Titanfall and the Future of Game Consoles

After more hours of sleep deprived nights than I care to admit, I’m convinced that Titanfall shows us something about the future of consoles. Specifically, they are not dead. I’m not saying the market for consoles is gigantic, or even growing, but it is still very alive and well.

A game like Titanfall is simply not coming to a device other than a game console or PC any time soon. More importantly, this game reminds us when good software developers are given incredible performance at a CPU and GPU level, they take advantage of that performance. There is a saying in the semiconductor industry that I’m fond of: “You will never hear a good software developer say we have enough performance.”

Titanfall has redefined the first person shooter genre. First person shooters will never be the same and this game will serve as the mechanism for that change. Halo did similar things for the space on the first XBOX and Titanfall will do it again on the XBOX One. The idea that cloud gaming platforms or mobile devices will render consoles moot any time soon is pure silliness.

Since I have a background in semi-conductors, I study them regularly. There are mobile device roadmaps, and there are heavy client or more compute based roadmaps. Just because mobile processors will get more powerful than they are today does not mean they will ever be more powerful than those being built for high-performance applications. Console gaming is one of these high performance applications.

The question is not whether mobile devices or other things will kill consoles but whether or not there is still a big opportunity in consoles. Just casually watch a male, young or under 45, walk through a room where others are shooting, racing, or blowing things up and you will know the answer.

Without question, the total addressable market for mobile game developers is bigger than the total addressable market of consoles. But that does not mean the console market is not healthy. The only case one could make that consoles are dead is that developers will no longer make a game like Titanfall and any number of titles like it. These developers are not focused on bringing this experience to a mobile device and even if they did the experience would pale in comparison to one on a high-performance built console. As long as quality developers take advantage of high performance silicon there will always be a market for consoles. Titanfall serves as the evidence of this point.

The Early Days of the Mobile Web

If you listen to mine and Benedict Evans podcast then you will know we talk a bit about the mobile web. Specifically, we call out the importance of the mobile web and how it is an experience that contrasts that of the desktop web. Everything is different because our context is different. Most of the time when we are browsing the desktop web we are sitting in a fixed location. Most of the time when we are using the mobile web or our mobile device in general, we are not fixed but mobile. Our mobile context is very different from our fixed context.

With that in mind, I still wonder if we are in the early days of the mobile web. The pew research tweeted out this photo that got me thinking:

BieUl6kCYAAVFDr.png-large

The tweet containing this image had the following caption: In 1996, this is what a cell phone with Internet capabilities looked like. Traveling down this rabbit hole, I went searching for screen shots of the early days of the desktop web. I came across this link with a chronology of time periods and the evolution web pages went through.

Here is Apple’s web page from 1997 for example.

Old-Apple-Website

All of this got me thinking. What stage of the mobile web are we in today? It seems as though we are out of the very early stages but are we even at the middle stages yet? What if we translate web pages into Apps? Are we still in the early days of apps?

We are in the process of connecting the unconnected. For the next billion people, the web will be fresh. Apps, browsing, media, it will all be brand new. We are moving into an area of explosive growth driven by consumers who never owned a personal computer, or even any electrical gadget of any kind before.

Ten years from now will we see similar links to the one on webpages I posted showing the evolution of apps from early stages to modern times? Absolutely we will. Device capabilities will evolve. Consumer needs will evolve. It will all change. What is intriguing to me is how fast it will all change. We can look at the time period of the evolution of the desktop web as being 25 years. The mobile web won’t take half that long to change twice as much. Playing in the mobile arena will be playing in the fast lane. It will all change and quickly.

Macs Everywhere

A little over a decade ago, I was still new in Industry Analyst circles. I was fresh out of the start-up scene to attend corporate analyst events and trade shows as an “analyst.” I noticed right away that I was frequently either the only one or one of only a few people in attendance at industry events using a Mac. Bringing a Mac to an analyst or industry event always gave me a sense of pride. I genuinely enjoyed using something that I believed was superior, but also that feeling that I was in the minority.

I used to enjoy getting the all too common question of “why do you use a Mac.” The question always seemed to be asked with a tone of inferiority or disdain implied. Then I would explain why I thought it was better and show some things it could do that Windows couldn’t. Or how I didn’t spend many hours a month troubleshooting computer issues any longer. I would explain that everything just “worked.”

