What’s the Most Powerful Invention Ever That Is Reshaping Society?

The other day I gave a short talk on the Chicago startup scene to some financial planners.  During the chat, I asked the headline question.  Most of the people in the room were in their 40’s and up.  The answers I got were “the internet”, and some very big inventions like nuclear power.

The answer is the touchscreen mobile phone.

Benedict Evans is one of the leading experts on mobile.  He writes, “mobile today does not mean ‘when you’re mobile’. It means ubiquity – universal access to the internet for anyone at any time.”

That’s a game changer in so many ways.  Prior to mobile phones, high powered computers were expensive.  Most people know how computing power has gone up while the price of that computer has gone down.  But, in mobile that means poor people can get a mobile phone for $40, and have the same computing power access to the internet as rich people sporting an Apple iPhone and iWatch.

At a party last night we were joking how you can sit at home in your pajamas, order groceries from Instacart, get your dry cleaning done with Dryv, get high quality gourmet stuff with Foxtrot, meditate with Calm, and order food with Grubhub ($GRUB) and a number of other apps.  Oh, and then use Uber to get you from here to there and when you need a place Airbnb and if you want to do something there Dabble.

Mobile is internet.

This means some things for legacy players like Microsoft ($MFST).  It’s pretty tough to do Excel on mobile.  Powerpoint probably impossible, unless you are using a tablet.  I have typed out messages for sure on mobile, and even done a blogpost or two, but it’s not while using Word.  When bringing out the original iPhone Apple used the tagline “There’s an app for that” and today there probably is.

For existing players, there is a lot of bleeding of the lines.  Uber is a ridesharing company that is doing delivery.  Companies like Postmates and GrubHub are seeing Uber invade their domains.  In certain business silos, it’s become difficult to come up with a truly unique idea.  Many of the easy problems have been solved and the threat of existing competitors entering exists.

I think the fact that mobile has ingrained itself into our entire lifestyle is creating opportunities.  People roll their eyes at Bitcoin/blockchain but in a mobile first society, that technology looms big.  B2B processes that are currently done on paper, or on a desktop need to be reimagined in mobile.  It’s not enough to just take the existing desktop and put it on a phone-the entire experience has to be re-engineered keeping the idea of moving with a smaller screen top of mind.  The app needs to be able to interface and seamlessly work on the web.  It’s mobile–>desktop, not the other way around.  This is often very hard to do.

Some of this is totally generational.  Younger people are more comfortable doing things on their phones than older people.  For example, I have adjusted existing orders, and very occasionally entered orders for the stock market on my phone.  But, the bulk of what I do is on the web and I foresee it being that way.   There are mobile apps for trading.  The big electronic brokerages have them.  But, the design isn’t great yet.  I am going to assume they will get there.

Everyone in the world is connected 24/7.  From pocket to pocket.