This is in re­sponse to 16 mo­bile the­ses by Bene­dict Evans of An­dreesen Horow­itz, a firm that’s cen­tral to Bay Area VC cul­ture. The the­ses are about half wrong, which isn’t too bad.

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”.

So, wrong.

“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.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: David (Dec 29 2015, at 05:32)

I think your point on keyboards (point #4) is a bit shortsighted. I repeatedly see my college and early career aged kids prefer their phones and keyboard-less tablets to do things like photo editing, spreadsheets, and long form writing, even when a laptop is within reach. While you may be correct for people your (and my) age, I think each successive generation pushes keyboards further into irrelevancy.


From: Bruce (Dec 29 2015, at 10:40)

Good article by Evans and good commentary here.

As for IoT, there is a core of goodness there that is struggling to get out. I think it is going to happen, but in ways that are hard to predict right now. The hardware enablers are there, and some genuinely useful things are being done. But the ecosystem and business models are very unclear.

By the way, you confused me by referring to Mr Evans as Mr Bradley at one point.


From: Bill (Dec 29 2015, at 19:18)

Evans is blinded by the client-side and underestimates the rest of the infrastructure. The numbers on clients, and growth to the rest of the world, are naturally astounding. But they're visibly astounding. For those of us that see the cloud side, it's a little easier to see how BIG things get. But even then, it can be hard to comprehend :-) I think it's incomprehensible for those client-side biased. (Which opens up the possibility of interesting investments that those folks will miss...)

Another part of the syndrome is referring to cell phones as "supercomputers". While we've had impressive growth in performance, on the expected curve, that'll flatten out soon. And the perf levels are kinda funny relative to the things we're currently doing to accelerate ML things etc..


From: Mike (Dec 30 2015, at 11:02)

Regarding '8: Apps and the web' this is most likely an Apple vs. Android thing. I went from Android to Apple just this year when none of the Android manufacterers decided to release a compelling phone under 5 1/2". The notification pane on Apple is a pale immitation of Android, effective only at reminding me how much better it was on Android. It's bad enough that Apple could remove it from iOS and I think it would be an improvement (on the flip side, the quick setting pane on iOS is vastly superior to any I saw on Android).

So yeah, chalk this one up to Android vs. Apple.




From: Matěj Cepl (Jan 04 2016, at 13:29)

I am not sure what it means, but am I the only one who now makes majority of searches directly on Wikipedia without a detour through DuckDuckGo/Google?


From: Paul Guinnessy (Jan 07 2016, at 13:44)

I think the issue on number 7, search and discovery, is too limited in both arguments. If you're looking for the hottest research papers at the moment, you don't go to google, you either go to Nature, Science or arXiv. If you're on arXiv there are so many papers published each day its impossible to cover or read the abstract of them all.

Papers in scientific research are growing at about 6% per year so its a problem that's getting worse or worse (we'll skip over using publications like the one I work for as a way of keeping up to date). And the time spent reading papers keeps dropping.

Hence I would say there are some real opportunities in search and discovery that haven't been applied yet (although science publishers are investing a lot in trying to find the answer to that question) and its still open to all newcomers to find the answer.


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