From whence innovation? (or, why we need to rethink our current paradigms lest we continue to stagnate)

I just finished "After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul" after a late-night reading binge before bed. That book uncorked a lot of conflicted thoughts in me. Apple used to be a company that could be counted on to push the bar further with existing technologies. They didn't invent the personal computer but they made one of the first ones that could be used by regular folks. They didn't invent the GUI but they made it so everyone could have a well-thought-out GUI. They didn't invent the mobile phone but they made it (arguably) better. Unfortunately Apple seems to have stifled their boundary pushing with adherence to shareholder value and pleasing the MBAs of the company. They may continue to surprise but I'm doubtful they'll be able to pull of the same level of boundary pushing that was so prevalent to the DNA of Apple with Steve Jobs. I hope I'm wrong.

That got me thinking about where the next innovations in computing will come from. I think it's safe to discount the current crop of big names in computing. Google has proven to be a company of mixed agendas that seem to focus more on how to put advertising in front of folks and iterating on their current projects (or finding new and exciting ways to deprecate them in favor of half-baked convergence ideas that have a hard time exciting anyone who isn't in Google). Meta (nee Facebook) could be an innovator here but they feel like they've decided their current path is making virtual reality an uncomfortable place to be. Microsoft keeps plugging away at adapting themselves to the Internet, but their strength is taking other technologies and iterating on them to please businesses, not consumers. Also it feels like Microsoft is working to out-Google Google. Amazon is a strange entry into this whole pantheon of big companies because they feel like they could innovate here but they seem more comfortable taking existing tech and making it cheaper with an explicit tie to the Amazon ecosystem (read: store).

Out of this pantheon of giants I'm not sure they're capable of creating the next innovation.

Mobile feels like the place where most folks are excited. I'm rather ambivalent about the prospects of mobile providing true innovation. The platforms have stagnated with minor improvements, and every device (with rare exception) is either beholden to the Google ecosystem or the Apple ecosystem. They're significant contributors to each company's bottom line, so I fear anything that might disrupt that (aka: innovation) is doomed from the start. Worse, any challengers will face a major hurdle in the USA of FCC certification and acceptance from the telecommunications monopolies that are more conservative than your conspiracy-theory-spouting uncle. That's part of the reason that no FLOSS-based phone has a chance in the USA: they can't afford certification and have a hard time exciting the telecom folks to want some device on there that might disrupt the network if something goes wrong.

Tablets have had an interesting dichotomy between mobile and desktop, but I fear they haven't excited most folks based on how few Android tablets are and how many iPads do dual duty as desktops and mobile devices. The form-factor is interesting, but I fear we've seen most of what we can do with tablets.

So where will the innovation come from? If I had to predict what the world of tomorrow will bring for computing I'd have a hard time nailing down an area that could deliver. The microchip introduced the microcomputer revolution and the myriad of devices we now enjoy. Bitmapped displays ushered in the GUI and the devices we used daily. I'm not sure if they're is a technology on the horizon that will do the same thing for revolutionizing the computer. That's not too say that I feel we're done, but it paints a pretty bleak picture. I am convinced that we'll need something from outside of Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft to really kick these folks out of their bottom-line thinking. Perhaps a scrappy group of volunteers could form a community to do the work of thinking beyond what we have today.

Maybe the next innovation will come from folks like me and you? I don't know, but I'll be damned if I'm waiting for the big companies to deliver.