I was not only in the minority at many of these analyst or media events, but I was often also the youngest person by a healthy gap. So it was always interesting that I sensed the disdain in the question was sometimes muted by my youth and perhaps perceived naivety. So I always felt compelled to include in my answer that I spent years in IT at a Fortune 500 semiconductor company. I always liked to add that I could troubleshoot Windows with the best of them, but now that I was on a Mac I didn’t have to worry about stuff like that any longer.

Since those times, things have changed. I know I live in the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley, but I see Macs everywhere. Go to San Francisco, or Palo Alto, or most major hot spots where people take their PCs out in public to work, and you will notice more than just a few Macs. In fact, Windows users are in the minority it seems in many areas I observe. I know Macs are not the majority of the PC install base but casual observations in public and many corporate spaces would suggest otherwise. I am constantly surprised as I attend meetings or briefings with startups, enterprises, and other types of organizations, how many Macs I see being used.

Even in education the percentage of Macs is rising. When I first joined Creative Strategies late in 2000, I was tasked with doing research on the Gen x and Gen Y demographics to understand their needs, wants, and desires for technology. I would use my networks to go to high schools, and college campuses, to get a pulse of the youth. Around 2005, I observed a steady and consistent increase in the number of Macs I saw being used in classroom settings at colleges in particular. It was fascinating to watch.

That being said. Macs are certainly increasing annually as a percentage of the overall PC install base. With the trends in the PC market I am seeing, I still feel there is a growth story for the Mac ahead.

How Much Electronic Glass Do You Own?

I finally got around to a project I have been wanting to do for a while. I figured out how much sq ft of electronic glass is in use in my home. Benedict Evans loves to point out a stat from Corning on how much square ft of glass is shipped each year. Benedict tweeted out yesterday that estimates were that over 4b square feet of glass will be shipped in 2014. While I like the broad statistic of glass shipment estimates, I was struck with the question of whether we can break that estimate down to a forecast per person. So I decided to start with myself.

I measured, then did the maths, and figured out that I have just over 25 square ft of electronic glass in use in my home. If I were to tally up all the electronic glass from devices and gadgets not in use, it would be much higher. Now I fully recognize I am in the minority. There are 4 people in my household that is a little more than the US average, but I have way more than the average electronics in use. So I decided to include some “normals” in this experiment as well.

As I went to friends and families houses over the past few weeks, I tallied up their amount of electronic glass as well. In all, I surveyed 15 households. I was careful not to include people in the tech industry. Most of those I surveyed were in industries like education, police and fire, construction, and agriculture. It was interesting to see the mix of devices both of platforms and screen size in each household. After measuring and doing the maths, I came up with an average of 14.2 square feet of glass in actively being used in the 15 households I surveyed. That is likely even a bit high for the US average, but I’m guessing it’s fairly close given the mix of devices I saw in each household that maps with many of the device trends we have seen in the US for the past few years. In each house, the largest piece of electronic glass was obviously the TV. Each household also had more PCs than tablets, and every member owned a smartphone.

Clearly every area of the US will differ in this average. I’d bet the average in Silicon Valley or New York is different from the average of a rural area in Kentucky. Going further, the US average would be much higher than the average of China or India. While forecasting this would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. But I like living in the tension of the question. What will the average square ft of glass be per person, per household, per company, be in 2014? 2015? How about 2020?

We forecast specific devices and form factors. Sometimes we forecast screen size volumes, but rarely do we just look at square foot of glass in use per person. If it is “all just glass” then this seems like another dimension worth thinking about.

The Challenge Competing on Mobile

The mobile industry is one of the most fascinating and one of the most complicated markets to study. The mobile platform is without question THE key platform for many companies. It seems like not a month goes by that we don’t read reports of how much money a company is making in mobile. For every one company succeeding in mobile, there are countless others who are failing. Competing in mobile is a challenge. This challenge often gets overlooked. The biggest challenge for companies competing for mobile eyeballs is not as much in relation to other competitors, but it is in relation to time.

