Let’s take a step back and see how things look around the world.
Apple is Fine.
Similar to 2012, Tim Cook back-loaded Apple’s 2013. Apple went so far as to release the retina iPad mini pretty much as late as it could and still guarantee that supply would be adequate before the key holiday shopping season. From all indications, the new hardware is selling well - as one would expect - although many Apple bloggers whiffed when judging 5c popularity. While the sales gap between the 5s and 5c may shrink going forward, I would be quite surprised if the 5c becomes “the real iPhone” as many predicted. The sheer uproar over 5c pricing appears to have quieted down as well. Apple’s redesigned iOS 7 doesn’t seem to have created any new “–gate” controversies, with the only complaints coming from design snobs (I say that with genuine respect). Apple accomplished a lot in 2013, and 2014 looks to be just as jam-packed with what I would expect to be iPhone bifurcation (two distinct iPhone form factors with simultaneous development – a really big deal). An iPad pro (think larger iPad Air with possible dedicated accessories for professionals) would also seem to fit very well in Apple’s 2014 resource timeline.
Tech Industry Hardware Becoming a Snooze.
Take a look around and there really isn’t much in the way of exciting and flashy hardware innovations geared for the masses. Yes, the 5s is forward-thinking, and has the internal composition that will rival next year’s iPhone 6, but it’s hardly something to get people talking at the holiday party. The iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner is nice (continues to work well for me), but I’m not finding it nearly as much of a salesperson as Siri (those initial demos were unbeatable). On the tablet front, it has become an even bigger bore. I use an iPad 2 and have absolutely no desire to upgrade to a newer iPad anytime soon. Outside of Apple, Google is busy publicly beta testing hardware products with the ultimate intent of controlling our data and attention. Amazon is busy spending money left and right in an attempt to sell Amazon Prime subscriptions, and Samsung is twiddling its thumbs waiting for Apple to release new products.
Smartwatches Selling Like Cold Cakes.
The smartwatch appears to have finally hit mainstream in 2013 as Best Buy is now carving out more square footage to the concept. Sales are, and will probably remain, “okay” for early adopters where massive sales are certainly not on the radar, but mass adoption remains out of reach. The idea of a smartwatch makes perfect sense as the phone form factor contains numerous inefficiencies, but the smartwatch industry lacks the needed design and fashion acumen to really get things moving. The technology does appear to be available though. Interestingly, one company has been beefing up their design and fashion human capital resume.
Mobile Messaging App Fever. Yawn.
I’ll be honest, I get bored with the never-ending updates on how many users certain mobile messaging apps have. In the U.S., this fascination with mobile messaging apps remains subdued as Facebook, Twitter, iMessage, (and I suppose you can include Snapchat), pretty much represent the bulk of how people communicate with each other – oh and the phone feature on the iPhone as well. Maybe I’m just naïve (and only friends with Apple users), but I really have no desire to follow which mobile messaging app is selling “stickers” or making a play for the Indonesian mobile app market. I never have used Whatsapp and don’t know anyone who has either. The mobile space is fast moving and people love stories of how start-ups will displace incumbents, but from my vantage point in the U.S. – Facebook and Twitter will remain important communication channels, while iMessage continues to be the sleeper hit. I still think mobile carriers are the big winner as my monthly bills will continue to rise regardless of which start-up does well. Of course critics will say the U.S. doesn’t matter, or is behind the times (and that I am clueless), to which I respond as long as the Valley remains the focal point of technology and entrepreneurship in the world, the U.S. matters.
Changing of the Tech Review Guard.
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal announced Walt Mossberg’s replacements – relatively new names that probably will get paid a fraction of Mossberg’s current salary. I actually don’t think the WSJ will miss a beat with such a strategy, which may say more about Mossberg’s inflated salary than anything else. Nevertheless, WSJ tech reviews still matter and companies will continue to treat them accordingly. The overall tech product review industry continues to morph and traditional sources for the “yea or nay” for a new product are now shifting to bloggers turned journalists where personal trust outshines all else. As seen with Apple’s latest products, tech specs don’t matter as much these days and this trend will only intensify as fashion bleeds into personal technology.
Other Random Musings.
- It is now easier than ever to grab a few of your journalist friends and start a new company focused on delivering news. Oh, and charge people a lot of money to read what you have to say. I imagine this trend will only intensify as it is becoming clear that 1-5 person shops are finding a particular niche in online journalism. Some personal bloggers are pulling in more than $500,000 a year, which traditional media companies will have a hard time matching (or even justifying), while start-ups with minimal expenses require only a modest subscription base to break-even. Of course, aggregators will continue to do well in this world as well where expense growth via headcount is one differentiator versus the small shops. Slideshows put food on the table. One has to start worrying about information overload though, right? Hopefully? Yeah, I know, wishful thinking.
- A wildcard for 2014 includes Apple’s new retail chief, Angela Ahrendts, which some have already labeled as Apple’s next CEO. My response would be let’s wait to see how she fits within the Apple culture, then we can start talking. Regardless, Apple retail needs some urgent help, so Angela will be busy.
- The tech IPO window is wide open and many signs point to 2014 being another good year. Housing continues to stabilize and contrary to the perma-bears, I think the housing industry will be fine from here on out. The theme of rising interest rates (due to a stronger economy) makes sense to me as well. While I won’t comment on which companies will see an IPO in the coming quarters, I would focus on the quality of these IPOs as one would assume quality will decline as we move past the economic recovery years of 2010-2013.
- Angry Birds (and paid iOS app?) fever is over. It was fun while it lasted. I would be interested to see if Rovio can find another “Angry Birds”, although I remain skeptical. In addition, the overall paid app boom appears to be dead (was there ever a boom?). While there will still be winners going forward, companies solely focused on selling apps for money face dwindling prospects of success. App development, as part of a bigger strategy, seems to have a much brighter future.
Predictions for 2014.
- Pundits will say Apple made numerous mistakes, either in terms of product pricing, marketing, or strategy. The new iPhone will also be classified as marking the end of Apple’s popularity.
- VCs will continue to pass off personal marketing blogs as independent sources of knowledge and wisdom.
- Pundits will say Facebook is dead.
- Mobile messaging app fever will continue.
- Humans will continue to be inundated with useless information and inconsequential data points.