Someday, All Companies Will be Tech Companies

I find it interesting how, in many conversations I have about the business and technology landscape, so many people make a distinction between the “tech” industry and everyone else. It is certainly true today, but when I put my long term thinking cap on, it strikes me this will not always be the case. Eventually, every company will be a technology company of some kind. What we call technology today, we think of hardware with sensors, microprocessors, memory, software, connectivity, and a host of other things. Within our definitions, it makes sense there are tech companies and there are other kinds of companies. But the ones I think may be the most interesting in the future are the companies today we would not consider tech companies. Let’s use a few examples to make this point.

Sleep Number: While Sleep Number highlights their beds’ “technology” I’m not sure the company themselves would say they are a tech company. Sleep Number makes mattresses. Sleep number technology is designed to help you get better night’s sleep. Their new Sleep IQ solution embeds sensors in the mattress to track your sleep and give you all kinds of insights in how to sleep better as an extension of what they are actually selling. Sleep Number is not selling technology, they are selling better sleep. Technology is playing a role in that process and is a means, not an end.

Babolat: Because I play a lot of competitive tennis I use this example frequently. Babolat sells several of the most popular tennis rackets in the world. In two versions of these best selling rackets, they have included a microchip and a series of sensors into the handle. This allows the racket to receive information about your swing, impact location of the ball, forehands vs. backhands, power, and a plethora of other useful things for analyzing your swing. Babolat certainly uses all kinds of technology to make their rackets stronger and lighter but, here again, I don’t think Babolat would position themselves as a technology company. And in this case, with the addition of Babolat Play technology, they are not actually selling me technology. They are selling me a competitive advantage.

When it comes to sports, there are a number of examples from connected soccer balls and basketballs, sensors you put on your golf clubs, baseball/softball bat, tennis rackets, and more. Again, the technology is an enabler of something greater. The tech is out of the way, rather than in the way. Too many technology companies work so hard on the technology that it gets in, rather than out of, the way. This is why companies who are not actually technology companies today but who will use technology as a means to an end are among the most interesting to me.

As the smartphone’s supply chain scale democratizes many components and drives costs down in sensors, microprocessors, memory, and even software, we will see more companies like Sleep IQ and Babolat be able to integrate cutting edge technology into everything they make and offer at mainstream prices. A good example of this is the June Oven.

The June oven is an intelligent oven. It is loaded with technology — from a CPU, to cameras for visual processing, software, and connectivity. It is easily the smartest oven out there. It can recognize the food you put into it and cook it accordingly (so it claims). It can self-monitor what is being cooked so to adjust the heat for perfectly cooked food. It has video cameras in it so you can use your smartphone to look at what you are cooking and see how it’s doing. There is a lot of great technology in this oven. But it costs nearly $1500.00. But, eventually, every oven sold will include all of these features and more. Every company making ovens will load it with sensors, microprocessors, software, and a host of other features to help you cook better food. Because ultimately, they are selling better cooked and tasting food. Technology is the means of an end for that goal.

A common phrase around the valley is “technology for technology’s sake.” It is the implication that too often technology is developed or integrated into something just for the sake of the technology. This is common among engineering and R&D labs. It is when these products come to market things can get weird. Google Glass comes to mind. The focus is too much on the technology or enabling a product to do something just because the technology exists or said company invented it. Technology companies sometimes focus too much on the technology. This is where companies who focus on other things like beds, cars, ovens, appliances, sports equipment, retail stores, etc., will be the interesting story when it comes to using technology and integrating it as a means to something greater than just the technology itself.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

42 thoughts on “Someday, All Companies Will be Tech Companies”

  1. “Someday, All Companies Will be Tech Companies”

    Dear God, I hope not.

    “Someday all companies will be infested with Silicon Valley’s toxic hellstew of Randite libertarianism combined with lily-white boy’s club sexism and autism-spectrum nerdy cluelessness about normal human beings”

    “Someday everything you can buy will require regular security updates and suffer from myriad unpatched security holes”

    “Someday the people responsible for making all your software unintuitive and user-hostile will be responsible for the usability of every object you can buy”

    Once again, your futuristic vision is my dystopian nightmare.

    1. Although I fear the same things your fear, I believe the world is going to tech in a hand basket and there ain’t nuthin’ to stop it.

      Why?

      Tech is where the money is. You can forget banks and industry.

