April 19, 2012

“I think we’re into the mobile social fin de siècle”

Alexis Madrigal on the slowing rate of innovation in tech/internet firms and start-ups:

But I think the problems go deeper. I don't think Silicon Valley and all the other alleys and silicon places are out of ideas. But I do think that we’ve reached a point in this technology cycle where the old thing has run its course. I think the hardware, cellular bandwidth, and the business model of this tottering tower of technology are pushing companies to play on one small corner of a huge field.

We’ve maxed out our hardware. No one even tries to buy the fastest computer anymore because we don’t give them any tasks (except video editing, I suppose) that require that level of horsepower. I remember breathlessly waiting for the next-generation processor so that my computer would be capable of a whole new galaxy of activities. Some of it, sure, is that we're dumping the computation on the servers on the Internet. But the other part is that we mostly do a lot of the things that we used to do years ago — stare at web pages, write documents, upload photos — just at higher resolutions.

On the mobile side, we’re working with almost the exact same toolset that we had on the 2007 iPhone, i.e. audio inputs, audio outputs, a camera, a GPS, an accelerometer, Bluetooth, and a touchscreen. That’s the palette that everyone has been working with — and I hate to say it, but we’re at the end of the line. The screen’s gotten better, but when’s the last time you saw an iPhone app do something that made you go, “Whoa! I didn’t know that was possible!?”