The next big thing…

My father, somewhat in jest, asked me what I believed to be the next big thing. A side effect of spending way too much time online is that you can see trends bubble up way before it hits the mainstream. Here’s my crack at some predictions. I’ve tried to steer clear of the bleeding obvious or cliche trends (mobile, social).

Micro-computers. The £25 Raspberry Pi was developed to lower the barriers for kids to get into programming. The original target was to ship 3,000 units, but they’re on track to ship a million before the year is out. Presently, the demand comes from hobbyists who want to create a low cost hackable media centre, for example. The number of potential applications are vast and it has the scope disrupt all sorts of existing solutions. I could imagine that something like a commercial security camera system is darn expensive, but now there’s the prospect that an amateur could patch together some low-cost hardware and a highly flexible software offering – all at the fraction of the cost. For the non-tech crowd, I envisage that developers might chose to bundle the OS and software as a downloadable disk image (ala “app”) or sell it all ready to go – creating a new kind of ecosystem.

Big screen “app” gaming. You only have to witness the overwhelming response of Ouya on Kickstarter to see that there’s something huge coming. Only a tiny percentage of the market has even heard of Ouya and yet they’ve reaped multi-millions in pre-orders – it’s going to be big. The smartphone has shown that good gameplay rules the day. Up until now it’s still been difficult for the game developer to reach the TV gaming audience (the Xbox/Sony/Wii stores still have many hurdles). People want a cheap console with access to low cost “throw-away” games and developers want the open platform to reach the end user without restrictions or an unjust revenue share – Ouya and other future devices will bring together that marriage. Conversely, I also predict some stagnation of the blockbuster games at the other end of the spectrum. The recent E3 was dominated by franchise extensions – suggesting publishers are keen to stick to safe bets rather taking on a high-budget original ideas.

Hardware cloud. In the more distant future I can see cloud computing becoming more literal, whereby a software experienced in enhanced by the computing power of distributed server farms. The first real demonstration of this that I’ve seen is the cloud gaming service Gaikai, which has recently been snapped up Sony. Maybe Moore’s Law negates the need for any additional external hardware power, or maybe it’s going to allow us to perform tasks that we can’t even imagine yet.

Technology under the skin. Remember Interspace? It’s going to become a reality. Less so human shrinking with comical effects, but more so embedded technology under the skin that’s going to revolutionise healthcare. A recent trip to the GP reaffirmed to me that ailment diagnosis isn’t best performed by man. I figured I might have caught a tropical bug and all that was needed was a blood test to really know what was going on. Imagine a time when there’s a tiny implant inside your body conducting tests continuously and flagging problems before you even experience symptoms. It exists already for Diabetics. Technology will also help with other areas that have traditionally been considered out of reach from quantitative measurement; research has shown that a regular MRI scan can has the potential to diagnose most physiological illnesses. The technology might be a few years out before delivering something mind blowing – but I’m confident that it’s going to happen and it will change our existence.

P2P disruption in surprising places. Disgruntlement with the UK banking industry has no doubt been a boon for established disruptors such as Zoppa and upstarts like FundingCircle. There are still many other industries ripe for peer-to-peer disruption and recessions tend to lead to the reassessment of the status quo.

Extreme information synthesising. We all experience information overload and the rate of content production is only growing. There’s an increasing need for tools and solutions to consolidate and condense information. The cute Little Printer is mostly a novelty item, but it demonstrates a trend where people will increasingly value small nuggets of information that’s precisely targeted to them. The rapid boom in mobile “Apps” has helped steer content providers to trim down information to the bare essentials and the mind-shift is spilling over onto the desktop experience too. I have a few ideas in this area that I’d love to explore at some point in time.

