The Importance of Vision in the Technology Industry

I came across this article in the TabTimes written by my friend Dave Needle. What the article points out is an interesting video that was posted on YouTube showing Roger Fidler and his Information Design Lab putting quality thought and vision around media in particular but largely how digital technologies will change the future.

XEROX Parc and other institutions throughout this industries history were also voicing ambitious visions about our computing future. This could be called the Golden Years of computing. This was a fascinating time in the computing industries history. This time was full of ambitious vision and ideas about where computing could go. Many ideas never panned out, or took longer for the market to adopt but that didn’t change the fact that there was a good amount of thought leadership going on about the technology and its possibilities in the future.

My question is where is that kind of thinking today? Has this industry lost its vision? Are companies too focused on simply making next years products that they and their RND labs are not playing a role in creating the future but rather they are content to follow it?

There is no doubt that Apple is leading in many areas of vision and defining computing for tomorrow. I would, however, like to see more companies or RND labs, or institutions contributing vision to the public forum.

I am sure it is a mix of a lot of things but as I have studied this industry’s history and spoke with many who have been in it since the beginning it becomes clear that the vision for the future is not being cultivated today the way it was two decades ago.

As you watch this video with Roger Fidler I hope, that like me, we encourage more of this type of sharing of ideas, vision, and innovative concepts in the public forum. These are the kinds of things that lead to self fulfilling prophecies. We simply need more vision universally from more companies and more visionaries. I am not saying we are void of it completely today but what I am saying is that perhaps vision has lost its role in the industry today and needs to be brought back out into the limelight.

Corning I thought did a good job of this with their world of glass video series.

You can watch the video here as I highly recommend it. This video is as good as any I have seen on showcasing the importance of vision for the technology industry.

Also if you haven’t seen it view Knowledge Navigator made by Apple under the vision of John Sculley.

2 Reasons HP Should Not Spin Off The PC Business

I have been thinking about this ever since the news broke that HP wanted to spin-off their PC business. My company Creative Strategies, Inc has a long history with HP of providing industry and trend analysis to many key groups within the company. Because of that relationship, it would pain me to see HP make a questionable decision to spin-off their PC business.

Right now HP appears to be a company with serious identity issues. We don’t know what is going to happen with their current CEO although rumors are floating that there may be a change at the top. As the board is faced with many tough decisions, I genuinely hope that with these gut wrenching decisions they also reconsider spinning of the PC business.

Bloomberg ran a report yesterday stating that they are in fact reconsidering the proposal to spin-off the PC group. I hope this report is true.

There are two fundamental reasons why spinning off the PC business is the wrong decision for HP.

Hardware Only Business is Dead

A simple look at the history of the technology business highlights some profound truth’s about how hardware evolves. We are in a world where every PC maker other than Apple is dealing with the commoditization of hardware. If HP was to spin-off the PC business they would leave the new entity to solely compete in the global economy with price. This is a battle that a US vendor cannot win against the low-cost strategies of Asian OEM’s.

Proprietary software and services are needed in order to differentiate and add value beyond price. A hardware only business does not have this advantage and can only compete on price.

A hardware only PC business would not likely survive where the industry trends are heading. Which leads to the second reason this is a bad idea.

We Would Lose a Key US Based OEM

If the above scenario played out we would lose a key US-based PC vendor. Only Dell and Apple would be left. Please note, I am not saying HP would go away, only that the spinoff and whatever it would be called have a hard time thriving as a hardware only business.

Because of the historic role HP’s hardware has played in the evolution of the technology industry, it would be tragic if it faded into irrelevance.

I fully understand HP’s desire to move more into the software and services business. Apple has the same strategy, but for Apple, the hardware continues to be a key strategic element to complete and differentiate their ecosystem.

I wish HP would understand this and value the role of hardware in our computing future. Indeed, their PCs and tablets can provide a powerful screen that taps into next generation software and service optimized for their own ecosystem. And they have many of the key elements to continue to thrive as a hardware, software and services company.

Rather I would love to see them craft a vision of what the future should look like with HP hardware, software and services in it and then relentlessly innovate.

Time for a Smartphone Patent Pool

Most of the creative energy in the smartphone industry seems to be going into lawsuits, with just about everyone claiming that everyone else is violating their patents. In addition to keeping a lot of lawyers in work, the disputes are having real world consequences, with, for example, Apple blocking the sale of Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the European Union. It’s time to stop the madness, but any solution is going to have to come from the industry itself, not from Congress or the courts.

A patent shingleIf you are seriously interested in the issue, however, stop right now and read “The patent system isn’t broken, we are,” Nilay Patel’s detailed and incisive analysis of the issues surrounding software patents. In addition to analyzing where we are and how we got here, Patel offers some helpful suggestions for reform.

The problem is that serious changes in the patent system require legislation, a tall order from a Congress that would probably have to break a filibuster to pass a Mother’s Day resolution. (a useful but relatively minor reform bill may pass this fall, but it does not address the fundamental issues.) Courts can impose some sanity, but they are slow moving and constrained by existing legislation.

It seems to me that the best way out of the smartphone mess would be for all the the folks now beating each other up in court and before the International Trade Commission to get together and form a patent pool. Everyone owning relevant patents contributes their intellectual property. Members and others wishing to use the patents pay a reasonable fee for a license and the proceeds are divided among the contributors.

This is hardly a novel idea. Philips and Sony, which each owned key technology behind the compact disk, set up a patent pool that helped launch the enormous success of the CD format. Six companies that owned key DVD technology (later joined by three others) created the DVD6C Licensing Group. The numerous patents behind MPEG video compression technology are pooled into MPEG LA, which licenses their use.

A pooling of smartphone patents would make life a lot simpler for everyone in the business. There are so many patents covering so many aspects of the hardware and software that it appears to be all but impossible to build a phone that doesn’t infringe on something. And right now, it looks like the big long-term winners will be the lawyers. In theory, the issues could be resolved by a series of pair-by-pair patent cross-licensing agreements, but a single patent pool seems simpler and more efficient.

Not that creating such a pool is going to be simple. First, any arrangement would probably need the blessing of U.S. and European antitrust regulators, who tend to see such cooperation as potential collusion. The other pools I referred to were easier because they were created at the onset, before an industry existed to be divvied up. A tremendously difficult issue would be determining how to share the license fees among the contributors, a problem that would probably call for a complex arbitration. The position of Google, a major smartphone player with a relatively puny patent portfolio is particularly difficult, although in fairness, Google also stands to be the big loser if the industry proceeds down its present litigious path.

A key step any patent pool would have to take to be successful is to indemnify its licensees against attacks by non-member patent holders. In effect, the pool would have to say: “A license from us gives you access to all the intellectual property needed to build a modern smartphone. If a third party claims otherwise, we will defend you.” This sort of insurance can be expensive, but certainly within the means of a pool that included Apple, Microsoft, HP, Samsung, and other giants.

One serious concern is that the existence of a pool could cripple innovation. If inventors have to share their creations with competitors. will they have any incentive to innovate? One solution would be to limit the pool to current patents–often the most troublesome because their existence and extent is unknown–and leave companies free to claim exclusive rights to future inventions.  That might set up more problems for the future, but could still deal with the difficulties of today.