Industry Collisions Aren’t Always This Apparent

Nokia_computer_phone_lIndustry disruptions don’t always come with clear labels. It takes work to realise the ground is moving beneath your feet, and more work to understand the implications. Predicting change is hard, and acknowledging change is often harder.

Anyone following the handset business for the past few decades knows it’s been a wild ride. There have been no safe zones for manufacturers, and past volume success has meant little. All the top-10 brands from two decades ago have essentially exited the industry (with the exception of Motorola), and Europe’s once mighty mobile lead has since been lost to the West and the East. Product changes happened quickly, but not without warning or foresight.

In January 2007, Apple not only introduced the iPhone but also reintroduced the company itself. Steve Jobs announced on stage that Apple Computer, Inc. was changing its corporate name to Apple Inc. It was proper recognition of the industry cross-pollination taking place. Device convergence meant that Apple’s products were evolving into consumer electronics from computer-like devices. The iPhone was the exclamation point of an ongoing shift as music players and handsets began to converge.

At about the same time, Nokia began work on the other side of the equation. The company described its N-series smart devices as “mobile computers” rather than phones. It was proper recognition of the industry cross-pollination. Handsets with open operating systems, powerful chipsets and generous storage really were computers, and were becoming more PC-like with each new release.

The altering taxonomy tells a great story. If there had been any doubt at the time, the nomenclature made it crystal clear that two industries were smashing together. Product portfolios began bleeding across classifications. Apple and Nokia were correct in their attitudes, thinking beyond their legacies.

Business historians might one day point to this criss-cross of labels as one of the most apparent flags of industry change. It’s not often that two top brands make such open decrees. Big shifts aren’t always so well advertised, and disruptions are usually more subtle. Big changes are happening in the mobile industry, and predicting and preparing for them is vital for any company that wants to stay relevant. From autonomous automobiles to augmented reality, opportunities are growing in new directions and threats are coming from new competitors. There are more collisions to come, and they’re unlikely to be so clearly labelled.

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