Personally, I think it's just the start. It's my opinion that we are at the very beginning of another game changing event (like the internet).
Computers are going to become tiny things like the iPhone, and you come home, stick it in your docking station and your desktop pops up.
Apps will have to scale from very tiny screens to massive 30 inch monitors. Things, them are going to be different real soon, like the gospel singers used to sing.
Software will be deployed over the air, just like the iPhone app store.
That's why google has a phone, that's why yahoo is making YUI, that's why google allows everyone use its charts API for free. They are all trying to take control of the API for this new platform. The new world is not just internet based, it's apps built to be completely internet aware and to work with the internet all the time.
Software is changing. It's no longer about writing an FTP client and selling a few thousand copies - when you think of an always on internet, easy distribution, and location awareness, a whole new class of apps will emerge.
It's a big markets, and the business folk can see that.
I think you're right that we're on the cusp of another huge game-changing event, but I think you're wrong about it being the iPhone, or any other cell-phone-like device.
Does anyone remember 1992? There were basically two huge "next big things" that were supposed to revolutionize everything. WebTV, and CD-ROM drives. Both had massive backing from the major players of the day - Microsoft, Apple, the big TV networks, hardware manufacturers.
Instead, it was the WWW that took off, and over the next 10 years, the WWW subsumed both of them. I don't think that was an accident of history. Huge game-changing innovations rarely come from big-company platforms (though they often come from hobbyists who were inspired by big-company research labs). They just have too much entrenched baggage. Instead, they come from small startups and hobby projects that have the flexibility to become what the market is demanding. The web succeeded, in a large part, because Marc Andreesen didn't listen to Tim Berners-Lee and added support for inline images even though it was totally not the way anchors and resources were supposed to work.
I've got two ideas for what that next big disruptive innovation might be. One, as Mitch Kapor suggests, might be virtual worlds. The other is microblogging, a la Twitter. Any other ideas?
I don't see where one can go with microblogging. How does it change anything? It's the end point - the blog is the end of the line. All you can do is change the display format.
But merging cell phones and computer is the start of a new line. Virtual Worlds are the start of a new line also.
Virtual Worlds are coming, but their time is still some years away. What will really kick it off will be the headtracking and motion detection software that are currently getting better and better with software. And combined with the virtual 3d thing (head tracking where 3d is approximated) and constantly cheaper big ass flat screen TVs, there is another big potential there.
The iPhone is not the game changer. It's the things that are right now being inspired by the iPhone. It's the new devices that will come up that will copy the concept but make it even cleaner, even better, even more powerful.
Are you trying to say CD-ROMs did not revolutionise everything? How much would be possible today if we were still using tapes, or swapping 12 floppies to load a 10MB game?
CDs did change computers, but they got old quick, that's all. But they still stayed longer than the internet in its current form has been around.
Remember what the web was in 1992: a way to share textual scientific documents. How does that change anything? All you can do is change the display format. ;-)
And then people discovered you could embed images in these documents. And you could sell stuff by listing the stuff you had for sale and having people send you money. And you could hold auctions with them, once they figured out how to let you update the page automatically. And you could upload pictures of your dog and send them to friends.
And then folks realized that you could include a scripting language on both the client and server, and let computers handle what website operators had been doing. Update webpages through a form. Let people talk to each other on forums without the webmaster getting involved. Automate those online auctions. Display your email. Search for maps and driving directions. Look for the multi-gig files that were previously available on CDs, and download them via BitTorrent.
So, microblogging. Companies are already Twittering product announcements and special promotions to customers. What if the customers could Twitter back with suggestions? What if they could buy it immediately? What if you could Twitter a picture or a song to your followers and they could listen immediately, wherever they were (isn't Pownce doing that?)? What if someone did a bot that monitors Twitter for mentions of your product, then ran some NLP on them and sent you neatly categorized suggestions for improvements? What if someone clustered Twitter users with some clique-detection algorithm and used that to segment markets?
Hot damn, I may've found my next startup idea. Or maybe I should just apply for a job at Twitter. ;-)
I really don't see how this is useful. Maybe I've become one of those guys who doesn't 'get it' anymore, but I think that twitter is not going to be as big as you think. Yes, a form of mini communication will happen, but in the current form, there will very quickly be too much information. We have finite capacities for processing stuff, and twitter is a rabble of information, which just gets wearying after a while.
To me, the people who are really into twitter all seem to be the same demographic, and that's usually bad news for a technology. It's those same people who used to like Usenet and the IRC that are now using twitter.
Twitter is something that intrudes on your life, and having it does not solve any problems, it adds stuff to what you already have.
But I won't protest too much, because it's possible I'm wrong on this one. I'll just wait and see. But frankly, I still don't see how I could somehow get my mum excited about twitter, even if it had all those features you spoke about.
The one piece of the puzzle not solved is how everyone's going to afford this wireless. I'm making decent money, spending 80 dollars on two cell phones worth of coverage, and I'm still wincing about the idea of 30 bucks for a data plan. (Or, more appropriately, 60 dollars a month for two!) It's all well and good this idea about smartphones, but the prices are going to have to come way down before we speak of ubiquitous network computing.
It can't even replace my internet bill because of the cost of multiple people on the plan! Where is the new competitor going to come from in a market this is so difficult to break into due to price and monopoly concerns? Without that competitor, where are the drops in prices coming from?
This is a monopoly like market by definition. We have companies competing for a finite amount of customers (or customers' attention).
If you had five equally popular search engines, they wouldn't really compete prices down anyway. The number of searches (supply) would still be the same & advertisers (demand) would still be the same.
The only reason MSN & Yahoo (not to mention real obscure engines) still earn less per click is a sort of market imperfection: It's complicated & time consuming learning another system & running parallel campaigns. For an extra 5-10%, it isn't worth it for small campaigns.
Monopoly or not, they are not manipulating the market. It manipulates itself.