Thoughts on 2014 and 2015

So I’m starting to see end-of-year wrap-ups and predictions for 2015.  It’s always good to take a look a back on what is happening in the industry, epecially at Kobo.

Largely, a lot of the stuff I am citing is predicated on Mary Meeker’s “State of the Internet, 2014 ed” that she puts together for KBPC (May 2014). If you haven’t gone through it, I recommend that you do.  It’s a good primer for some of the stuff espoused in the predictions for 2015.

Ben Evans from Andreessen-Horowitz has a great presentation called, “Mobile is eating the world.”  It was released in Oct 2014 and presents an interesting stack of data that basically confirms some of the forward looking trends in MaryMeeker’s report.

The competition for consumers time will become more ferocious.  The rise of messaging platforms is indicative of this–the “sipping” of conversation and attention spans will increasingly favour short-form content and will be a big challenge for Kobo (and our competitors) as we require a magnitude-higher level of engagement to consume our content.  I’m reminded of this NYT op-ed from 2012: “The flight from conversation.”

That said, the quality of short-form content may well be improved in 2015.  Well-written and well-designed content is starting to pop-up, with places like Medium and Quartz leading the way.  These networks will be the ones pushing innovation on the discovery problem and may lead to some interesting applications in the stuff my team design and manages.

On the hardware side, all I see is “sensors, sensors, everywhere”…with the Samsung Galaxy S5 pushing 10 different sensors (Gyro / fingerprint / barometer / hall (recognizes whether cover is open/closed) / RGB ambient light / gesture /heart rate / accelerometer / proximity / compass).  All of this has the potential to be collected, mish-mashed into something useful (not sure what this is… yet).  Is quantified self really a new industry are we navel gazing?

I don’t expect this to change much in 2015, although I feel we’ll be hitting the “trough of of disillusionment” very shortly, as companies will struggle to bring meaning to all the data collected and the diminishing returns/insight/usefulness consumers will see will probably trip some alarm bells with regards to privacy and security.  In addition to all of this, I feel that the industry is really just waiting for what Apple will do.

Steven Sinofsky, of Windows 8 fame, penned an interesting op-ed for re/code:  “Forecast: Workplace trends, choices and technologies for 2015”.  Not necessarily applicable to me at Kobo, but you see the same trends beginning to move into the enterprise space.

While 2014 was a banner year for Kobo, the competition around eReading continued to be fierce. Oyster and Scribd entered the market offering a distinctly different business model. These companies continue to see success with acquiring book rights and continuing to grow their userbase off VC-backed capital. Wattpad continues to operate without any strong competitor in the serialized, self-published space, capturing the next generation of heavy readers and authors. New eReading startups like Aerbooks and Glose are entering the market offering differentiated experiences touting different solutions in order to address the persistent discovery issue of, “What to read next?”

Incumbents did not site idle as well. Google Books has incrementally improved their android experience, offering parity with Apple, Amazon and Kobo offerings and improved non-fiction reading experience. Amazon, with amazing agility, rolled out it’s Kindle Unlimited program to match suit with the likes of Oyster and Scribd. Apple’s bundling of iBooks with iOS8 has further eroded the iOS platform for virtually every eBook retailer on the market. Latest reports indicate that the bundling of iBooks into iOS is adding as many as 1 Million new users a week. Barnes & Noble continue to play in the market, but saw little, if any product updates and I suspect will most likely be a non-factor in 2015.

On a side note: if you haven’t listened to “Serial”—I wholly recommend it.  It’s great story-telling.