Chapter 13

The Collision of Power and Portability

Philip Evans

Companies from opposite poles of technology's power-portability spectrum are colliding. This is not normal, day-to-day competition but a confrontation between business paradigms, with tablets at the fault line. The changes under way will affect everything from smartphones to notebooks, as well as the companies that make and sell these devices and their component parts and software. Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility is an early consequence as companies start to adapt.

The Power-Portability Spectrum

Intelligent devices at either end of the power-portability spectrum have very different business paradigms. At one extreme reside the largest, most powerful—and least mobile—machines: supercomputers, mainframes, and server-filled data centers. At the other are the smallest, least muscular, but most mobile devices; the wearable iPod Nano is perhaps the exemplar.

System architecture at the power end of the spectrum is mature and modular. The dominant device in 2011 is the personal computer (PC), and by far the largest share of PC industry value is being extracted by the two companies that control the layers where monopoly position is easiest to maintain—because of network effects, in the case of Microsoft, or scale economies, in the case of Intel.

Driving technological and industry development at the power end are what might be termed the big exponentials—the laws of progressive improvement. Best known is Moore's law: ...

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