I really enjoyed watching this video of Paul Graham at the 2009 Business of Software conference, in which he discusses 21 future trends he believes we can bank on. Having grown and sold an early web business to Yahoo, Paul has since become a highly influential writer and participant in the technology industry. Currently, he runs “Y Combinator,” a venture capital company which makes financial and advisory investments in startups.
In his talk, I was excited to hear Paul emphasize the importance of some areas in which I’m invested, both personally and professionally:
OS X on the desktop. Paul points out that open-source, while a great model for the development of technical solutions, falls short at the boarder with design, because of the human psychology aspects which are central to good design. For that reason, he believes (as I’ve long believed) that Linux will never have a place on the desktop, and, of the remaining options, Mac OS X is and will continue to be the clear winner. (He also notes that over 50% of his audience was using Macs — perhaps an early indicator of broader future market trends.)
The iPhone will be a huge deal. Paul believes the iPhone has no competition, and is unlikely to see any competition in the near future — because it’s the top priority of the world’s best design company. He also believes this is a tragedy for such a hugely important emerging market (i.e. mobile), because of Apple’s application approval process, which is pretty much the anti-thesis of free markets. (Interestingly, he points out that the central thing going against Android is that it belongs to Google — since a firm can only have one top priority, and for Google, that’s search.)
Bet on design. As more and more of our daily lives involve interaction with software systems, the scope of design will continue to increase, and the need for good design will become ever more important. He points out the unfortunate curiosity about design — that everybody believes they’re good at it, and in that respect, it’s quite different than, say, the engineering or medical fields. (Nobody, other than trained physicians, feel they’re “probably good at surgery.”)
I strongly agree with Paul on all these points, especially the one about design. And that’s particularly exciting for me, as design is both a personal passion, and a (if not the) fundamental value of my company.
On a closing note, as clever as he is, Paul didn’t get it right on all fronts. At 41:30 in the video, talking about the coming importance of real-time, he says, “I think Google Wave is going to be important.” On that, he must have momentarily forgotten his earlier emphasis on the importance of good design. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect.