The future of us

One of the reasons innovation — true innovation — is so difficult to achieve, is that we’re trapped by legacy. It’s the key criticism of so-called old media companies. They’re so culturally and institutionally programmed to work a certain way and protect old assets, that “innovation” in some contexts is merely tantamount to rearranging deck chairs on the titanic.

So how is it that a wood pulp and boot manufacturing company dramatically changed their course to become one of the global cellphone giants? At most companies I’ve worked for, you often hear refrains like: “Ahem — we shouldn’t venture there, let’s play to our strengths” or “Let’s stick to core”. Well, not the kind of core Nokia decided to stick too.

The Way We Live Next 3.0
A few bloggers and industry people were invited to the posh One & Only Hotel to hear Nokia’s vision. As interesting as it was, there wasn’t anything particularly jaw-dropping about any of the innovations mentioned. (And it seems the international experience wasn’t too different). However the event was marked by a fascinating and funny talk on “what’s next” by Missing Linking entrepreneur Richard Mulholland.

The hilarious, truly brilliant Mulholland spoke about his vision of the future, which began with flying cars. (Where else?) And he asks the question: Why are we agonising over flying cars? Why are we even thinking in terms of “cars”? We should be coming at the problem with a fresh approach and discard legacy (the car bit) that actually constrains thinking. As futurist Alvin Toffler once said: “The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” (On a side note: Rich’s presentation was one of the first I’ve been to where the audience was treated to a brief, live and pretty good mime of the act of fellatio. Somehow he made it feel relevant.)

So where’s it all going? Well, computers and laptops are old hat. I agree with Richard when he points out that in fact it will be the cellphone (or mobile computing device) that will replace computers as we know them. Your cellphone will be the great connector, the central connectivity point connecting cloud, applications and accessories. The full-size keyboard and mouse connects wirelessly to the phone, and the phone projects a screen on a wall, in mid-air, or wirelessly to any screen near by. What more do you need? You don’t even need to take it out of your pocket. (Is that the internet in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?)

Another interesting point: Technology companies should opt for a developer-centric approach rather than one focused entirely on the customer. It’s nothing new, but I liked the way it was phrased. It’s a philosophy that drives the open source movement and it’s why App stores everywhere are such successes.

Nokia N900 mildly disappointing
We were also treated to a demo of the Nokia N900. There was quite a bit of crowing and whooping over it, but I didn’t really understand what the fuss was about. It looked rather like a slightly slicker, thicker HTC TYTN of three years ago. The interface layered over open source OS Maemo is better than many phones I’ve seen, but it was still just ok. Not quite the game changer we’re hoping for and still, in my opinion, behind the iPhone (and Android to some extent) on both a hardware and software count.

Nokia Booklet 3G great, but could have gone further
A Nokia Booklet 3G was then passed around for inspection. It’s a slick little beast with something like 12 hours (yes, twelve) battery life, plus integrated connectivity and phone (as you would expect). What I found disappointing however is that this amazing piece of technology runs Windows. Here we are talking about Alvin Toffler and flying cars — and this nifty innovation by Nokia… runs windows.

I think it’s an opportunity missed to create a symbian-come-cloud-based OS and really refresh our thinking around the netbook-notebook class of computing. Surely this is the perfect opportunity: Nokia have the OS experience, the booklet is an integrated 3G internet device, and Google has showed us how feasible it is for applications to be based online. You’d think here’s an opportunity to come at computing from a fresh, new angle and really break new ground.

In all fairness though, perhaps it’s that the broader market isn’t quite ready to evolve there yet. But for a first stab outside the small screen arena, it’s not a bad start.

Comment (1)

  1. Chris M wrote::

    Sounds like a good event. I was invited, but unfortunately had to cancel due to work related matters, hopefully they’ll do another one in the future!

    Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 9:52 am #