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iPhone X火了,但蘋果藥丸?

2017-12-23


手機發展已經達到巔峰了嗎?或者說,新的iPhone X代表著智能手機硬件創新的最高水平嗎?

我覺得,我們確實已經登上了“手機硬件”的最高點。雖然新iPhone有一些令人矚目的硬件功能,但它并不像蘋果公司所說的那樣,代表了智能手機又一個10年的開始。

那么,問題又來了:今后智能手機將向何處去?

要弄清楚手機的未來,回顧其創新歷史會有所幫助。以前我們曾經見過這樣的情況:當創新的核心維度發生變化時,老牌企業往往會落在后面。更具體地說,當我們從基于硬件的創新轉向通過人工智能驅動的技術來實現差異化時,蘋果公司等市場龍頭應該非常警惕。

技術產品領域的創新往往沿著一個特定的方向進行,那就是“差異化向量”。

參與者會沿著差異化向量進行創新,直到這個向量的盡頭。出現這種情況有兩個原因:沿著核心向量的創新受到的限制以及競爭者追趕市場領導者的能力。此時,創新的焦點轉向另一個向量,新的市場龍頭隨之浮現。30年來,這樣的情形在手機創新方面已經出現了好幾次。

手機的物理維度構成了第一個差異化向量。1996年小而光滑的StarTac手機問世前,手機一直是大而笨重的科技“磚頭”。StarTac讓摩托羅拉成為市場領跑者,諾基亞很快與之并駕齊驅。這個維度的創新繼續展開,手機也變得越來越小。

隨著黑莓、Palm等手機在20世紀90年代中后期出現,焦點轉向了數據能力,特別是電子郵件以及短信功能。消費者喜歡這樣的手機鍵盤,黑莓則奪走了諾基亞和摩托羅拉的市場龍頭桂冠。

到了2007年,差異化向量隨著iPhone的出現再次轉向,其內容變成了屏幕和app。蘋果公司邁出了革命性的一步,取消了物理鍵盤,并將玻璃屏幕最大化。它還建立了App Store,這個蓬勃發展的app生態系統為蘋果令人窒息的成功做出了貢獻。黑莓制造商RIM一直未能向以媒介為核心的手機轉型,從而被人們淡忘。

沿著屏幕和媒介向量的創新讓手機變得越來越大,因而諷刺性地扭轉了早期手機“越做越小”的創新方向。三星蓋樂世S8 Plus等新型號已經提升了這個向量的極限——磚頭一樣大的手機屏幕再次出現,我們同時看到了全面屏手機(即無邊框)的崛起,它們有更強大的處理器、更好的屏幕和更高級的攝像頭。三星和蘋果一直在這個創新領域中領跑。

現在,差異化向量再次轉動,而且完全偏離了硬件。手機等智能設備即將出現重大變化,其焦點將從硬件轉向人工智能以及人工智能軟件和設備。

這就意味著對我們來說最為重要的是那些重新定義個人電子產品的東西。隨著谷歌Pixel 2人工智能手機和亞馬遜Echo虛擬助理變得普及起來,理解我們的意思,跟我們互動并且創造出虛擬現實和/或增強現實的智能設備將在我們的身邊占據更多的位置。現在的智能手機有可能退居幕后。

正如我們所見,隨著差異化向量的轉動,市場領導者往往會被留在路旁。在人工智能這個勇敢新世界中,谷歌和亞馬遜相對于蘋果有著明顯的優勢。大家可以想一想谷歌的Pixel 2手機,它由基于人工智能的技術驅動,有著前所未有的照片增強功能和更深入的硬件-軟件整合,比如和谷歌專用耳機配合使用的實時語言翻譯功能。

同樣的,亞馬遜Echo可以通過虛擬助理Alexa和人進行自然的對話。下一代設備將用人工智能和深度學習來識別我們的聲音、面孔和情緒。我們將從接觸式互動轉向非接觸式互動,從app轉向人工智能賦予的技能。就像App Store一樣,亞馬遜已經建立了Alexa技能商店,供第三方出售技藝,從而使Echo無所不能,無論是設定廚房的溫度,還是跟你玩Jeopardy(一款問答游戲)。越來越多的消費者需求將“由某項技能”來滿足。

差異化向量轉向人工智能和助理對蘋果來說可不是什么好事。

亞馬遜技能商店以及類似創新的出現意味著需要建立一個富含人工智能的生態系統,硬件、軟件和第三方供應商在此共同致力于改善消費者整個生命過程中的體驗。亞馬遜正沿著這個差異化向量快速前進,谷歌(推出了面向人工智能app的開源平臺TensorFlow)也是如此,甚至還有微軟。

玻璃屏幕再也不是創新的最肥沃土壤。也就是說,蘋果急需把注意力和投資轉向人工智能驅動的技術,同時采取其他措施來建立亞馬遜和谷歌正在快速打造的生態系統。但蘋果已經在人工智能競賽中落后,因為其核心依然是一家硬件企業,而且一直沒有像谷歌和亞馬遜在人工智能領域進行開拓那樣采取開源和協作的方法。

手機的歷史表明,差異化向量變化時,市場領導地位也會變化。蘋果只需要看看摩托羅拉、諾基亞和黑莓等此前處于壟斷位置的企業,就能明白行業龍頭從市場巔峰跌落下來的速度能有多快,進而竭盡全力來避免這種局面。(財富中文網)

作者莫漢比爾·紹尼是美國西北大學凱洛格商學院麥考密克論壇基金會技術專業教授,他未投資于本文提到的公司。

譯者:Charlie

審校:夏林

Have we reached peak phone? That is, does the new iPhone X represent a plateau for hardware innovation in the smartphone product category?