While the mobile screen is always with us, for many, it is not the only screen we look at and more to the point it is not the one we stare at for the longest periods of time. This is the advantage products like the PC and now the tablet has. While they may not be the most portable, they are the ones many look at for longer periods of time. There are certain consumers, like many in emerging markets, which are mobile only. The smartphone is the only screen they look at. However, due to the nature of the mobile device, even that screen time is still limited. The challenge for anyone competing in mobile is to grab a sliver of the time spent using a mobile device. This time is finite and currently dominated by a few competitors and tasks.

I find it helpful to frame my point as a pie chart. More data exists on US consumer smartphone behavior than in markets where smartphones are the only computers owned. I’d love more data like this on emerging markets but have not found reliable statistics yet. But for US consumers Harvard Business Review compiled some research and produced the following chart.

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A study was released middle of last year stating that Americans on average use their smartphones for 58 minutes a day. That has likely not changed too much so let’s use the assumption that American consumers use their smartphones for a grand total of an hour each day. Using HBR’s study as a baseline, then any social app is competing with other social apps for 11.4 minutes of time. Facebook would probably be the market share leader likely occupying anywhere from 8-10 minutes of that social time. Meaning a new entrant either needs to try and steal time from Facebook or is competing for a little over 1 min of possible time/share.

Competing in mobile is difficult. Consumers have developed habits. Those habits will tend to lean toward a few apps they use in certain situations or when they are in certain contexts. Just like market share statistics in any category, these certain apps have the market share of a consumer’s time. Competitors either need to steal time from dominant apps or get the owner to start dedicating more time to their smartphone usage.

The share of mobile time spent using a device creates challenges for competitors in every market. In western markets the best chance to compete is to not only target the smartphone with an app or service but to target all three, or four, screens a consumer may own or use. If a significant amount of daily compute time is spread across devices like a PC, tablet, smartphone, and even the PC, then a competitors best chance is to create experiences that span all those screens.

Similarly in emerging markets the challenge may be even greater because mobile is the dominant platform for now. Solutions don’t have the luxury of creating a service that spans many screens as they have to only target one–the main one–the smartphone. While mobile in emerging markets is competitive, it also favors a few key dominant players. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

The Framily Cloud

When I think about a cloud ecosystem I think about its value being largely in synchronization. A key point I try to articulate is that this concept of a cloud ecosystem doesn’t hold much value when all you have is one smart device. Its true value shows up when you have multiple smart devices and want to keep them in sync. Apple’s ecosystem and Googles are making great strides at keeping my content, apps, media, and more in sync. For me and my devices the cloud is working out great.

One of my biggest problems with all the ecosystems I try is that they do a decent job of being my ecosystem, but they do not do a good job at being our ecosystem. When I say our I mean my families.In 2012 I wrote an article explaining the need for a family cloud solution. Here we are almost two years later and I’m not sure we are any closer to a family cloud.

This last weekend, my family and I went to Tahoe. We went sledding, played in the snow, played games, ate good food, and all the while many were taking pictures and video of the whole experience. I always volunteer to make the post vacation family video. When a vacation consists of me, my wife, and my two kids, I’m the only one taking pictures and video. This makes it easy because all the content I need resides on my devices in my ecosystem. This becomes a bit more of a complex problem when content I need resides in other people’s devices and other people’s ecosystems.

Luckily, most of the folks in my family have iOS devices. My solution was to use Airdrop to get all the media I need to my iOs device. While this is the most elegant solution I have used to date to solve this problem it still feels like a wireless version of sneaker net. Ideally, a friends and family network will not just have a better way to share media, but also to collaborate on it. There are still walls between my ecosystem and the ecosystem of others. This is true of iOS ecosystems as well as Android ecosystems. Yet there are very good reasons to let my cloud ecosystem work more closely with my family and friends ecosystems.

Facebook–Google events, and services like it– are getting closer to a broader communal cloud but still do not fully solve the problem. Primarily since they can be used as a family cloud, that is not a problem they are trying to solve. Perhaps this is a complicated problem to solve. I continually see issues in both Google’s and Apple’s cloud synchronization ecosystem as I add more devices to the ecosystem. If these ecosystems are having enough trouble keeping me and my devices in sync then I can only imagine it is more difficult as we transition from my ecosystem to our ecosystem. In my home, we have in use two Macs, and 8 iOS devices. Each persons cloud works fine, but there are glaring issues having a unified ecosystem for our family. This problem only gets worse with heterogeneous ecosystems of Android and iOS not only exist but are common in the market place.