    2. I’m not sure if I’m reading your comments right but it seems like you make the assumption everyone wants to collect and sell our data. This is simply not the case in the examples I gave. The business model of sleep number and babolat and all others in these examples is not to sell our data but use technology to offer value. It is within their business model to keep our data private and secure. Luckily great tools exist and are being developed to make this happen.

      I’ve articulated this before but our research is pointing directly to an inflection point when it comes to security. Our survey work consistently points out a degree of continued heightened awareness in this matter. This will be table stakes and vested parties will be working to make sure security as a service is a priority.

      Technology adds a great deal of value on top of things not yet “technology” in the digital sense. The Facebook and Google business models will be more the exception than the rule when all companies become tech companies.

      1. Ben, your examples appear to be benign, but that’s the problem.

        All those sensors, all that data, everything that makes these devices “smart” becomes exposed the minute there is a communications port or a connection to the internet.

        Does your tennis racket phone home? Maybe not today, but I have no doubt that the idea is being tested by some idiot somewhere. And even if the manufacturer doesn’t intend to collect that data, I am unconvinced that they have taken the precautions to prevent someone else from figuring out a hack to get the data.

        Maybe the data from your tennis racket isn’t terribly useful. But maybe your tennis racket is a nice entry point to get to the data that is.

        Keep telling yourself this techno future is bright. But I, too, hope your as wrong as can be.

        1. Don’t believe for a second the microprocessor companies are not thinking about this. All one has to do is look at the hints being dropped by all SoC companies about the direction they are heading in processor level security. Apple’s security-centric SoC designs have spurred this trend.

          And I won’t be wrong. This is inevitable. Remember what I wrote a while back, microprocessors will eat the world. Luckily, security is a major focus and one more many don’t realize from the semiconductor industry.

          1. And I won’t be wrong. This is inevitable.

            I am certain you’re right. And I am certain that consumers need to push back against the tide. There is no such thing as complete data security. As things become more complex, weaknesses and oversights are also <inevitable. I don’t wish to update my “smart oven” when the inevitable occurs.

      2. I feel like I’m explaining water to a fish, you are so immersed in the tech industry culture that you don’t see the glaring flaws.

        My first concern is that when tech invades non-tech industries, the tech industry culture will rub off on the non-tech industry. We already have enough Randite sociopaths working as CEOs in the tech industry and using their wealth and influence to destroy the social fabric that they don’t believe in. We don’t need more jerks who are proud of their jerkdom running other industries. Likewise we don’t need the white dudebro culture of tech infecting other parts of the economy. And finally, we don’t need more ways for socially inept borderline autistic nerds to inflict their lack of lack of social awareness and their inability to understand non-nerds on everyone else.

        Security: I don’t believe you. I’ve been reading news stories about tech insecurities since the early 00’s. We’ve been promised a brighter, shinier, less exploit-ridden future for 15+ years now. It hasn’t happened yet and from what I read it’s unlikely to ever happen.

        “Technology adds a great deal of value on top of things not yet “technology” in the digital sense.”

        I’m sorry, but I really don’t see how having a bed that has its own smartphone app, that can track and analyze our sleeping patterns, is going to add value to anything for anyone who isn’t a tech nerd. And I really don’t see the value in having an oven that can be hacked and instructed to set my house on fire while I’m out.

        I know it’s hopeless but I still feel impelled to try to explain to you that just because you’re enjoying breathing the water doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea for everyone else to breathe the water as well.

        1. Believe me I get it. A good anthropologist can see things and think from a wide range of perspectives. These points you make are not new I hear them all the time. However, we have to face the reality it’s going this way and fighting it is futile. Whereas I see these points and do everything I can with my work with these type of companies and semiconductor companies to be a voice of reason and help them do the right thing as we move in this direction.

          But I’m seeing things be done in security at the hardware layer, software layer and cloud layer that I’m optimistic about.

        2. Wouldn’t the expansion of tech into other areas necessarily broaden tech culture? I would think that’s a positive outcome, as tech is woven into the fabric of our world it should move away from “white dudebro culture”.

          1. Yes, we can hope for that outcome, but the way the article’s title was phrased suggested the opposite to me.

          2. I think the outcome I describe is inevitable, tech culture must change as it is abstracted and simplified. This is already happening. Cars for example contain a high level of tech, but I don’t think we could say that the culture surrounding cars is driven by “socially inept borderline autistic nerds”. Cars are sexy, powerful, practical, and many other things, but it’s a tough argument to make that cars are nerdy.

          3. hopefully the content made the point. The arc of the point was to say tech will invade all types of businesses and the ones I’m most excited about are the ones who aren’t “tech companies today” for all the reasons you bring up..

