Who’s really shaping tech?
Is it Apple?
Kind of. What about Intel? They’re up there. But a new generation of tech giants (OK, and one or two of the usual suspects) are changing the whole way we interact with tech – and each other. In the process, they’re changing the face of major areas of industry, altering many people’s working lives and shaping the whole face of the tech landscape. Let’s meet them.
Airbnb’s proposition is pretty simple. You have a spare room, someone needs a room. Airbnb puts you together. As it does so, it creates opportunities for a new kind of hospitality industry to emerge – one that’s not just outside the control of the traditional, hotel-based industry but beyond its capacity to deliver. In facilitating one-off agreements between individuals Airbnb changes what we expect from hospitality; the traditional industry is already running to keep up.
Uber does what Airbnb does, but for cabbing. You need a ride? Uber puts you in touch with someone who has a car. It’s a uniquely disruptive model that’s got cab drivers honking their horns in frustration, and it’s equally feted and condemned. While it hasn’t had a bump-free ride, it has shocked the whole transport industry awake. Smart industry insiders now face the job of educating everyone else to understand: the smartphone tech that powers Uber is just the how. The why is about meeting previously unmet consumer needs.
Singapore-based bank DBS is using the available tech in a similar way to Uber, building customer-focussed individualized services that expand banking out of the branch and the ATM and into people’s everyday lives. There’s a smartphone payment app, pop-up ATMS, the beginnings of SMS banking and dozens of other provisions for consumers who never really wanted to stand in lines in a branch. DBS isn’t a startup: it’s one of Asia’s biggest banks. How will the rest of the financial sector respond? Probably by falling over themselves to emulate DBS at the risk of being left behind.
At last, an honest-to-goodness tech company. What’s staid, been-there-forever Facebook doing that’s so all-fired disruptive? Well, for one thing Facebook’s still less than a decade old. For another, it’s not tech it’s disrupting: it’s media. The traditional media model is to figure out that an audience exists for something (or hope it does), launch the paper or magazine and try to connect it with the audience. (Plenty of websites do this too.) Facebook’s approach is unique: they already have an audience, with 1.49 billion monthly active users (Source: Statista), and now they’re revolutionizing how that audience consumes media. Facebook’s future isn’t as a place for people to show off pictures of their cats, though sources indicate cats will be a permanent feature of the whole internet, not just Facebook: instead, it’s as a news aggregator, a kind of mutual magazine service.
None of these companies will destroy the older models of its industry. TV didn’t kill theater, the internet didn’t kill TV – arguably, it ushered in a golden age of great TV shows; where’s the ‘90s Breaking Bad, The Wire, or the almighty, globe-bestraddling Game of Thrones? Instead, we’ll see the old and new models living side by side and eventually settling down into a future where there’s room for hotels and Airbnb.