Touch Computing and The Re-Birth of the Software Industry

Ben Bajarin / June 4th, 2012

It seems like you can’t go anywhere in Silicon Valley without hearing about someone who’s making an app. Apps are all the rage these days and software engineering is one of the hottest jobs all over the world. But in the not too distant past, there wasn’t this much excitement around software.

In fact, I have heard from many executives who have been around a while that the excitement around software and apps today reminds them of the same excitement around software when personal computers were first gaining steam.

Although there are some similarities between the industry today and the PC software industry when it was first getting started, the excitement around software today is taking place on an entirely different kind of computer. The excitement around software today is entirely focused on touch computers like smartphones and tablets.

Smartphones are contributing and are the device that began this new app economy but tablets are where the next real software innovations will be focused on in my opinion. I say this because I am a big believer in the tablets ability to take significant time away from the traditional PC. Our research indicates that consumers are comfortable doing the vast majority of tasks they used traditional PCs for in the past on their tablet. Because of that point we feel the tablet represents one of the most exciting platforms which will lead a new software revolution.

Starting Over

I think a strong case could be made that much of the focus of the software industry over the past few decades has been on professionals and the workplace. In my opinion, only in the last five years have we had what I would consider a pure, mature consumer market. The maturity of the consumer market for personal computers is the foundation that has led to the rebirth of the software industry. If the first phase of the software industry was focused largely on businesses, then the next phase will be largely based on consumers.

Although we can articulate what is happening by proclaiming that the software industry is being reborn, in all actuality it’s starting over. The first software phase was all about creating software for desktops and then eventually laptop computers. Both were driven primarily by mouse and keyboard input mechanisms. The software generating all the excitement today is fully around touch as an input mechanism. Given the drastic differences between touch computing and mouse and keyboard computing, software developers are reinventing or at the very least re-imagining their software around touch computing. It is this reinventing and re-imagining of the software industry — brought about by touch computing — that leads me to believe it’s almost like it’s starting over more than it’s being reborn.

New Hardware Is Driving New Software

This rebirth of the software industry is being driven primarily because of new hardware that’s selling like hotcakes to the masses. Although it’s easy to get excited about all the shiny new smartphone and tablet hardware, it’s important to remember that hardware is only as good as the software it runs. I could own the most amazing and elegant piece of hardware, but if it runs poor software, it’s no better than a paperweight.

When I speak with software developers who are driving this new phase of software, they’re largely focused on the iPad and the iPhone. These two platforms are giving software developers valuable experience in gaining expertise, making the next generation of touch software much more personal. This is important because new platforms incorporating touch are on the horizon based on Windows 8.

Windows 8 presents a radical departure from the normal desktop/notebook operating system that Microsoft usually churns out. Windows 8 will be the first OS to combine a touch-based operating system (called Metro) with a mouse-and-keyboard operating system and a familiar Windows interface. These two experiences combined together will lead to a new generation of notebooks, desktops, and tablet-notebook hybrids, all with touch interfaces.

Regardless of your opinion about Microsoft’s approach with Windows 8, the reality is that over the next few years, touch computing is coming to a wide range of laptops and desktops.

What’s Next?

That’s a great question, and my answer may surprise you. I believe the next big software craze will be around television. I know it may seem crazy to think about running apps on your TV, but that’s what I think is next. Google is already going down this path with Google TV, letting software developers make apps for the big screen; Samsung is also doing this with its line of Smart TVs. And there’s speculation that Apple has big plans for the TV industry — if that’s true, I believe apps will be a part of the strategy.

Even though there are products on the market that let you run apps on your TV, those developers have yet to re-imagine their apps on the big screen. Just as software developers are having to re-imagine their software for touch computing, they will have to do the same thing for the TV.

We live in extremely exciting times and things will get even more exciting. I firmly believe we will see more fascinating innovations centered around personal computing hardware and software over the next 10 years than we ever saw in the past 30 years of the PC of the industry, and I’m glad that we’ll get a chance to observe them firsthand.

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
  • jfutral

    I can agree with this, to a large degree. The problem with software on TV in the past was that the TV needed to become a computer. That would have made the TV higher maintenance than people want. Just look at the VCR. No one wanted to, much less few could even figure out how, program the silly things. At least the VCR, as a conceptual device, existed outside of the TV, so we could get mad at the VCR without getting frustrated with the TV itself.

    An “app” interface certainly makes the TV as computer concept much easier and less “computer” like. Although at some point I would imagine this could suffer from a similar frustration with “too many channels” syndrome. Now we would have too many apps. Heck, I can’t even remember all the apps I have on my phone.

