For the past few years, the trend has been to be mobile first and it’s the end all to be all. There’s this thought that being built for a mobile device was the final frontier and the biggest shift we’ve ever seen. What if it’s just the first shockwave of a big earthquake? What if it was part of the real big trend that’s playing out. Keep in mind, the Post PC era is only really 4 years old (the post pc era started in my mind right around when the iPad came out and iPhone+Android were clearly going to be winners). Something struck me quite bluntly when reading through and paying attention to Dropbox’s DBX conference. It’s the fact that we live in a world where it’s not going to be 2-3 screens – tablet, mobile, and desktop. It’s going to be a world where we will be using many different devices, we are going to be everywhere. Here’s just a small sample of the devices that seem realistic to take us “everywhere”:
- Laptops which will be like trucks, but still exist.
- Tablets that will eat away the majority of laptops usage while expanding time spent.
- Mobile smartphones which will only grow in dominance as they replace feature phones.
- The smart television. We know it is coming and we know the major players will do something here.
- Gaming consoles. XBox, Playstation, Ouya, and more.
- Google glass. One part of the wearable computing trend. It seems like a toy now, but there’s something here.
- Wrist computers. Pebble was the first and samsung to apple are planning something here.
- Car navigation systems. iOS 7 cemented Apple is coming here, Microsoft is doing something here, and if you’ve been in a Tesla, this is an obvious place.
Eight total screens, seven of which were nothing more than science fiction or rumors on Mac sites less than a decade ago. Ten years from now, it’s not to fathom that there may 8 more new screens. On top of that, each household is going to have multiple copies of each type of device.
What do Netflix and Skype have in common? They are both perfect examples of everywhere first companies. Netflix can be found on your laptop, iPad, kindle fire, iphone, samsung smart tv, playstation, and more to come. They’re putting substantial efforts into mobile, likely more than anywhere else, but they are not saying mobile is the end all to be all. Mobile was the first shockwave in the earthquake of everywhere first. The first rumbling of what this decade is about: computers are going to be everywhere.
I’ve thought about what are the four key pillars of being everywhere first. You could either think of this as a way to best think about building your app or as a way to think about new infrastructure opportunities. For example, Dropbox built an entirely large company around data+sync, knowing that we were moving to an everywhere first world.
Design and interface
Design and interface is a key characteristic and important part of an everywhere first world. We thought for a while that we could just take the desktop and put it on a bunch of other devices. That didn’t work for the tablet and it’s not going to work anywhere else. Each app needs to treat each class of device as having a unique interface while maintaining a human interface guideline of their own. Notice that Netflix is different yet very similar across all of their different screens. Responsive design is an alpha version of this on the web, but it has its shortcomings from a performance and feature limitation perspective. It deserves a better solution to the problem of “publish once, go everywhere”.
Data and Sync
I think this is the real beauty and necessity of what we call the cloud. It lets us have our data synced and available across a whole slew of devices. Start a movie on your iPad with Netflix and then finish it on your Playstation right where you left off. Dropbox is trying to bring this to the general public by making your files sync’d across all your devices. BaaS companies like Parse, Firebase, Kinvey, and more are allowing developers to easily have one backend that can work across their apps and sites across a bunch of different devices. What was one of the most exciting announcements that Twitter has made in recent history? No it’s not Vine or photo filters. It’s the fact that direct messages being read and unread sync across all of your different devices. True cross device applications sync seamlessly everywhere.
Personalization could also be referred to data, but in this case I’m not referring to the data you store, but the data that tracks what you do. In a one or two device world, it was somewhat easy to track data on a user. Every startup with decent scale is data driven, whether it’s Netflix or Skype. They do this well by having a login system, but what about places where there are no login systems. The biggest place this applies is in the world of adtech and there are already companies worth 9 figures trying to solve this problem – Drawbridge and TapAd. Brands want to be able to show relevant and useful ads everywhere. They realize the world is comprised of people using many different devices and want to bring data+personalization everywhere. In short, a great cross platform app makes it easy to target data across many devices to the same one user.
Making money on one device is hard, let alone on 8 different types of devices with different interfaces. You either sell stuff (digital or physical) or run advertising as a business model online. You need to have an application that can easily take your business model across every single device with the same amount of zero friction. Charging for products and subscriptions on iOS is getting easier and Android is a bit tougher. The problem is, having two separate billing systems and userbases. Companies like Stripe really excite me, because they’re reducing payments to a simple API that will just work everywhere. Easily purchase and subscribe the same across everywhere.
Advertising is a whole other beast. We haven’t really gotten digital advertising right, except for search, on the first device class, laptops. Mobile monetization on advertising is a shitshow as everyone knows. I think this is where the whole native advertising hoopla has weight to be to everywhere first what search advertising was to the 1st wave of the internet. It basically says “hey, make my advertising fit the look and feel of the content everywhere”. It’s an advertising unit that isn’t thrown off on to the side, but fits into the look and feel of whatever device you are on. A really interesting approach to native advertising would be to offer it as an API where you could style the data such as title, excerept, thumbnail, article content,etc. that API call returns. You can’t fix the advertising side until you have the design/interface and personalization side down. Marketers expect the message to fit the medium and to be able to target.
The web is the common thread
The one thing all of these devices will have is a web browser. It’s important, because it’s easy to transform web content and applications to work on new devices. More importantly, the structure of URLs allow data and the sharing of content across devices to “just work”. http://foo.com/foo.html will move from browser to browser. It also reduces the complexity of having teams building apps on each platform. The downside is performance. The web doesn’t perform as well as native applications. Finding a novel solution to letting the web perform at native speeds across all devices is something worth solving. I don’t think anyone has quite cracked it yet. That’s why even though Netflix, Twitter, and Skype are on all class of devices, they’re primarily being built natively for each platform. They can do that, but most other companies can’t.
If you realize that it’s not about mobile first, but a world where content and applications should be everywhere first, I bet you’ll open your eyes to a wider range of possibilities. Too many folks are building what has been possible before, but just slightly better, instead of something that wouldn’t have made sense until being everywhere first.