DEMO Keynote: Gentry Underwood on mobile’s new horizons
A series of keynote presentations was offered as part of the first DEMO Europe Conference, taking place June 3rd-4th at the Digital October Center. These keynotes took the form of original “marginalia” from leaders of the IT industry, observations and predictions as to what lies in store for the industry in the coming years.
On June 4th at the Digital October Center conference goers and online viewers enjoyed a presentation from Gentry Underwood, CEO of the company that created the mobile mail app Mailbox and sold it, according to some reports, for $100 million just 37 days after its launch.
“When I was younger and would try to explain the concept of the Internet (which was, at the time, still a new thing), to my parents and their friends, I was constantly met with the question, “What is this place, the Internet? How do I get there, anyway?
“Today, we carry the Internet around in our pockets, and the idea of being surrounded by a digital bubble doesn’t seem unrealistic in any way. This is a colossal leap in technology and in people’s consciousness, and you and I are right in the epicenter of what’s going on.
“Imagine the first computers: separate keyboards, unwieldy…Now we’ve reached the point where a machine that used to take up your entire desk can fit in your pocket, while we ourselves are becoming a hybrid of PC and person.
“The iPhone that I’m holding in my hand, any other smartphone: more and more frequently, people are carrying this kind of hardware around with them all the time. For example, mobile traffic in India has already surpassed desktop traffic in volume. For now, you won’t see the same thing anywhere else in the world, but believe you me: after a while, that’s the way it’s going to be everywhere.
“For example, let’s take a look at Kickstarter’s most popular project: a totally rudimentary product at the moment, a watch with Internet access. This is an idea that’s caught a lot of people’s interest. Remember, Google is currently working on glasses that are connected to the Internet.
“In my opinion, Google Glass is horrible from a design standpoint.
“And right now it’s hard to imagine how we’ll feel knowing that, at any moment, someone could be filming us… There are Instagram glasses, too, by the way; for the time being, it’s only a concept, and not a product that you could actually use. But the idea is to put filters on the things that you’re seeing in real time.
“And you can only imagine what would happen if the people on the cutting edge of applied science decided to bring the screen even closer to your eyes by implanting it into your contact lenses, for example.”
“Let’s talk a little bit about the hot spots that we’re seeing on the market. The services that excite you, the applications that make it possible for you not to think about where you’re going to stay when you visit a different city, new ways of booking trips and services: for example, reserving a table at a restaurant or ordering a cab that you can track to see when it’s headed your way.
“That’s not new, you say? But right now, making it possible to avoid talking to a person on the other end of the line makes these things as easy as changing the channel on the television.
“The same thing is true of personal assistants, that unique ‘digital sixth sense.’ They offer a completely different conception of software: it’s software that works in your name. But if you take Apple’s Siri for example, I can say that it wasn’t on a lot of people’s phones for long.
“Another good idea is using a smartphone as a ‘life remote control.’ If a computer can fit in your pocket, why shouldn’t you use it to interact with your surroundings? That works wonderfully with hardware.
“Consider preexisting solutions that allow you to keep tabs on your body’s physical state. Why can’t you expand that to include your surroundings? Some have already done that, for instance, the Nest, the home thermostat that you can control remotely, no matter what your location. And what’s the big deal about that? There are already scooters that you can control via smartphone. Now, all of this is spreading to the masses, becoming simpler.
And simplification is most important trend.
“Today, software is being completely reimagined, and we’re becoming less and less tolerant of complicated solutions. Overall, we’ve noticed that, the fewer screens a user has, the less patient he is with a product.
“We created Mailbox because we wanted to make the process of working with a mail client as simple as possible for people and to give them the opportunity to easily get rid of the things they didn’t want to look at.
“Instagram’s success hinges on the same thing. When the photography process became as easy as pressing a button on your Smartphone, they made editing and sharing so much simpler that most people don’t have to worry about it at all. I repeat: the biggest potential lies in simplification.”
Underwood CEO Orchestra/Mailbox