Can app-makers avoid the Kodak moment?


The smartphone, with its various functions and apps, is so vital to our lives today that we can’t imagine it ever losing its central role. But that doesn’t mean it won’t.

BOTH business and tech observers know exactly what you mean when you utter the phrase “Kodak moment”.

No, it no longer refers to a moment worthy of capturing as a photograph. These days, it is used to describe a company or an industry that has lost the plot, so to speak, and is failing to keep up with the times.

Kodak was instrumental in shaping photography, and at its peak, it employed over 60,000 workers. By the time it declared bankruptcy — its so-called Kodak moment — in early 2012, it had only 7,000 employees.

There is probably no better case study of a company missing the boat on technological developments than Kodak, which actually invented digital photography (as early as 1975), but then totally failed to capitalise on it. It stubbornly chose to stick to its film-based business model.

Consequently, one by one, its rival ate its lunch.

The smartphone is probably the most ubiquitous device in today’s world. Almost everyone has one, and people carry it with them everywhere, at all times. It pervades our lives like no other gadget. And we all use apps to make full use of these devices. It doesn’t seem like any of this is going to change anytime soon.

Or will it?

The smartphone is an incredible piece of technology. At its core, it’s a communications device for voice and text messaging. But it’s got a lot more functionality than just that. You can use it to shoot pictures and video, record audio, jot down notes, watch the news, play all kinds of content from pictures to music to movies, and you can even use it as a GPS or to check traffic.

In fact, thanks to apps, it’s almost limitless what you can do with your phone. It’s no exaggeration to call it a wonder device.

But the reality is that phone technology has peaked.

Yes, you will have phones with sharper resolution screens and faster processors but you aren’t likely to see any breakthrough technological features on future smartphones. In other words, you will get incremental improvements but nothing world-changing is going to happen in the mobile space.

This is a sign that mobile technology has matured and is no longer able to grow at a breakneck pace. The same can be said of apps. When apps first appeared, coinciding with the advent of the iPhone, everybody was jumping on the bandwagon. Everybody wanted to be an app developer. And there seemed to be endless demand for app development.

It was a good industry to be in. But will it go the way of paid mobile ringtones?

Remember those days – not that long ago, actually – when people actually paid to download mobile ringtones?

Nobody does that anymore. All those ringtone companies have either gone out of business or have changed their business model. You can’t survive unless you move with the times.

So, will we see a demise of apps?

To address that properly, we have to look at the situation right now with mobile phones. As mentioned earlier, it is the centre of our personal universe. It’s the central hub from where you keep in touch with the rest of the world, where you upload and download information and content for your daily use.

Wearables in the form of smart-watches and smart-glasses have not yet taken off in a big way. But that doesn’t mean that wearables as an industry is not viable. In fact, it’s close to being a certainty. Like any other successful technological trend, it takes time to gain traction.

I believe it absolutely will happen, and when it does, the notion of the mobile phone as your central hub from which you send and receive information and content will go out the window.

Then you’ve also got the Internet of Things, where you will have Internet capability embedded into everyday things. This too will wean us away from our reliance on the mobile phones and the apps that are on it.

Of course, the mobile phone will not disappear. People will always need phones but what they do with it will probably change. Our over-reliance on it will be a thing of the past.

Many people will still use it to access the Internet but there will be more options to get online than through the phone. We will all be connected to the cloud through various devices including some that will be embedded into our clothing, and perhaps possibly even embedded in our bodies (microchips, anyone?).

So, what becomes of app developers?

They have to roll with the times. Sticking to their phone-based business model would be akin to Kodak sticking to film in the face of changing technological developments.

Maybe they will come up with ways to deliver their service to multiple devices on various platforms, across different operating systems, and yet make their functionality as seamless as when they natively reside on the phone. That’s a tall order, admittedly, but a cloud-based model is one way to future-proof a business, at least for the medium term.

Perhaps there are other ways yet to be discovered. And Cyberjaya is just the right place for this to happen. With our Smart City initiative well underway and the city acting as a living lab, the environment here is just ripe for innovations to be created, allowing Malaysian companies to avoid their Kodak moment.

> Faris Yahaya is the managing director of tech hub enabler, Cyberview Sdn Bhd.

Author’s Note: A friend of mine recently asked me whether I think that smartphones will eventually be outsmarted. Well, Shahrir Amran. I hope this answers your question.

Central Region , Cyberview , Faris Yahaya , app