While the personal cloud is a service, so should be the friends and family (framily) cloud. When I do deep dive analysis on ecosystems I look for dependencies that ecosystem creates. Solve the framily cloud and it will add another layer of depth and decencies for the provider who solves it.

“Real Work”

The tablet vs. the PC remains one of the central debates of our time. As an analyst for both the PC industry and the tablet industry I have to study the market for both devices. Benedict Evans wrote a piece yesterday that is worth reading. In summarizing a key thought of his he points out that “its all just glass… The question is what do you want to do with it.

In a similar vein Joanna Stern wrote this provoking article on the subject of tablets and productivity. She puts a number of tablets to the test to see if they can suffice as a PC replacement. The tests she performed are valid and whether a tablet can be replaced by a notebook is a topic that needs addressing. However, it is the wrong question. The correct question is what Benedict asked: what do you want to do with it.

What DO you want to do with it?
My entire thesis about the market for PCs, tablets, and even smartphones is that the markets are mature enough for consumers to know they want one, two, or all three of these devices. But not mature enough that the same consumers, generally speaking, are self aware enough to why, or what specific preferences they have with each device. Prior to the iPad, the only device we had for a “real work” device was a PC. Consumers were using a PC to do things like email, browse the web, write a report, do a school paper, make a movie, edit some photos, etc., on that device because it was the only device capable of doing so. This entire proposition has now been challenged. Not only are tablets, and even smartphones, capable of doing many of the tasks that most consumers users their PCs for, but that they are also better than the PC for many of them.

I firmly believe my iPad is a better web browsing tool than my PC. I believe it is a better entertainment device for games, watching movies, and TV shows. I personally believe it is a better art studio. With all the use cases we can list for our smart devices, the central issue keeps coming back to what do you want to do with it.

Back in the Netbooks thankfully short lived heyday, I was tasked with doing some research to understand why the Netbook was taking off in key PC markets like the US and Europe. We spent a bit of time talking to consumers all over the world to get a handle on what the primary tasks they did with their PC the most of the time. What I discovered was enlightening. The vast majority of consumers we spoke to (greater than 90%) rarely used more than a handful of applications. Mostly they just browsed the web, used an email client, played some casual games (like Solitaire), and every now and then Word or Excel. My key takeaway was that the vast majority of time consumers spent using their PCs they were doing very simple things. This research is where my conclusion that the PC over-serves most consumers is based.

Benedict make a point in his post that I think is exactly the way we need to understand the market for PCs. He points out that one way to look at the market is to draw a clear line between commercial and consumer markets. I would include a university student in commercial for the time being. There are very real and very clear reasons why a commercial customer needs a PC. Perhaps this person needs a desktop, because they work primarily from their desk. Or perhaps they are primarily a mobile worker and work heavily out and about and so the notebook is the right form factor. While I think there are cases when a tablet can suffice for a mobile worker, I recognize there is still a role for the portable desktop (notebook) in the market.

The consumer market is a very different beast. While its true many enterprise workers are also consumers, many do not need to bring their work(PC) home with them. I’m convinced the PC is a truck analogy rings exactly true. A truck is necessary for some people on a daily basis for their line of work. For others, it is only necessary every now and then like when they move, or have to take things to the dump, for example. The only question is if the car is the tablet or the smartphone.

The Connected Vacation

I’m going on vacation. My family and I are headed to a friend’s cabin in Tahoe. It is dumping snow there right now and will be during our drive that will make for some interesting driving. I’m responsible for all the tech stuff for our family. That means getting kids iPads charged, bringing the chargers, charging all my fun stuff like my connected goggles and all my GoPro’s. I take about as much technology as anyone on vacation. In fact, I’d wager to bet I’m in the .01% category with how much technology I take on vacation.

Vacations are about slowing down and relaxing. While I take my iPad and sometimes my Mac, and try to work as little as possible, most of the technology I take has a single purpose in goal. To capture memories.