    What I like about the new computing paradigm is it is less about using a computer and more about doing something. This is what I think makes it a more natural fit for TV use.

    However, as I understand it, trends are that fewer youth even use a TV. As TV becomes less the central figure in people’s lives that it used to be (not necessarily TV shows, mind you, just the TV concept itself) what can be the long term (say 5-10 years?) outlook for this new app interface? Is this really just a transitional phase until the TV is totally redefined or replaced or made redundant?

    Joe

  • jfutral

    I can agree with this, to a large degree. The problem with software on TV in the past was that the TV needed to become a computer. That would have made the TV higher maintenance than people want. Just look at the VCR. No one wanted to, much less few could even figure out how, program the silly things. At least the VCR, as a conceptual device, existed outside of the TV, so we could get mad at the VCR without getting frustrated with the TV itself.

    An “app” interface certainly makes the TV as computer concept much easier and less “computer” like. Although at some point I would imagine this could suffer from a similar frustration with “too many channels” syndrome. Now we would have too many apps. Heck, I can’t even remember all the apps I have on my phone.

    What I like about the new computing paradigm is it is less about using a computer and more about doing something. This is what I think makes it a more natural fit for TV use.

    However, as I understand it, trends are that fewer youth even use a TV. As TV becomes less the central figure in people’s lives that it used to be (not necessarily TV shows, mind you, just the TV concept itself) what can be the long term (say 5-10 years?) outlook for this new app interface? Is this really just a transitional phase until the TV is totally redefined or replaced or made redundant?

    Joe

  • Rich

    “Touch computing is coming to a wide range of laptops and desktops.”

    Ben, I assume you’re referring to trackpads, since touching a screen is questionable on a laptop and nonsensical on a desktop.

  • Rich

    “Touch computing is coming to a wide range of laptops and desktops.”

    Ben, I assume you’re referring to trackpads, since touching a screen is questionable on a laptop and nonsensical on a desktop.

    • benbajarin

      Yes via trackpads to start. I will say though I can’t completely discount the idea of touching a notebook. Obviously right now we are doing this touching + typing thing on iPad with keyboards but the more I use the WIn 8 consumer preview the more I find myself being comfortable touching the screen only for navigation and app selecting / mainly in metro mode. So its hard to rule out entirely even though I agree on the surface it seems hard to swallow right now.

    • benbajarin

      Yes via trackpads to start. I will say though I can’t completely discount the idea of touching a notebook. Obviously right now we are doing this touching + typing thing on iPad with keyboards but the more I use the WIn 8 consumer preview the more I find myself being comfortable touching the screen only for navigation and app selecting / mainly in metro mode. So its hard to rule out entirely even though I agree on the surface it seems hard to swallow right now.

  • FalKirk

    Ben, I love your stuff. Even when I disagree – which is rare – I always respect what you’re trying to do. It’s clear to me that you spend lots and lots of time thinking about the tech issues of our day and the added reflection is evident in your writing.

    Thanks for all the good work. And keep it up!

  • FalKirk

    Ben, I love your stuff. Even when I disagree – which is rare – I always respect what you’re trying to do. It’s clear to me that you spend lots and lots of time thinking about the tech issues of our day and the added reflection is evident in your writing.

    Thanks for all the good work. And keep it up!

    • benbajarin

      Thanks! And you know I enjoy good healthy disagreement every now and then. I think it keeps the mind sharp.

    • benbajarin

      Thanks! And you know I enjoy good healthy disagreement every now and then. I think it keeps the mind sharp.

  • FalKirk

    Ben, you are so right. Touch computing has revived the software industry and given it new life. Some miscellaneous thoughts and observations:

    – Say what you will about the quality of Microsoft Window’s operating system but is there any doubt that their virtual monopoly on personal computers stifled innovation, especially in recent years?

    – Does one ever hear of exciting new software products on Windows or OS X? All the action and all the innovation is happening on touch devices.

    – Just five years ago – FIVE YEARS AGO – virtually no one downloaded applications. Today, only the relatively few continue to get their software on physical media. The implications of that change are mind blowing. Just think how much faster, easier, more convenient it is to search, discover, select and download Apps today. It’s not at all hyperbolic to say that downloaded Apps have revolutionized computing.

    – Five years ago if you wanted to buy software, unless you were in the know, you probably went to a big box store like Best Buy and perused their shelves. If the software you were looking for wasn’t there, you were out of luck. And if it wasn’t there, the developer was out of luck too.

    – Because of how easy it is to find, buy and employ Apps, the price has dropped by 90%, prompting even more purchases.

