29. The core smartphone skillset
In the preceding chapters, I’ve surveyed aspects of the 34 years of smartphone history and prehistory from 1980 to 2014. I’ve concentrated on the period starting from 1996 – the date of the creation of Psion Software, the immediate precursor of Symbian. It’s now time for me to pull threads of ideas together, to distil answers to the questions I posed in the opening chapter of this book:
- Where will the prolonged surge of smartphone improvement take us next?
- What are the root causes that lie behind this technological and economic near miracle?
- Once we understand the sources of smartphone progress, can we arrange for similar factors to accelerate progress in other areas of technology, product, and human experience?
My answers start with the middle of these questions: what are the root causes that lie behind the prolonged surge of smartphone improvements? To answer that question, I describe, in this chapter, what I have come to think of as “the core smartphone skillset”. This is a three dimensional skillset that enabled a number of companies to take advantage, to varying degrees, of powerful underlying technology and market trends. These companies became smartphone market leaders. They successfully rode the disruptive waves of technology and market trends – no mean feat in the circumstances – moving dramatically forwards in the process.
In the final chapter, I’ll branch out to look at the implications, both for the future of smartphones (question 1), and for the future in general (question 3).
There’s no one factor that, by itself, makes the entire difference between smartphone market leaders and the also-rans. Indeed, the various smartphone market leaders exhibit several key differences among themselves. There’s no single template for success in this space. Nevertheless, there are key elements in common. That’s what this chapter is all about.
I offer the following framework, which companies can use to evaluate themselves against. The framework consists of a portfolio of nine skills. Companies that score poorly on, say, at least four of these nine skills will (to put it politely) need a considerable amount of good fortune to thrive in the midst of today’s ongoing technological turmoil. Companies that score well on all nine areas are more likely to feature among tomorrow’s winners.
The nine skills split evenly across three dimensions:
- Platform – the technological basis for products, collaboration, and virtuous cycles
- Market – the ability to understand and motivate partners, developers, and users
- Execution – the ability to get things done in a world full of uncertainty and change.
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