For technology watchers, 2013 hasn’t exactly been an exciting year. There seem to have been more flops over the first seven months than hits, with a number of big companies either limping along or treading water.
There is, of course, Apple, which hasn’t done anything notable this year other than get nailed in court in the Great E-Book Conspiracy. That hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from churning – are cheaper iPhones on the way? How about ones with bigger screens? Yet, if a smartwatch is the sexiest thing we can expect from the company this fall… well, it’s going to be a boring end to 2013.
Google’s biggest headline of the year so far is the flopping of Glass, the augmented reality glasses that were supposed to transform the world but which actually came to be considered as cool as Bluetooth earpieces. Maybe these things morph into something cool as they iterate, but maybe not. And sure, the company announced a new Nexus 7 tablet and Chromecast streaming device on Wednesday and the Moto X smartphone will debut next week. But smartphones, tablets and media streaming devices? How 2011.
Facebook’s Home interface for mobile phones went pretty much as fast as it came while everything Microsoft has tried has failed, sometimes – like the whole Xbox One used games fiasco – in spectacular fashion. BlackBerry looks to be continuing its fall with new layoffs while even Samsung has sputtered with less-than-great sales of the Galaxy S4. And Amazon… well, it’s Amazon. Like the turtle, it’s taking the slow-and-steady approach to winning the race. The company has never made big bucks or huge splashy products, it’s just there, marching along inevitably.
What’s going on? Why are none of the big tech stalwarts doing anything exciting?
Wade Roush over at Xconomy had an insightful piece recently on how we’re in a lull period. He suggests that the three big tech power players of the past decade – Google, Facebook and Apple – may never again innovate like they have because they now have established businesses to protect. It’s the standard innovator’s dilemma, where previously disruptive companies can’t help but settle into a sort of status quo. The next revolutions will have to come from a new generation.
I kind of hope that’s true because the world, thanks to all this technology, has seen dramatic upheaval over the past decade. Google, Facebook and Apple have individually ushered in knowledge, social and mobile revolutions, and quite frankly, we haven’t made sense of them yet. Having a couple of years to catch our breaths would be great so we can figure out just what the effects of all this new stuff are, and whether we actually want all of it.
The next generation of technology firms are surely thinking about this. The next revolution may in fact turn all of that stuff on its ear.
In the meantime, there has to be something to get excited about, right? Indeed there is, and it’s not necessarily a technology company per se, but rather a media company that has technology at its core: Netflix.
How exciting is Netflix? Consider the week the company has had. It started off with a bunch of Emmy nominations for its exclusive series House of Cards and Arrested Development. The nods are television history in the making, marking the first time Netflix’s content has been nominated. Not bad for a company whose products don’t even have to be viewed on a television.
Netflix followed this up by announcing that Arrested Development helped it score 630,000 new U.S. subscribers, which was at the high end of its previous forecast of 230,000 to 800,000. The new customers helped significantly bump up its revenue and profits, yet still the news stories proliferated about how its stock went down because investors were expecting more.
How greedy are investors? Well, consider that Netflix’s stock began the year at $92 and it’s now around $260. If that’s not a trajectory to get excited about, I don’t know what is.
In the larger sense, what Netflix is doing is even more exciting. While the big U.S. broadcasters worry about Aereo, the startup company that re-streams broadcast TV over the internet, Netflix is becoming a huge broadcasting force right in front of them. It has probably already crossed the threshold where it can be considered its own channel, with several excellent exclusive series and a whole catalog of other content. And the most important part is, it’s reasonably priced. Anecdotally, my wife and I are watching it more and more – I’d say we use it for about three-quarters of our viewing.
Netflix is fast transitioning from being a challenger to a leader – wouldn’t it be funny if it went from a handful of Emmy nods this year to domination next year? It’s going to be exciting to watch how everyone else falls in line while Netflix redefines what “television” is.
Of course, as all the companies mentioned at the beginning of this post can attest to, there will inevitably come a day when Netflix too becomes a dog. We should enjoy the ride while it lasts.