Written in a bay just off Skorpios in the Ionian Sea and sent to silicon.com via a 1.2Mbps 3G link the same day.
In my lifetime the rate of technological change has been very apparent. There’s no doubt it’s accelerating. More smartphones and tablets than PCs are being sold and 550,000 Android devices are activated every day. Those figures bear testament to an incredible feat of design, manufacture, logistics and support.
Throughout my professional life I have attended, organised and run conferences on a changing range of topics. A few weeks ago I attended a US conference that I have supported for over 17 years, where the audience represent all the big IT, defence, banking and government organisations.
Everyone in the room has power and LAN access, and it is the norm for them to be 100 per cent online. Historically, Windows laptops have monopolised this setting, but recently there has been a migration to netbooks, tablets and smartphones. This year it was all very different again.
For the first time, Apple products predominated, with the iPad the most common device. Of the rest, there was only one netbook and a large contingent of Android-powered laptops and tablets. For the first time, Windows laptops were in the minority.
It was a stunning shift. The iPad only launched 18 months ago, and 17 years ago I was one of three or four people in the room using a Mac. In its first month, the iPad sold more than one million units, a figure that has been exceeded month on month. As far as I can see, there are going to be well over 30 million iPads on the ground before the end of the year.
Anyone in high-tech product manufacture will grasp the profundity…
…of such figures. Achieving them demands extraordinary attention to design, production and quality control, not to mention logistics, sales, marketing and support.
Perhaps even more impressive is the number of me-too products on the market at much lower prices. I think we can safely say that the age of the tablet has arrived.
Everyone at this conference is well paid and has the backing of their companies, and that makes them bellwethers of change. What they do today the rest of the population will do tomorrow.
According to published figures, most iPad buyers range from 25 to 55 years of age and more than 90 per cent own iPhones – which suggests a significant corporate uptake.
Largely unseen is the resulting impact and chaos visited upon IT departments. Senior managers are initially denied access and support for anything other than a PC, and then IT is instructed to get on with it. Once that fence is down there is a tidal wave of demand.
So it looks as though one monoculture is weakening while another may be in the making. I hope this will result in a richer IT environment with more device types, operating systems and applications.
One of the most important lessons we have learned from biology is that monocultures are bad news. The various security issues we now face have been encouraged by one dominant target. Increasing the number of species can only make it more difficult for the dark side and easier for us.
All these developments lead to the $64,000 question. Can this rate of change be sustained and exceeded?
Will the people-intensive manufacturing abilities of China satisfy demand? Possibly not. They are running short of skilled people, and reaching the limits of what humans can sustainably deliver.
To my mind, the most likely outcome will see a wholesale move to robotic production, which ironically is what happened in the West before manufacture was outsourced to labour-intensive China.
At that point, the cycle moves on and more second-world players will come into the game. As the Western economies become very much poorer, outsourcing will be reversed and insourcing will lead to manufacturing taking off again.