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商业 - 科技

iPhone X火了,但苹果药丸?

Mohanbir Sawhney 2017年11月12日

虽然新iPhone有一些令人瞩目的硬件功能,但它并不像苹果公司所说的那样,代表了智能手机又一个10年的开始。

手机发展已经达到巅峰了吗?或者说,新的iPhone X代表着智能手机硬件创新的最高水平吗?

我觉得,我们确实已经登上了“手机硬件”的最高点。虽然新iPhone有一些令人瞩目的硬件功能,但它并不像苹果公司所说的那样,代表了智能手机又一个10年的开始。

那么,问题又来了:今后智能手机将向何处去?

要弄清楚手机的未来,回顾其创新历史会有所帮助。以前我们曾经见过这样的情况:当创新的核心维度发生变化时,老牌企业往往会落在后面。更具体地说,当我们从基于硬件的创新转向通过人工智能驱动的技术来实现差异化时,苹果公司等市场龙头应该非常警惕。

技术产品领域的创新往往沿着一个特定的方向进行,那就是“差异化向量”。

参与者会沿着差异化向量进行创新,直到这个向量的尽头。出现这种情况有两个原因:沿着核心向量的创新受到的限制以及竞争者追赶市场领导者的能力。此时,创新的焦点转向另一个向量,新的市场龙头随之浮现。30年来,这样的情形在手机创新方面已经出现了好几次。

手机的物理维度构成了第一个差异化向量。1996年小而光滑的StarTac手机问世前,手机一直是大而笨重的科技“砖头”。StarTac让摩托罗拉成为市场领跑者,诺基亚很快与之并驾齐驱。这个维度的创新继续展开,手机也变得越来越小。

随着黑莓、Palm等手机在20世纪90年代中后期出现,焦点转向了数据能力,特别是电子邮件以及短信功能。消费者喜欢这样的手机键盘,黑莓则夺走了诺基亚和摩托罗拉的市场龙头桂冠。

到了2007年,差异化向量随着iPhone的出现再次转向,其内容变成了屏幕和app。苹果公司迈出了革命性的一步,取消了物理键盘,并将玻璃屏幕最大化。它还建立了App Store,这个蓬勃发展的app生态系统为苹果令人窒息的成功做出了贡献。黑莓制造商RIM一直未能向以媒介为核心的手机转型,从而被人们淡忘。

沿着屏幕和媒介向量的创新让手机变得越来越大,因而讽刺性地扭转了早期手机“越做越小”的创新方向。三星盖乐世S8 Plus等新型号已经提升了这个向量的极限——砖头一样大的手机屏幕再次出现,我们同时看到了全面屏手机(即无边框)的崛起,它们有更强大的处理器、更好的屏幕和更高级的摄像头。三星和苹果一直在这个创新领域中领跑。

现在,差异化向量再次转动,而且完全偏离了硬件。手机等智能设备即将出现重大变化,其焦点将从硬件转向人工智能以及人工智能软件和设备。

这就意味着对我们来说最为重要的是那些重新定义个人电子产品的东西。随着谷歌Pixel 2人工智能手机和亚马逊Echo虚拟助理变得普及起来,理解我们的意思,跟我们互动并且创造出虚拟现实和/或增强现实的智能设备将在我们的身边占据更多的位置。现在的智能手机有可能退居幕后。

正如我们所见,随着差异化向量的转动,市场领导者往往会被留在路旁。在人工智能这个勇敢新世界中,谷歌和亚马逊相对于苹果有着明显的优势。大家可以想一想谷歌的Pixel 2手机,它由基于人工智能的技术驱动,有着前所未有的照片增强功能和更深入的硬件-软件整合,比如和谷歌专用耳机配合使用的实时语言翻译功能。

同样的,亚马逊Echo可以通过虚拟助理Alexa和人进行自然的对话。下一代设备将用人工智能和深度学习来识别我们的声音、面孔和情绪。我们将从接触式互动转向非接触式互动,从app转向人工智能赋予的技能。就像App Store一样,亚马逊已经建立了Alexa技能商店,供第三方出售技艺,从而使Echo无所不能,无论是设定厨房的温度,还是跟你玩Jeopardy(一款问答游戏)。越来越多的消费者需求将“由某项技能”来满足。

差异化向量转向人工智能和助理对苹果来说可不是什么好事。

亚马逊技能商店以及类似创新的出现意味着需要建立一个富含人工智能的生态系统,硬件、软件和第三方供应商在此共同致力于改善消费者整个生命过程中的体验。亚马逊正沿着这个差异化向量快速前进,谷歌(推出了面向人工智能app的开源平台TensorFlow)也是如此,甚至还有微软。

玻璃屏幕再也不是创新的最肥沃土壤。也就是说,苹果急需把注意力和投资转向人工智能驱动的技术,同时采取其他措施来建立亚马逊和谷歌正在快速打造的生态系统。但苹果已经在人工智能竞赛中落后,因为其核心依然是一家硬件企业,而且一直没有像谷歌和亚马逊在人工智能领域进行开拓那样采取开源和协作的方法。

手机的历史表明,差异化向量变化时,市场领导地位也会变化。苹果只需要看看摩托罗拉、诺基亚和黑莓等此前处于垄断位置的企业,就能明白行业龙头从市场巅峰跌落下来的速度能有多快,进而竭尽全力来避免这种局面。(财富中文网)

作者莫汉比尔·绍尼是美国西北大学凯洛格商学院麦考密克论坛基金会技术专业教授,他未投资于本文提到的公司。

译者:Charlie

审校: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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