We’re on the eve of Amazon’s tablet, and rather than speculate now in advance of the announcement, I’ll wait until tomorrow to talk about the device and how it might impact the tablet space. What I propose to do today is chat about the tablet space at a higher level, and in particular about the new world the tablet and smartphone are creating.
If you look at entertainment through human history for a moment, you’ll see that it’s COLLECTIVE in nature. People sat in the Coliseum; a crowd. They go to movies and theaters and shows and concerts. Even television, according to research, is most often a shared event. One might ask why that is, and there are two primary drivers. First, people are naturally sociable and like to share experiences. Second, many experiences are simply too expensive or impractical to have as individuals.
What mobile broadband has done is to permit socialization without physical collection. We are building a generation that’s as comfortable with virtual as with actual, a generation that doesn’t need to be in close proximity in a physical sense to be “together”. Our appliances are getting sophisticated enough to allow us to build relationships (to a point, obviously) though them. The question is to what “point” virtual can replace actual.
So here’s my point. I think that mobile broadband is creating the opportunity to virtually collectivize our lives. That virtual collectivization will be appealing for people who usually are able to meet but can’t for some period do so. It will be appealing to a smaller group of people who really do prefer to keep the real world at arm’s length. But it won’t totally transform our entertainment expectations. The crowds that fill concerts today are the leading edge of the mobile/social revolution, and yet they’re still in the concert. What they are doing is not changing their overall behavior to preference virtuality, but simply putting the ability to have a virtual social relationship in their repertoire of stuff they can do at a given time. It displaces the stuff that’s at a lower priority, so somebody who at last resort watched TV at home with the folks has a next-to-last-resort that’s better.
What mobile broadband will change most is the connective tissue of our social interactions, not the form or nature of the interactions themselves. I can sell a gang of friends a social service that will help them meet for a bite or a drink more easily than one that will perpetually link them virtually, because they WANT to get together. They were settling for the virtual part. Tablets and smartphones will become, to quote a commercial for cotton, the “fabric of our lives” but not the focus of them. Amazon’s tablet will transform reading, but ebook readers transformed it more, and while both impact “books” they don’t impact reading per se. What will make Amazon’s tablet a revolution in a true sense is whether it offers something that really enables the social connection, and that’s the same thing that would make iPads transformational in a true and persistent sense. Nobody has that quite locked town at the moment in my view.
Juniper announced a new mobile workforce strategy called “Simply Connected” which is one of the best marketing pushes the company has done in ages. What they’re doing is linking switching, wireless, their Pulse client, and security into one purpose-built package. The target here is the growing number of enterprises who realize that the tablet/smartphone connective-tissue argument I’ve just made applies rather well to workers. Here we have social relationships that have a non-social motivation, and thus relationships that are often better served in virtual form. We also have people who are tasked with cooperating when they’re collaterally tasked with doing stuff that’s almost certain to take them in different physical directions even as they try to virtually connect. The concept of a kind of social bundle for mobility is a good one, and it’s particularly good because of Junos Pulse, which is a client-side agent software component that gives tablets or smartphones an anchor in a management and security sense even if the devices come from multiple vendors and enter the corporate net in part through casual use of personal devices by workers.
This is the classical model of solution selling, and we think that Juniper needs to do more of this sort of thing. Like most vendors these days, they tend to atomize themselves into little product silos that sing their own individual songs. I’ve recently spent some time with enterprises and service providers outside the US and I can tell you that there’s a gap between even what VENDORS call a “solution” and what buyers consider a problem. Ethernet networking isn’t a solution; IP networking isn’t either, and security flunks the problem-linkup test too. It’s not that nobody is tasked to do those specific things, but rather that those things are simply ways of dealing with the way technology is applied to solving a problem. To get control of the deal, to maximize the sales and buyer connection, you have to focus on what that PROBLEM is from the buyer perspective. Do more of this, Juniper, and most important of all, make sure that this kind of thinking permeates your strategy and product planning and not just your marketing.