While I do participate and enjoy several extreme sports, my primary uses for my GoPro’s are to capture memories while on Vacation. When I first got my GoPro v.1 I brought it to Disneyland and wore it on my head to video our experiences on the rides and around the park. People freak out today when someone wears Google Glasses into the bathroom. Well, that is nothing in comparison to my forgetting my GoPro was on my head and walking right into the Men’s room. Yep, it happened. That faux pas aside, the video I made was easily the best family video I had made to date. It was then I realized how powerful a pervasive capture device mounted on my person could become for capturing memories.

Technology to me isn’t a burden when I go on vacation. It is empowering. Getting away from technology and unplugging is without a doubt relaxing, and I aggressively pursue downtime from “work.” But it is important to me to capture memories for myself and my family. Technology isn’t only the best solution for this, but it is getting even better.

I believe in the future of a capture device mounted to our person. In the short term, this device has a specific purpose. For me, I mount a capture device on myself when I want to capture video of what I see and experience. My googles have a heads up display (HUD) that has a GPS built in and well tell me how fast I am going on the slopes, or on my dirt bike, as well as how much vertical air I get on any jump. Every bit of technology I bring and use enhances my vacation experience it does not detract from it. And as I stated, this technology will only get better and enhance our experiences even more.

We can only hope as capture, sensors, display, and other key technology gets even better integrated into things that our ability to use technology to enhance our experiences will become so transparent that we won’t even have to think about the technology itself.

I’m a sight to behold, but I stand my ground that connected vacations are the best.

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500 Words at Tech.pinions

Due to an emergency, I had to fill in for a colleague at Tech.pinions today to write the daily post. I published there what I was going to write for my 500 word post for today. It is on the subject of how consumers have a technological worldview in the same way they have a worldview about life, religion, politics, etc.

Here is the link.

Dumb Pipes

As Mobile World Congress is underway, I am reminded that at its core MWC is a telecommunications trade show. There was a time where the telecommunications element was a bigger deal than it is today. As I ponder the broader mobile industry, I keep returning the question of the role of carriers, and if they are nothing more than dumb pipes.

I pay money to my carrier so that I can keep a device in my pocket that can make calls and maintain a consistent connection to the Internet through their network. The carrier’s hook to many consumers, particularly Western ones, is a device subsidy. A carrier sells a smartphone at a subsidized cost. Making the device more affordable, even sometimes free to the consumer, in exchange for a multi-year commitment. Other than that element, my carrier is just a dumb pipe. Can they reverse this trend? I don’t see how.

A carrier’s true value, their real asset, can be summed up in this image.

cell-tower

Carriers own a cell tower that they upgrade to provide faster service and broader access. That’s about it. They used to have much more differentiation than they do today. Some had proprietary devices or solutions. Some were known for better quality or were the only ones available. Those days are long past in most cases. Pricing is a particular strategy that T-Mobile and Sprint are trying to compete with, but they have simply embraced their “dumb pipe-ness” sooner than other carriers.

What is left for carriers to offer that I will pay them for? This is the question they are confronted with; it is also one with no legitimately good answer to.

Cable companies, while also a “pipe” are not in as dire a predicament as wireless carriers. Cable companies invest in the infrastructure and also the content. As I pointed out a few days ago, there are rigorous rights in place to protect those investments in content.

Smart devices were ultimately the downfall of the wireless carriers when all the value moved to the handset and its ecosystem rather than their own proprietary ecosystem. This is the fear that some cable companies must face. Could smart devices eventually do the same thing to them? We can only hope.

Ultimately, this has all happened before. At one point in time, AT&T owned not just the infrastructure, but also the phone system they handed to customers. Very similar to the way a cable company installs a box in your home so you can get TV, AT&T gave you a box so you could make land-line phone calls. Eventually, the FCC broke up this monopoly and hardware innovation began. Similarly as wireless carriers lost control of the hardware we observed similar innovation in handsets. I’m guessing the same will be true when the cable company monopoly is over. We await the day when we can see hardware innovation beyond the outdated and fantastically terrible hardware our cable companies provide us with today.

I am yet to find a better way to look at the current environment than to recognize that the world will be a better place when we have more dumb pipes.