    – I’ve seen 8 year olds and 88 year olds buys Apps. Astonishing.

    – Today you can buy virtually every touch program in the world form three stores. Three.

    – There are at least 200,000 free Apps in Apple’s App Store alone. Two Hundred Thousand. Did I mention that they were free?

    – There are over 600,000 Apps in Apple’s App Store. If you downloaded a new App every hour on the hour twenty four hours a day, it would take you over 68 years to peruse them all.

    – Tablet Apps seem single focused. For that reason, they receive a lot of criticism from the old guard. But I don’t hear much criticism coming from the actual users.

    – WWDC sold out in three hours. Three hours. The same or faster will happen with Google’s I/O conference. Developer interest is at an all time high.

    – Apple alone has paid out more than 4 billion to developers.

    – Some economists have estimated that wholly new App Economy has added 500,000 jobs.

    – Finally a personal war story. Apple introduced the App Store in March 2008. Some poor schmo, whose name I unfortunately don’t recall, wrote a glowing piece about how this was going to change everything – how it would change the future of computing for the next decade. Molly Woods of Buzz Outloud fame mercilessly abused him, mocking the poor anonymous schmo for about ten minutes of Buzz Outloud’s precious air time. “This is what’s wrong with Apple Fanboys”, she railed. “They have no perspective! They exaggerate everything! They always think that Apple is going to change the world!”

    Schmo 1, Molly Woods 0.

  • FalKirk

    Ben, you are so right. Touch computing has revived the software industry and given it new life. Some miscellaneous thoughts and observations:

    – Say what you will about the quality of Microsoft Window’s operating system but is there any doubt that their virtual monopoly on personal computers stifled innovation, especially in recent years?

    – Does one ever hear of exciting new software products on Windows or OS X? All the action and all the innovation is happening on touch devices.

    – Just five years ago – FIVE YEARS AGO – virtually no one downloaded applications. Today, only the relatively few continue to get their software on physical media. The implications of that change are mind blowing. Just think how much faster, easier, more convenient it is to search, discover, select and download Apps today. It’s not at all hyperbolic to say that downloaded Apps have revolutionized computing.

    – Five years ago if you wanted to buy software, unless you were in the know, you probably went to a big box store like Best Buy and perused their shelves. If the software you were looking for wasn’t there, you were out of luck. And if it wasn’t there, the developer was out of luck too.

    – Because of how easy it is to find, buy and employ Apps, the price has dropped by 90%, prompting even more purchases.

    – I’ve seen 8 year olds and 88 year olds buys Apps. Astonishing.

    – Today you can buy virtually every touch program in the world form three stores. Three.

    – There are at least 200,000 free Apps in Apple’s App Store alone. Two Hundred Thousand. Did I mention that they were free?

    – There are over 600,000 Apps in Apple’s App Store. If you downloaded a new App every hour on the hour twenty four hours a day, it would take you over 68 years to peruse them all.

    – Tablet Apps seem single focused. For that reason, they receive a lot of criticism from the old guard. But I don’t hear much criticism coming from the actual users.

    – WWDC sold out in three hours. Three hours. The same or faster will happen with Google’s I/O conference. Developer interest is at an all time high.

    – Apple alone has paid out more than 4 billion to developers.

    – Some economists have estimated that wholly new App Economy has added 500,000 jobs.

    – Finally a personal war story. Apple introduced the App Store in March 2008. Some poor schmo, whose name I unfortunately don’t recall, wrote a glowing piece about how this was going to change everything – how it would change the future of computing for the next decade. Molly Woods of Buzz Outloud fame mercilessly abused him, mocking the poor anonymous schmo for about ten minutes of Buzz Outloud’s precious air time. “This is what’s wrong with Apple Fanboys”, she railed. “They have no perspective! They exaggerate everything! They always think that Apple is going to change the world!”

    Schmo 1, Molly Woods 0.

  • Great article and agree with your thoughts. We’ve been rethinking our approach to what we’re building in terms of the huge opportunity there is to disrupt existing web and desktop players. We’re redoubling our efforts and building out a native, touch experience for the iPad that we hope is going to revolutionize the market we are attacking. I can’t wait to show it to you and get your feedback soon.

  • Great article and agree with your thoughts. We’ve been rethinking our approach to what we’re building in terms of the huge opportunity there is to disrupt existing web and desktop players. We’re redoubling our efforts and building out a native, touch experience for the iPad that we hope is going to revolutionize the market we are attacking. I can’t wait to show it to you and get your feedback soon.

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