to rent videos from the store, then came Netflix and Lovefilm with their postal offers and now everything is going on-demand and streamed importantly to aany device anywhere, anytime. Remember record stores and megastores, then came iTunes with DRM, then came MP3 now we have Spotify. The basic content didn’t change radically, what changed was how we found it, acquired it and consumed it.  

So where does this leave book publishing and its alliances to the new technology and the changing consumer market? Unlike music and video, books have to compete head to head with the physical product and existing model. Merely driving down the digital price to a silly point like 20p will itself force change but are we ready or even thought through the implications or are we like many today spreading our bets and hoping one will come in?

Somewhat related:

A funny cartoon that brought a smile to our faces over upgrade announcements.

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