  2. I’ll pay extra for old-fashioned appliances that can’t be hacked and don’t have built in spy cameras, thank you very much.

    1. This is the opportunity Apple has going forward. Simple, secure, private products and solutions, which you’ll pay extra for. That said, most of the world will trade some privacy and security for cheaper products and solutions (Google et al).

        1. That goes without saying of course. I’m thinking of ways of handling data and configuring products and services that mitigate much of these kinds of hacking fears. Apple’s approach to making iOS devices ‘islands’ in this sense is along these lines.

        1. You need to define ‘tech’ then, because you can add a lot of intelligence to products without a smartphone app and without connecting those products to the internet. Call it sandboxed intelligence perhaps.

          1. Agreed. Any organization with R&D is a tech company, from TVs to toilet paper. Tech is not just compute.

  3. Sorry to spam the comments but I keep thinking of yet more problems I have with the thesis of this column. One last point before sleep:

    The tech industry has had severe ADHD since forever, always enamoured of the shiny and new and contemptuous of the old. Three or five year old operating systems are regarded as obsolete junk and supported only with extreme reluctance. Programming languages and APIs and even platforms pass in and out of fashion with dizzying rapidity.

    Given that, How in heck is a smart bed or a smart stove supposed to deliver value via its smartness over a typical 10, 20, even 30 year lifespan? 10-15 years from now, how are you going to access the bed’s sleeping data when nobody makes phones anymore that will even run the obsolete OS that the bed’s app (not updated for years and years) requires? i’m sorry, but I really can’t see the much-vaunted benefits of tech-embedded IOT devices as being anything other than clever gimmicks that will sell a few extra appliances or beds, but that won’t work or deliver any significant value in the long run.

    1. I see value in a local network of things, sandboxed, and data can be gathered and stored locally as well for my use. You don’t need to support an old OS, you just need the data. Of course that brings with it the issue of securing that data, but honestly, if you do it right it’s about the same level of risk as all the private documents and info you already have in your house.

      1. Data’s useless if there’s no way to access it. Nobody’s going to put the data in a platform neutral container or stick it on the device in an accessible manner — get real. It’s going to be stored in a proprietary format, accessible only by the smartphone app, which will inevitably become abandonware in five or so years.

        Five years, if you’re lucky, and then all the smart features of the device will become useless, and you’ll have to either do without all those vaunted smart features, or buy a new smart thing that works with all the latest phones. In other words, either a huge swindle (a way to make major appliances have the same lifespans as computers or phones! obviously a huge win for the stockholders!) or a huge disappointment (smart couch my ass, it stopped working after two years, should have saved my money and bought a dumb couch).

        1. Data is already neutral enough, it can be ‘dragged along’ as you upgrade a system or it can be exported/imported fairly easily. This isn’t a problem without solutions. Fitbit for example already lets you manipulate your data in many ways, including exporting to XLS or CSV.

          Certainly the issues you raise are concerns that I share, but I see solutions to those problems. The future is always dangerous, but that’s no reason to stop moving forward.

          1. Sorry, this comment was intended for Mr. Glaurung-Quena. He seems to be worried about the sun coming up in the morning.

  4. Has anything online not been hacked, ever ? Just yesterday, someone changed traffic signs to “cock, balls…” in a French town center.
    I’m OK with my stuff being online, as long as suppliers take responsibility, philosophically, legally and financially, for security. If they won’t do it, I’ve got my answer, and I’m not willing to have my lawn ruined, my electricity bill bumped up, my car remote-controlled, or my house burned down by some kid graduating from “cock, ball…”, or worse. My home is not an ePublicToilet.

  5. More seriously, all companies already are tech companies. Even farmers use advanced tech to plan crops and harvests, track maturation and herds… I’m assuming you mean “IT”, not tech, and “Products” not companies, so we end up with “One day, all products will be smart” ?

  6. I want you to know i don’t know anything about my smartphone or how to do things on it or how to delete things i don’t need or want I don’t know if you can help me or not I want to Thank you for your time

  7. Ben, great article. I agree with you, and
    unlike some others here, I’m excited about the advancements and more so, the possibilities.
    I also agree with obarthelemy’s last comment. The distinction between tech and
    non-tech is an illusion. Being a tech company is simply a choice one makes, the
    line between the two are harder and harder to recognize. This of course translates
    into the products, services and delivery mechanisms, which I think you’re
    highlighting in your post.

    I’ve even written about it here.

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