There is No Such Thing as a “Lost Year for Tech”
Some thoughts, a couple of megatrends and ten startups to watch in 2014
You may have read Quartz’ interestingly entertaining post “2013 was a lost year for tech.” With a headline that can make both BuzzFeed and Upworthy jealous — and arguments that most people in the developed world would probably not disagree with — Quartz got the kind of attention it hoped for.
Attention is one thing; being sensational is another.
Om Malik wrote a great rebuttal to the Qz article, and did a fantastic job of explaining the nature of innovation and disruption:
“Innovation happens in different places, in different sectors and follows a different time scale that only a handful really comprehend.”
John Gruber also wrote his thoughts, including the fact that smartphones becoming a commodity is a sign of “remarkable progress.”
Plenty of other smart and knowledgeable people weighed in by echoing rebuttals, distinguishing valid points from exaggerations, and more.
There Are No Dud Years in Technology
2013 may not have been “exciting” from the perspective of a journalist (even if his bio states he “believes that the most interesting things about the universe have yet to be discovered, and that technology is the primary driver of cultural change”), but calling any year a “lost year for tech” is nonsense.
Big Brand Tech’s press-worthy contributions during the year may deserve a debate, one which I’m glad Quartz stirred up, but we are talking about the tech industry here, Christopher Mims; the tech industry.
Today’s successful tech giants — from Google and Facebook to Apple and Samsung — all started their empires by building infrastructures that led to widely accepted consumer products that turned into massive platforms.
Mims seems to have gotten it all wrong…
- Connected wearable devices are in their beta / Gen 1 phase (think of the Rio MP3 players, not the iPod), but they are indeed launching as consumer products, and they are popping up everywhere.
- Software companies are acquiring hardware companies, not just the other way around.
- Snowden showed the world how much (and how little) we value privacy, and that awareness is better than being in the dark.
- Companies like Uber, Lyft and AirBnb are disrupting entire industries, despite the many barriers they face. And these startups are not alone (scroll to the bottom of this post for a few examples you may or may not recognize).
- Google Glass is not yet what it promises to be, but self-driving cars aren’t either. You can’t just launch something like this overnight Mr. Mims. Also, scroll to the bottom to learn about META, a company that is going beyong notification glasses like Google Glass.
- Social media has become nearly ubiquitous (something that was laughable seven years ago), and messaging companies have captured (or re-captured) the world’s interest faster than social networks did.
- The world’s largest tech giants—the same I mentioned earlier—now face threats from small startups from every corner of the Earth (and that’s exactly why they are turning them into an opportunity by acquiring them while they can).
- Silicon Valley may not have had its finest moments, but technological innovation is now happening in pockets in dozens of cities—from Ra’anana, Berlin and Santiago to Montreal, Austin and New York City.
- Yes, drones are getting hyped up thanks to clever marketing campaigns—but guess what, such campaigns worked.
- Oh, and yes, one in every five people on Earth own a smartphone.
Is this boring and embarrassing?
Perhaps if you are a tech writer.
Perhaps if you are an early adopter who can’t get his consumer tech updates quickly enough.
Perhaps if you are uninterested in the tech infrastructure that is being built all around us.
Every single day, those of us with connected devices walk around nearly oblivious to the fact that we are nodes in a transparent network that is connecting us to each other and to the things around us. The technological advancements of 2013 may not have fancied a few tech writers (who somehow make their living writing about tech), but such advancements are building the future that our children and our children’s children will live in. Again, this is the tech industry. I am almost certain that the writers at Horse & Rider are more passionate about 2013's contributions than Mr. Mims, but alas, this is not about passion—this is about reality.
2013: Not a dud, I say.
Tech is becoming so seamless that we are forgetting it’s actually there!
That gets me excited. Is also scares the crap out of me, and it should scare the crap out of you too.
It’s up to us — consumers / users / breathing, feeling, thinking human beings — to vote for our future with our daily clicks, swipes and online purchases. Whether we realize it or not — entire layers of data are being mapped all around us, and brilliant minds creating the software and hardware that will power us into a brave new world—for better, or worse.
That brave new world is being shaped day in and day out, whether we know it or not. So much for a “lost year in tech.” Pfff.
If anything, perhaps tech journalists are becoming too dependent on “headline storytelling,” a term I’d like to coin (is that allowed?) for the idea of the media writing exactly what the “hot” startups want them to write about.
Not sure what I mean with “headline storytelling?” Just take a look at TechCrunch’s posts about Snapchat. They run like clockwork.
But I digress.
I believe there are two megatrends that progressed greatly in 2013, and these are only two very obvious ones amidst a sea of small and big wins for tech throughout the year. These are the result of the collision of great advancements in software and hardware, as well as collective work of large R&D budgets, brilliantly committed startups and a tech ecosystem that is one again looking forward to solving problems worth solving.
2013 did not bring about a new Internet, but it certainly contributed key building blocks for the next phase of the Internet era. We should pay attention to these trends and some of the startups tackling them — whether for intellectual, philosophical, sociological or plain business curiosity.
1. All Things Context
The Internet of Things has been talked about for years. It is the subject of plenty of books, commercials and startup pitches. Sci-Fi movies have been talking about this for decades and “Her” is only one of the latest attempts to imagine a world where humans and robots coexist. (Again, I find this exciting, and scary).
We find early signs of contextually connected devices everywhere, from the mall to the jogging lane. Sensors are now everywhere and the reality of human beings interacting with a world around them—that is as physical as it is digital—is becoming a reality.
Here are a few context-related startups that mattered in 2013:
“Real world context for your apps.”
“We take the unloved products in your home and make simple, beautiful, thoughtful things.”
“Your custom, on-wrist HQ.”
“A next-generation virtual reality headset designed for immersive gaming.”
“See the future, first.”
2. All Things Crowd
The convergence of all things crowd (from crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, to the “sharing economy” and the “collaborative economy”), had quite a 2013. Marketplace Communities like AirBnb, Kickstarter, Maker’s Row, Tradesy, Quirky, Artsicle, KitchenSurfing, Fiverr, DogVacay, TaskRabbit, Udacity, SkillShare and Square are but a few examples of how consumer behavior is changing. Larger brands—including TOMS, Ikea and GE—have started initiatives, products and services to tackle this shift in consumer expectations.
Some will say this trend is only gaining momentum in large urban settings, and that may be true to an extent. Regardless of their individual impact, we are seeing a collective shift in the kinds of startups that are getting created, funded and launched.
In fact, the progress enabled by platforms like AngelList and GitHub are sufficient enough to say that 2013 was a source of more transparent and distributed innovation.
Here are a few crowd-related startups to watch in 2014:
“Shop for the world’s best products, invented by real people just like you.”
“Peer-to-peer car sharing and local car rental.”
“An international digital wallet that allows you to securely buy, use, and accept bitcoin currency.”
“Get in the Business of Sharing.”
“Make, buy, and sell products with 3D Printing.”
ps. If you’re interested in joining a private community about “All Things Crowd,” please add a comment with your email or write me at socialnerdia(at)gmail(dot)com.
Note: This article was originally posted at Social Nerdia.