Who will go against the wall when the revolution comes?

As the saying goes, when the established elites lose their power they also lose their lives. Yet this applies not only to political revolutions, but also to economic ones.

My new book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, documents one of these revolutions and how Nokia was sent to the wall. I think the story is fascinating in and of itself, but it is also useful to guess what will happen next.

A glance at the mobile device industry could lead one to conclude the battle for dominance has ended with the Google and Apple ecosystems on top. Other players like Microsoft have been relegated to minor roles. This is the case at the moment, but it is not a permanent situation. It will only remain this way until the next revolution.

Unlike most industries, mobile devices go through fairly well-defined cycles based upon the technological standards in use. Motorola dominated 1G until the upstart Nokia ushered in a period of disruption with their cheap digital devices. Nokia ruled 2G until Apple and Google embarked upon their own revolt to control the 3G era.

This most recent revolution is the subject of my book: the advent of mobile computers as part of an ecosystem. Nokia knew where the industry was going. They understood that the internet would become mobile and the ecosystem would become all-important. Regardless of their foresight they could not adapt. They had to protect their existing business lines and were overtaken by events. In the end, they were sent against the wall just like in every other revolution.

Tellingly, each previous revolution began when a new generation of communication standards held a sizable minority of the market. Based upon this we can predict the next disruption. The next generation of mobile technology is 4G, and it has already been commercialised. So far it is not very widespread, but momentum is behind it. If the past is any guide to the future, expect the next revolution to happen within three or four years. Soon, I suspect, Apple and Google will discover it is their turn to go against the wall.

But what will this revolution in mobile technology be? There is a good chance it will be wearable devices. The first thing that may come to mind is Google Glass, but almost certainly this will not be the catalyst for change. By definition disruption comes from a new player. It could be an established company in another sector which enters the industry or it could be a new start-up. Google Glass is based upon Google’s existing business, particularly location-based services, search and social networking. This is not a revolution; it is an incremental innovation. Fundamentally Google Glass is only a really cool smartphone hanging on your nose.

When I set out to write the Nokia story I didn’t realise their decline and fall fit into this pattern. It was only after voluminous research into the history of mobile devices that I saw Nokia’s fate was inevitable based upon existing situation, as well as their actions and inactions. There is a lesson to be learned here, as well as a great story to tell.

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