Natural inputs for the desktop. Someone is going to acquire Leap – I wish I could invest today. It’s quite impressive to see a toddler use an iPad – there’s something special going on with a natural experience such as touch. Ever since Minority Report, people have been salivating about the prospect of waving around your hands to control a computer. Leap, a Kinnect-esque device, will make it a reality for a mere $75. I’ll be ordering one on day #1. I’ll be shocked if Microsoft or Apple haven’t made an “acqui-hire” by this time next year.

Story enhanced products. The rise of local/organic food shows the increasing interest by consumers to better understand the story behind the product that they’re buying and the company that they’re supporting. IceBreaker has a neat feature that let’s you input the barcode number and see a map of the precise location where the wool was sourced. I think we’ll quickly see that many more products will be attached with the opportunity for the consumer to extend their experience online – a meat supplier will allow you to see a photos from the animals entire life, a 3D printer company will let you see a video of your item being produced, product manuals will be supplemented with links to short videos and so on.

Demise of digital cameras. There’s still a place for the high-end DSLRs, but I think the entry level range will see a quick demise with the smartphone filling its spot. The Flip camera infamously rose to fame, got acquired for $600m by Cisco, only to be axed 2-years later. Who’d want to carry around another bulging gadget in their pockets when a smartphone can product a satisfactory quality snap (where the core use case is to share on Facebook, rather than print)?

The movie industry is screwed. I don’t feel too sorry for the music industry. The labels once served a clear purpose with a fairly legitimate case for charging £15 for an album (accounting for the cost in scouting for talent, brining artists to market and covering all the failed bets). The internet changes that completely – now an artist, using fairly basic equipment can produce good-enough quality tracks, raise awareness online, garner some fans and eventually make a living from tours. Low budget movies generally suck. We want to watch extravagant movies with leading actors and that costs a ton. Yes, the studios need to sort out things like simultaneous global release dates, but it’s going to continue to struggle against piracy.

TV is the new film. Conversely, the TV is potentially safe. The content is more absorbing and people are willing to put up with a few ads – if, and very importantly, the broadcasters allow you to stream/download the content seamlessly. Make it easier and quicker to watch a show with ads than pirate it and it’ll be safe for a few more years.

Back to basics. Just as nanontechology and new materials accelerates forward, it’s interesting also to spot trends for minimalism and using natural materials. Turns out that barefoot shoes are actually better for you, and wool is amazing.

I don’t invest (something would be wrong if I could get better returns than putting the funds back into my business), but if I did, here are some companies I’d be bullish about (based on my feeling for the company/brand rather than the financials which I do not really understand in the slightest):

  • Nike: I simply think that the brand is really strong at the moment. They’ve been really smart in partnering with technology (Apple and Xbox) and their “cool” factor has improved in recent times in my book.
  • Facebook: I don’t understand things well enough to know if they’re worth a $100b. But considering the sentiment towards the company from investors, I still think there’s a disillusion on just how much Facebook has become a “utility” that provides the pipework for everything social to come in the future. Much like Google, Facebook will also be intertwined with the entire Internet experience. Moreover, Facebook still hasn’t made significant inroads in capturing the brand marketing budgets (a much bigger market than Google’s direct response success story), but it’ll come soon. I hope.
  • Amazon: Their customer support is fantastic, product availability vast and they make it just so darn easy to buy stuff. Why I like them so much is the fanatical accomplishments in maximising conversion rates on their site. Whilst there probably isn’t so much more for them to etch out through further optimisation, it leaves me with a feeling that they’ve got an ethos of using technology with a singular goal to achieve more sales.
  • Lululemon Athletica: A sportswear retailer. One of several companies who I spotted doing a superb job with social media – and they have avid fans. Zero international presence makes them ripe for growth.
  • Airbnb: Not yet a public company, but I’d like to invest. Their progress so far has been nothing short of incredible. What gives me such high hopes it that an increasing number of my friends are aware of the concept but have yet to try it (mostly because of being timid and some ‘friction’ problems that Airbnb booking process still has). Positive experiences and the word of mouth it creates will make it mainstream.
 Tags: Random   Published: 29th July '12

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