In search of the American Dream? Apple has sold approximately 122 million Macs over the course of 28 years. They have sold 55 million iPads since those were released in April 2010 (in less than 2 years) and sold 156 million iOS Devices for 2011 alone, bringing the total of iOS devices to 316 million. The handset market is set to increase by around 33 percent and there’s really no telling where the tablet market is set to go over the course of the next few years.
What does all of this mean? It means that iOS is continuing to increase in visibility, that App Store sales will continue to rise and that integration into mainstream business will continue. The traffic for mobile device data is set to increase 8 times over the course of the next four years, Cisco and other companies are starting to jump into the mobility space with product offerings and Windows 8 is supposedly going to make a big splash on release.
The Apple App Store is about to hit 25,000,000,000 downloads. That’s a lot of zeros. And that’s a lot of Angry Birds, 99 cent fart jokes and useful business apps that are driving innovation. Mobility as a term is on every CIOs mind at at the tip of their tongue. Giants such as IBM and HP are starting to jump into the MDM space that has previously been occupied by companies like JAMF Software and AirWatch.
I witnessed something similar to this twice before. The first was the final and complete domination of all things IT by Windows at the beginning of my career. Back when I was swapping out 32 floppies to install Windows 95, a vicious process that will make even the sanest person nasty with hallucinations, I had the chance to go to COMDEX a couple of times. The first year I went, it seemed like a lot of people interested in hacking things together. The second year, it was all corporate headhunters, looking to seize the IT revolution occurring inside their businesses by placing golden handcuffs on the best and the brightest in the industry. And of the companies presenting, well, they mostly got acquired by large companies with big names and their products diluted. A complete turnoff, this led me down the path of open source and security.
After COMDEX, I went to DefCon and Black Hat for a number of years. I used to love watching the random weirdness that these otherwise completely reclusive people would throw together. There were capture the flag events (that is, finding the flag on someone else’s box), people went out into the desert to shoot guns and of course, dumpster diving competitions. There still are all of these things actually. And DefCon itself has managed to very much stay true to that form. But the companies that used to have booths at Black Hat have now mostly been acquired by companies like IBM and HP. These corporate denizens only want to complete a portfolio or gain access to “synergistic” products. Mergers put great little companies with people that really care about their products as small parts of Symantec. And the top talent at those organizations usually leave once they realize they’re not in the least bit impactful and they move on to other companies. They’re replaced by people who’ve achieved the title of Vice President at a competitor, whether that person deserves it or not. In some cases they thrive, but in far more cases, the products flounder, end up getting renamed, repositioned and either sold off to another company for the brand recognition or simply fade into the distance.
In each of these there has been a moment. A moment where I said, you know, something substantial has changed here. There are a few things happening that make me leery about the Mac/iOS IT space, and a few things to look for.
- The first is recruiters. Whenever a college football team wins a national title, their coaching staff is gutted. I’ve been noticing recruiters all over the place trying to pick up top Mac talent. But this isn’t the ACN here or there or the graphics department in a company, it’s corporate head hunters after IT or business unit talent. I spoke to at least 6 or 7 at Macworld/MacIT. The things to look out for here are strategy. Do they have one, do they want one, or do they just want to hire someone to make the CIO happy?
- The second is the big boys. IBM and HP have both announced MDM products. Dell continues to make KACE and I have heard rumors from other large companies that they’re looking to get into the space as well. The thing to look for here is acquisition.
- The third is consolidation. Many of the MDM vendors are privately held. A company like IBM, HP, Symantec, Dell, etc can throw enough money at most of these companies to bring them into their fold. Once there, the companies would have an almost unlimited sales and marketing purse, but be careful of a drop in innovation and engineering effort is often had to counteract those slick sales efforts. I would also expect the people who really drove the products, you know, the ones to get the big paydays, will also be the ones taking an extended vacation (wouldn’t you?). Today there are something like 21 products for MDM (I count RobotCloud and Casper as one). I anticipate the next two years will see a good number of those acquired. It’s easy to assume Symantec has an MDM provider on their shopping list, considering their keep-up-with-the-jones thing with McAfee, who’s already jumped into the market. I would expect none of the MDM providers that run on Apple hardware only to be acquired (if you’re after a big payday, run on *nix or Windows). Look out for the disillusioned ones that don’t get the big payouts from these companies after putting in 100 hour weeks for years…
- The fourth is more sales people. Anyone at Macworld this year would have noticed scantily clad lasses selling software to fix your iTunes. But when larger companies start getting involved in things such as this, I would expect slicker, more professional sales people, more booths (more money after all) and less nerds. The big problem here is a diluted message of technical excellence and a bigger messages of interconnectedness to other systems. Someone still needs to build the middleware though.
- The next thing I expect to see is those recruiters go after people at mobile companies. The same way the bastards scavenged the carcass of every security company in the earlier part of the 2000s, and the same way that Auburn’s, Alabama’s and LSU’s assistant coaching staffs got hit after each of their recent national titles, I would fully expect top brass at all mobile companies to start trading places, or getting acquired by other companies. These will range from going to work for competitors, to going to work for resellers to going to work for other industries that want that level of innovation. The architect of Apple Retail now works where?
- The consumerization of the technology is going to be driving many of the best and brightest into larger IT. This will mostly mean taking those puppet, cfengine and custom python hackeration skills to another platform. It’s regrettable, but I could easily see it happen to the top tier of people, as we’ve seen it happen a few times already. But sticking with the platform and finding the niches that allow for working with these devices is likely still a good way to go, or at least, staying close. Keep in mind, you’ll be the senior fellows of the platform if you’ve already been around for a few years…
But here’s the thing about all of this. It doesn’t have to be bad. If we all keep our eyes wide open about what’s going on around us the continued influx of massive amounts of money isn’t going to be a bad thing. Basically, our opportunities will explode over the next few years. If we learn our lessons from the dot com era, from COMDEX, from the rise of info sec, then we’ll stay off the coke, not buy really fast cars and remain engaged. I hope not to look at this as I’ve looked at other revolutions in the past. While he wasn’t much of a computer geek, Hunter S. Thompson put it into words best:
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.