A Week of Tech-tonic Shifts

This week has seen really colossal movement in the tech world. A week that started with Google’s best-kept-secret move to buy Motorola Mobility for a staggering $12.5 billion now concludes with HP’s announcement that they’re ending production of mobile products and may (believe it or not) discontinue production of PCs. These aren’t the modest snatchings of trendy startups or the inevitable mothballings of products past their prime that we’re used to – these are really monumental shifts. And while people smarter than me will see these deals at much deeper levels, it seems perfectly clear what is driving both: mobility.

Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is generally attributed to their power grab to control the Android ecosystem – from software to hardware – in order to crush…err…rival Apple. (Picking up the TV set-top box business in order to pursue a realistic push into the living room is always nice, too.) Reading about the HP announcement today, I was struck by the mobile motivation:

The PC industry is under pressure from hot-selling smartphones and tablet computers, which have contributed to already weak consumer demand for PCs in the U.S. and Europe.

The world’s move to mobile computing
It’s been six to seven years, I believe, since laptop sales eclipsed the sales of desktop PCs. It would appear now that we’re poised to see a similar leapfrog where mobile devices (aka smartphones and tablets) finally dinosaur the desktop. The fact that HP appears to be throwing in the towel is more than writing on the wall. It’s a wrecking ball.

The world’s appetite for smaller, faster and more mobile is simply astounding. And the speed with which the industry has to react to and then get in front of change requires what appears to some as superhuman celerity. For HP, mobility seemed like a natural sweet spot for them. But maybe the pace was too breakneck.

More striking is that HP plans to shutter its fledgling smartphone and tablet business just two years after spending $1.8 billion on smartphone maker Palm, which gave HP the webOS software that has been praised by critics but largely been ignored by the marketplace. It is here that HP was the victim of the Apple and Google juggernauts, as iPads and iPhones and smartphones running Google’s Android software have been hot sellers, while HP devices have languished.

Microsoft has never successfully morphed mobile. (Although their Symbian and Skype deals – both tectonic deals in significance themselves – have yet to reveal their influence.) The company that once ruled the universe has rapidly become passe in a world that is impatient with and mercilessly unforgiving of stagnation.

Right now, it’s largely a two-horse race between Apple and Googlerola. Evidence the leaderboard from recent Pew research. (Blackberry is generally considered to be ripe for the picking as they strive to stay relevant and, maybe, become cool?)

Platform Differences (% of Segment Responses)
Platform Among All Cell Phone Owners Among Smartphone Owners
Android 15% 35%
iPhone 10 24
Blackberry 10 24
Palm 2 6
Windows 2 4
Source: Pew Research Center, July 2011

The center of mobile gravity is welling around these two key players and everything else is beginning to warp to their weight like stars at the edge of two black holes. More companies, services and technologies are orbiting their event horizons. Witnessing who and what will either achieve escape velocity or be consumed by their mass will be fascinating.

What does this mean to you?
Beyond the social implications that a move to a mobile culture brings, for technology marketers, it underlines the growing imperative of reaching consumers on mobile platforms. From optimizing your web site for mobile display, to mobile advertising, to HTML5 adoption, to integrating QR codes and optimizing video – marketers can no longer afford to avoid the inevitable. Mobile change is coming. And it stops for no one. Not even HP.

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