The Financial Post have an interesting interview with co-CEO of RIM Mike Lazaridis about the history of RIM, his thoughts on tablets, apps and the future of the industry with respect to infrastructure.
Here are some of my favorite questions:
Financial Post: For a while there, there was a trend towards smaller devices, the smaller the better. Now there’s a lot of talk about larger screen sizes and how big of a screen can a smart phone support. Now the big question is who is going to wade into tablet territory, not quite the size of a PC or a laptop, not quite the size of a smart phone. What trends are you seeing on the horizon?
Mike Lazaridis: What’s interesting to me at the moment is that we are approaching certain limitations to what I consider a pocket-able device. There’s all kinds of limitations — there’s screen size, dimensions, weight, strength, battery life, ease of use, ergonomics, keyboards — any way you slice it we are approaching physical limits to what we can achieve. Instead what happens is now we [ed: the industry] are looking at making devices bigger. Instead of approaching the limits of what is ergonomically ideal, let’s change the rules. Will people walk around with a large tablet? That’s the big story going forward. The big question mark is, is the market going to stay in the ideal space or is it going to either evolve or bifurcate to a larger screen? A larger device? The problem historically has been that no matter how you slice it, that’s a laptop. Because if you think about it, a tablet is just a laptop without a keyboard or a hard drive. So it’s kind of a neutered laptop. A netbook is just a stripped down, miniaturized laptop. What you have to ask yourself is, what can i do with a standalone tablet that I can’t do with a laptop or netbook? Because I still can’t put it in my pocket, so, does it matter if it’s 2-3 mm thinner, does it matter if it doesn’t have a keyboard, does it matter if it doesn’t have a hard rive, does it matter if it’s battery life is very short? I would argue all those things matter. So what you end up with is a compromise.
FP: It seems that the way that many people are interacting with the mobile web, or the Web through a mobile device, is through applications and it seems to be creating a bit of a walled garden effect. I’m just curious how you see that evolution of the mobile experience. What kind of a role do you think the browser and mobile applications will play in how we access the Web on a mobile device going forward?
ML: That’s a very insightful question. A lot of applications — I’d argue upwards of 70 per cent — are really just re-purposed Websites. So it’s a combination of using some Web tools, creating a customized purpose-built web address and page and then a little bit of code that interacts with that page through the browser. I would argue that’s what’s really happening right now …
What’s interesting for me and what people are just starting to realize is that the explosive use of the Web and of applications that require a continuous connection to that Website or to that walled garden to be useful, or to entertain, or to provide value … it puts a huge load on the networks. And this is really really important, because ultimately the economics of the carrier are going to drive where the industry goes and who the players are. Because if the industry doesn’t make any money, if the carriers don’t make any money, it’s very difficult for them to support the products, the customers or the technology or the infrastructure. You’re starting to see carriers now scratching their heads and saying wait a second, I can’t support all these apps, because for one, the customer’s not willing to pay for them, because of the all-you-can-eat flat billing that’s out there, and at the same time, if you have a few customers consuming the majority of the network resources, that produces an unacceptable or a challenged experience for the rest of the customers, who are paying just as much.
As an industry we need to think of a way to conserve this precious resource just like we’re trying to conserve other things today. We’re trying to conserve energy, we’re trying to conserve fuel consumption, we’re trying to conserve waste. Believe it or not [wireless] spectrum is a physically limited resource. We only have so much electromagnetic spectrum left in the cellular usage class and we can only transmit a certain amount of power because there are safety requirements and you can only put in so many base stations because consumers start to complain when the number of cell towers outnumbers trees. We’re getting to the point where we’re starting to understand that data is not free. Data usage is not free on a cellular environment.
Something else you can see happening and I’m sure you’ve read about it, is this whole idea of security, and I know I sound like a broken record in the industry, but the thing about security is that the industry has already been through this problem. They were there in the early days when they didn’t think about security and they really got burned. So security has become their number one point and it’s even more important than the colour of the device and how good the device is. If it isn’t secure they aren’t using it. Now we go to the consumer, the thing about the consumer is that they understand security, they just demand it once they get burned.
Where the technology’s going, and we’ve seen it, with all the MasterCard releases that just came out, the Scotiabank release, we’re starting to use these devices as credit cards. We’re starting to use these things for transactions. We’re starting to have them connected to a banking account. We’re doing money transfers with these things. We’ve got our personal info on there. We’ve got our identity on them. We’re storing personal, confidential information on these things like bank accounts and alarm codes and passwords. And governments are starting to look at these and say, ‘think of how much money we could save and how well we could control things like passports and passport counterfeiting.’ How about licenses for cars? For insurance?
We’ve anticipated a lot of the future limitations to existing consumer technologies that are going to be barriers to adoption to the kind of next generation services when it comes to e-commerce and personal identification and government relationships. I think that’s something that’s going to be really important and I know that the foundation we’ve built and perfected with BlackBerry over the past two decades is ready for that.