Over 2014 I saw the rise of mobile in a new light. The web is diminishing as the window to the internet. Benedict Evans expressed it well in the most recent a16z podcast: New questions in mobile (I recommend the listen, but here is the article if you would read it instead.) Evans does some back-of-the-envelope math:
… we are now well on our way to having some 3.5bn to 4bn people on earth with a smartphone – there are probably 2bn today, and close to 4bn people with a mobile phone (the number of duplicate SIMs makes the number of active connection closer to 6bn). This compares to around 1.6bn PCs, of which roughly half are consumer and half corporate. So there will be something like 5 times more smartphones than consumer PCs, and those devices are always with you and, with all their apps and sensors, are much more sophisticated than PCs ever were, seen as internet devices.
This scaling trend has been talked about before. Early on only the military and universities owned computers. In the seventies and eighties the “personal computer” exploded that number. In the late nineties, with the growing popularity of the World Wide Web, PC penetration exploded again. Now smartphones.
I asked on Twitter:
First we had computers only at work, then we had PCs at home. With the growth of mobile, will we go back to just having PCs at work?
— Chad Kohalyk (@chadkoh) December 29, 2014
Mobile is changing everything. The two fields that I work in now — online commerce and advertising — are being revolutionized. I see it every day, unfortunately they are often trying to hold on to the past.
I know I am not presenting any new information. This has been a trend in the making for the past 5 years or so. In the final year of my old consultancy we started projects with API design. This is a very profound shift that cannot be summed up with the pithy “There’s an app for that.” Thus this post is is more of a resolution to myself to strictly separate the once interchangeable terms “internet” and “world wide web.” A sort of separation of church and state.
It is also an exercise to think more critically of what it means for “general computing.” Mobile has certainly contributed to less tracking by advertisers (except for “social”, which is another new space in ads), but it means even more stronger social control through digital locks and exclusive ecosystems. “Tethered appliances” as Zittrain called them. How can we bring the benefits of “general computing” to mobile, while leaving behind some of the weaknesses? Watching some of the presentations from the 31st Chaos Communication Congress, I think security is the first priority. It is an old problem, endemic to the system. A proverbial “big hairy audacious goal.” Like the Grail. A worthy goal, methinks.