I would argue that we are indeed standing on the summit of peak “phone as hardware”: While Apple’s newest iPhone offers some impressive hardware features, it does not represent the beginning of the next 10 years of the smartphone, as Apple claims.

The better question, then, is where do phones go from here?

To understand the future of phones, it helps to look at the history of phone innovation. We have seen this movie before. When focal dimensions of innovation change, incumbents often get left behind. More specifically, as we shift from hardware-based innovation to differentiation around AI-driven technologies, market leaders like Apple should be on high alert.

Innovation in technology product categories tends to proceed along a specific dimension—a “vector of differentiation.”

Players pursue innovation along a vector of differentiation until the vector runs out of steam. This happens for two reasons: limits to innovation along the vector of focus and the ability of competitors to catch up with market leaders. When that happens, the focus of innovation shifts to a different vector and new market leaders emerge. We have seen this pattern several times in mobile phone innovation over the past three decades.

The physical dimensions of the phone constituted the first vector of mobile phone differentiation. Phones were big, clunky bricks of technology until the small, sleek StarTac arrived in 1996, establishing Motorola as a market leader, soon joined by Nokia. Innovation continued along this dimension, with phones getting smaller and smaller.

With the advent of the Blackberry, Palm device, and others in the mid- to late-1990s, the emphasis shifted to data capabilities, especially email and text messaging. Consumers loved those button-based keyboards, and Blackberry snatched the crown of market leadership from Nokia and Motorola.

Fast-forward to 2007, when the vector of differentiation shifted once again with the debut of Apple’s iPhone. Now it was about display and apps. In a revolutionary move, Apple eliminated the physical keyboard to maximize real estate for glass. It also created the App Store, a thriving ecosystem of applications that contributed to Apple’s breathtaking market success. RIM, the maker of Blackberry, was never able to make the transition to a media-centric phone and slipped into oblivion.

Innovation along the display and media vector led to larger and larger phones, ironically the reverse of the “make it smaller” innovation in the earliest mobile phones. Recent models like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Plus have pushed the limit of this dimension—a return to brick-worthy phone surface area—and we have seen the rise of bezel-less phones (those with no borders around the screen) and those with more powerful processors, better displays, and more powerful cameras. Samsung and Apple have led innovation in this space.

Now, the vector of differentiation is shifting yet again, away from hardware altogether. We are on the verge of a major shift in the phone and device space, from hardware as the focus to artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-based software and agents.

This means nothing short of redefinition of the personal electronics that matter most to us. As AI-driven phones like Google’s Pixel 2 and virtual agents like Amazon Echo proliferate, smart devices that understand and interact with us and offer a virtual and/or augmented reality will become a larger part of our environment. Today’s smartphones will likely recede into the background.

As we have seen, when the vector of differentiation shifts, market leaders tend to fall by the wayside. In the brave new world of AI, Google and Amazon have the clear edge over Apple. Consider Google’s Pixel 2 phone: Driven by AI-based technology, it offers unprecedented photo-enhancement features and deeper hardware-software integration, such as real-time language translation when used with Google’s special headphones.

Similarly, the Amazon Echo enables natural conversations through the Alexa virtual agent. Next-generation devices will use AI and deep learning to recognize our voices, faces, and emotions. We will move from touch to touchless interactions and we will move from software apps to AI-powered skills. Just like the App Store, Amazon has created an Alexa skills store for third parties to offer skills that enable the Echo to do everything from set your kitchen temperature to play Jeopardy with you. “There’s a skill for that” will apply to more and more consumer needs.

The shifting vector of differentiation to AI and agents does not bode well for Apple.

The advent of Amazon’s skill store and similar innovations speak to the need to create an AI-rich ecosystem where hardware, software, and third-party contributors work in concert to enhance consumer experience across life domains. Amazon is making rapid progress along this vector of differentiation, as are Google (with its TensorFlow open-source platform for AI apps) and even Microsoft.

Sheets of glass are simply no longer the most fertile ground for innovation. That means Apple urgently needs to shift its focus and investment to AI-driven technologies, as part of a broader effort to create the kind of ecosystem Amazon and Google are building quickly. However, Apple is falling behind in the AI race, as it remains a hardware company at its core and it has not embraced the open-source and collaborative approach that Google and Amazon are pioneering in AI.

The history of mobile phones suggests that when vectors of differentiation shift, so does market leadership. Apple has only to look at former dominant businesses like Motorola, Nokia, and Blackberry to understand how quickly a leader can fall from the peak in this market, and do its best to avert this outcome.

Mohanbir Sawhney is the McCormick Foundation professor of technology at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He has no investments of the companies mentioned in this article.

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