The other day, a friend of mine made an interesting observation that got me thinking. Here's what she said:
It's weird how much change we've seen in the technology and websites we use in the past 3 years or so, compared to how little change there was in the 5 years before that.
She's not a techie. She's just a normal person who doesn't care about news from the technology world. But she is interested in devices and sites that make her life easier and better. We've all noticed that in an ever increasing way among non-techies in the past few years. If you think about it, it's a pretty big jump from where we were 5 years ago. Back then, the only technology innovations that people heard about were faster CPU's, bigger hard-drives and more memory. And most people didn't really care. The primary reason they bought new technology was because their computers 'got slow' doing the same tasks they once completed fast enough. With the notable exception of Napster (and its derivatives after that), there was nothing really that changed the way people consumed information and media. We didn't like the clunky mobile devices that were available. And while social networks already existed, they weren't as ubiquitous as they are now. For a few years, it seemed like there was hardly any progress in technology apart from the things that only geeks got excited about.
Back then, there was really only one tech-giant that mattered when it came to the consumer market: Microsoft. They were dominant and had little competition in their core markets. They then started to put a lot of resources into entering other markets, which meant they were basically building the same things that other companies were already offering. There were minor innovations, typically limited to small features and integration with other services/products that competing products didn't have. But nothing really substantial, they didn't introduce any game-changers. You could argue that hardware improvements at the time weren't coming along fast enough to create game-changing products, but I'd argue that such improvements largely come from companies that push for the required advancements in order to create the products they've envisioned. I like to compare it to how we were able to put a man on the moon 40 years ago because the space race pushed us ahead, yet we can't even match that feat (let alone exceed it) nowadays because nobody is pushing for it.
Luckily for us, we now live in a time where we're back to multiple tech-giants that matter to consumers. Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Samsung, … they're all creating things that change the way we do things or consume things. They're all competing heavily and as a result, innovating because they simply have to. If they don't innovate, they quickly become irrelevant and that impedes their ability to compete. And if they no longer need to compete, it becomes less important for them to innovate. They'd only need to provide just enough innovation to get their customer base to upgrade regularly. And we, the consumers, would be back to where we were 5 years ago. Getting minor upgrades that slightly improve what we're already doing.
Despite any preferences you may have, you really ought to hope that none of the new tech-giants become as dominant in the areas they're active in as Microsoft used to be. If you're an Apple fan, you should be happy that Google and Samsung are fighting them so hard in the mobile space. If you're a Google fan, you should be happy that Facebook has them worried. If you're a Facebook fan, you should be happy about the changes that Google+ has inspired them to make already. If you're a Microsoft fan, you… well, that probably means your income is dependent on Microsoft's relevance. With the exception of Kinect and XBox, the only people that seem to get excited about Microsoft products are .NET developers, Windows sysadmins and tech journalists that cater to either of the first 2 groups. But the good news is that even Microsoft is being forced to innovate if they want people to buy their products. They can't leverage their Windows monopoly into automatic success in other markets anymore.
As long as none of the tech-giants can get comfortable in their position, we're going to keep benefiting from the competition and the resulting innovations. Just something to keep in mind for fanbois on all sides ;)