Beneath the Surface: The Changing Mobile Ecosystem
Microsoft made big headlines last week, unexpectedly stealing the spotlight away from Apple and its WWDC buzz from the week before. And attention is not all they borrowed from the Cupertino company. At a very Jobsian, top-secret event in LA last Monday, Microsoft gave us a preview of the Surface, its own answer to the iPad and first serious attempt at hardware production.
While the Surface specs are certainly impressive, complete with a buzzed about keyboard cover, kickstand, and Windows 8 software that screams productivity, this product release and its competition with Apple is only one small part of the greater mobile picture.
Microsoft, certainly not known for its hardware outside of the Xbox or the occasional mouse or keyboard, has sparked controversy with the announcement of its very own device. Some view the Surface as a direct snub to longtime partners such as Intel, Dell, or HP, while others see the release as setting the bar for how other hardware companies should integrate Windows 8 on their device; similar to how Google led the way with its Nexus phone, only to be outdone by Samsung's Galaxy S II. Regardless, the tablet is sure to make great waves in the industry. It represents a trend we’ve noticed the past few years where big names like Apple have made it a goal to gain total control of their product, from “chip to cloud”. We now see Microsoft taking a big page from Apple’s book and stepping outside its comfort zone of licensing software.
Google is fast on the heels of Microsoft and Apple, with their I/O keynote set for this
Wednesday, June 27th at Moscone Center in San Francisco. As usual, the rumors are numerous for the event, but it will almost certainly feature the release of their Nexus 7, a Kindle Fire tablet competitor, likely to run on the new Android OS, Jelly Bean.
Google’s situation is a bit different though. Due to Android being open sourced, the search engine giant faces as much potential competition from Samsung, their own hardware partner, as they do from Apple or Microsoft. They would not stand to gain if Samsung ever came out with a tablet or smartphone of their own, unaffiliated with Google’s version of Android. Amazon has already had such success with the Kindle Fire, demonstrating the power an Android operated tablet can have without help from Google. And perhaps Google is preparing for a break with its OEMs down the road, as shown by their still mysterious acquisition of Motorola.
These big breaks in the mobile manufacturing ecosystem come as a result of tech companies opening their eyes to the importance of mobile. With smartphone sales surpassing PC sales, and tablets set to crush the field within a few years mobile devices and their users cannot be ignored. For now we may see mobile and PC technologies as distinct within themselves, but the lines have already been blurred. It won’t be long until every device will be assumed to be mobile. I give it two years before there’s no question that a conversation about any given “app” means mobile app. To companies like Microsoft, this mobile future is so critical that turning their product over to a third party now may no longer be an option. And running the whole show from chip to cloud may ultimately mean smoother software integration, more innovation, and a better overall user experience.
We’re paying close attention to these changes at Appcelerator and will continue to do our best to help businesses and developers navigate these shifting ecosystems. Mobile news is likely to remain controversial for years to come, reflecting its early stages and increasingly vast influence. But we believe that the ultimate winners will be the users. It’s our goal to continue offering customers choice, compelling experiences, and the ability to leverage whatever technology or platform lies beneath the surface.
As for what’s next, all we can do is speculate. How will the Surface fare against the iPad when it comes out this fall? Could a mobile phone provider be the next purchase for Microsoft? What big changes will Google bring this week? We’re right there with you, on the edge of our seats.
Jeff Haynie is Co-founder and CEO of Appcelerator. Jeff is a long-time serial entrepreneur, technologist and blogger. He was previously Co-founder and CTO of Vocalocity and CTO of eHatchery before that. He has worked on numerous standard committees such as IETF and W3C and has been a core contributor to a number of important open source technologies such as JBoss and OpenVXI. Jeff served with distinction in the U.S. Navy. Follow him on twitter @jhaynie.