Back in November, I posted a somewhat capricious article on why I thought Netbooks and MIDs are doomed. Several of you produced valid arguments both for and against—the form factor does indeed work well for some, but it isn’t sustainable. My point was that it doesn’t work well for enough consumers to make the market large enough to support the kind of weight everyone wants from their devices these days. It is a niche category.
Now it looks like the BBC has jumped on the bandwagon, decrying the death of the netbook, though in typical press-oriented fashion: netbooks are dying because there are so many alternatives in mobile computing. The world is full of magical devices and the only hard part for the consumer is choosing one.
I’ll go one step further now in my ranting by stating that ALL of these—netbooks, tablets, MIDs, smartphones—are niche devices, and more are on the way. The mobile market will become further fragmented in the future, not less, because it has been designated by the press (and to some extent by the marketplace itself) as the new Gold Country. There lies money.
The motivations for inventing these devices are not pure, nor have they ever been in our economy. Innovation, creativity, and the benefit of humanity are not the driving force behind all these new designs. They are not being dreamed up by starry-eyed inventors in garages, and innovators no longer help each other out as they did in the past (seriously, read that last link). These marvelous inventions are dreamed up for the sole purpose of making money for corporations, and that financial motivation has become all-encompassing as the mobile space has waxed over the past 10 years.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I live in and benefit from a capitalist economy, so it would be hypocritical and ludicrous for me to claim that financial motivation is entirely a bad thing. I don’t believe that at all. Financial incentive may be the strongest form of motivation that the human species can achieve, for all I know. However, what saddens me is that money has become the only motivator, and for that reason, innovation has become necessarily lean in the name of efficiency. It is much more profitable to borrow ideas from others and build on them rather than thinking differently out of the gate.
While the attitude of jumping ever higher from giants’ shoulders has aided in the proliferation of open-source software, which most of us see as a Good Thing, in my opinion it has also degraded creativity in our sector to the point where new products are invented solely by assembling existing parts in a different order and pushing the result out into the marketplace. We have gone from “New” to “New and Improved” to simply “Improved”. The wealth, however, has become ever more elusive for individuals, and even for smaller corporations. Only those who can weather heavy losses and razor-thin margins will survive in the long run.
The reason I rant like this is because I think we can do better. There are real innovations in the marketplace now, and sometimes putting two components together in a creative way can have results that exceed the imaginations of the innovators themselves. As Scoble points out, people are taking tablets now and creating useful products with them that are beyond the scope of the original intent when we called them “webpads” in 1999. Putting cameras, accelerometers, and GPS receivers into mobile devices is both experimental and innovative, and has paved the way for truly useful features to emerge, features that actually provide a substantive benefit to the users, not just to the corporation who builds and sells the thing.
That makes me excited to be a part of the system. I prefer to believe that improving people’s lives across the board is the true end goal of capitalism, raising the tide and lifting all of the little boats. That probably makes me a dreamer. But I’m not the only one…