I’ll run through his theses one-by-one. But first, I think our differences center on two things; one that’s predictable given who I am, namely the cloud. The second is perhaps surprising: Whether keyboards matter.
Here we go; you might want to flip back and forth a bit because I reproduce Mr Evans’ subtitles but not his arguments.
“1: Mobile is the new central ecosystem of tech” · Tech is bicentric, these days: Cloud and Client. The cloud doesn’t care that much what the clients are, and the clients don’t care that much what’s inside the cloud. The technologies, implementers, and financial structures have become unsurprisingly disjoint over the years. Which I don’t think is a problem, and the fact that it’s even possible is a tribute to the power of Internet protocols.
So, half right.
“2: Mobile is the internet” · That’s just dumb. I work for a business with an annual run rate of ~$8B, growth of ~75%, and a healthy profit margin. If someone figured out how to take us and our competitors down, it’d blow a pretty big hole in the side of the Internet.
Also, large parts of the cloud spend their time talking to other parts of the cloud with little client involvement.
This kind of thinking is not only wrong but dangerous to investors’ money. Maybe not to a16z money, and Mr Evans is obviously talking his book, but still.
“3: Mobile isn’t about small screens and PCs aren’t about keyboards - mobile means an ecosystem and that ecosystem will swallow ‘PCs’” · Mobile is absolutely about what fits in a pocket, and increasingly I think that PCs are about keyboards.
I nearly always have instant access to a mobile, and most times to a PC too, but only if I’m willing to sit down, pop it open, and type a password. Since I’m impatient and short of time, the incentive to do everything on the mobile is overwhelming. And yet often I don’t, and the biggest reason is the keyboard. It’s just too much work and irritation to squeeze coherent rhetoric or pictures or conversations through the brain-dead fake on-screen keyboard.
Now, this is changing; the most recent tablets are starting to have keyboards that are pretty good. I personally have never yet run across one that would let me really work, although I haven’t tried the very latest from Apple and Microsoft.
But then, once it’s got a sizeable screen and a keyboard, it probably doesn’t go in a pocket any more, and… it’s a PC! Screw the OS, that’s a distraction. Thus, my conclusion is exactly the opposite: I think a “mobile” is more or less defined as “fits in a pocket, no keyboard” and “PC” as “has a keyboard you can use for work”.
“4: The future of productivity” · The argument here is that big screens and spreadsheets and keyboards aren’t what matter for “real work” (quotes in the original). Instead, “What matters is the connective tissue of a company - the verbs that move things along. Those can be done in new ways.”
Well, I suppose that large parts of a VC’s job can be accomplished without recourse to typing or making presentations, and indeed we do find new ways of getting shit done. But for the moment, wrong, because spreadsheets matter and documents matter and keyboards matter.
“5: Microsoft's capitulation” · Fair enough, “Windows Everywhere” is history, and that’s a capitulation.
But… used a Surface recently? And while the success of cloudstuff like Azure and Office365 isn’t guaranteed, anyone who isn’t taking those efforts seriously is, once again, putting investors’ money at risk. Still, not calling this one wrong.
“6: Apple & Google both won, but it’s complicated” · Great stuff; really, if you’re not following along on Mr Evans’ side of the argument, flip over there now if only to read this little gem.
“7: Search and discovery” · The question is: What comes after search, and who gets the traffic?
Since it’s not conceivable that a serious Bay Area VC is ignorant of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and so on, this little item totally baffles me. Dunno about you, but I discover the Internet through the people I follow, and I don’t think I’m weird. I suspect that there’s an interesting point here that Mr Evans just didn’t quite manage to connect with; but still, wrong.
“8: Apps and the web” · This starts out strong but then concludes that what matters is which icons are on your home screen. I’ll call that mostly-right.
But here are two things: First, a large and increasing proportion of my app interactions start with me pulling down my notifications, not hitting a home-screen icon. Maybe this is an Android-vs-Apple thing?
Second, the home screens on all my mobiles have Bookmark widgets for obvious online things and I hit them as often as any app.
“9: Post Netscape, post PageRank, looking for the next run-time” · This — it begins “For 15 years the internet was a monolith: web browser + mouse + keyboard” — is incoherent.
Sure enough, the platform contention on the client side, between Apple/Google/Microsoft/browser-tech, is fierce. And in the cloud, there is ferocious competition between vendors, to define the “X” in XaaS, and then over what X should be built with.
But still, he’s right that at the end of the day, it’s all about gathering users.
“10: Messaging as a platform, and a way to get customers” · Yep; good thinking here. Plus, I can tell you as a Cloud insider that messaging occupies a whole lot of our server-side thinking too; but you probably already knew that.
“11: The unclear future of Android and the OEM world” · I’m down with every word here. Android has served its purpose by keeping any player from getting a lock on the channels that advertising wants to flow through, and thus on Google’s oxygen; and then again by routing a bajillion people to Gmail and Maps and so on. But what next?
“12: Internet of Things” · I have to be careful talking about IoT, not so much because it might be career-limiting, but because smart people I respect seem, unlike me, to think there’s a there there.
But yeah, to quote Mr Evans: “talk of standards for IoT misses the point - ‘connected to a network’ is no more a category’ than ‘contains a motor’”.
“13: Cars” · Yep. Me, I worry a lot about whether the shiny New Economy has replacements for all those vehicle-driving jobs.
“14: TV and the living room” · Bah; the TV doesn’t care whether it’s being driven by a mobile device or a PC, and the distinction is whether or not I need a keyboard to pull up and manipulate what I want on the screen. Now obviously, if there’s anything you can do on either your mobile or your PC that can’t use the nearest TV as a display, that’s a bug.
So he’s half-right here.
“15: Watches” · Whatever. I just don’t see lives being changed or substantial businesses being disrupted, so this being here is wrong.
“16: Finally, we are not our users” · Inspiring, heart-warming, but wrong.
Most people are perfectly happy to use mobiles as designed, for chatting and YouTube and Candy Crush, and PCs as designed, for spreadsheets and planning and reporting. The last thing most people want is to “take ownership of the tech in their lives”; they just want it to work.
And the score is · By my count, a total of eight points I think wrong. If so, Mr Evans is still doing OK; I’ll take a .500 batting average on my tech prognostications home with a smile any day.
And also, he’s asking good questions, which I’ve long thought more important than offering the right answers. So, thank you Mr Evans. Seriously, go read the thing.