Try this one on for size: the next Steve Jobs isn’t going to come out of Silicon Valley, he or she is going to come out of Asia. He or she is going to be a product visionary that sets forth the next paradigm in hardware and software.
Sounds nice, right?
The idea makes you wonder for a second, what elements would have to come together to make that happen? I think that the window for Asia to produce a product visionary of Steve Jobs’ caliber would occur in 2019 or 2020. This amusing speculation assumes that Google Glass and iWatch will actually be launched and become successes. It also assumes that Asia’s manufacturing startups will finally come into their own as product visionaries.
Why 2019 and 2020? Because it will take five years to catch up and bring about something new. In other words, Google Glass and iWatch are going to release to great fanfare as the wearable tech that people actually buy (sorry, Sony), and they’ll dominate the market as their own separate paradigms for the next five years, giving Asia’s product visionaries just enough time to catch up and come out with something equally earth shattering. That is, if they can.
Is Asia really poised to produce a product visionary?
At the moment, though, there’s no one in Asia releasing interesting new products of this kind. Most of the cool wearable technologies that we see in the space today are from guys like Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Pebble Watch – yes, they’re all from the States. So far, the best Asia can do is make things smaller, cheaper, and more efficient; it’s the road Japan took back with the auto industry and then consumer electronics in the 70s and 80s. What they are not doing is pushing out completely new genres of products that shatter what we know. When will we see someone of this caliber?
Paul Graham speculates that it will take a product visionary to start his/her own company and not get fired to become the next Steve Jobs, because corporations like Samsung and Nokia just don’t have what it takes. Hamish McKenzie, in his new e-book Beta China, thinks that Lei Jun, founder and CEO of Xiaomi could be a candidate to be the next Steve Jobs of Asia. But just because Xiaomi can create nice looking phones – thanks to Google’s Android – doesn’t mean they can create and push new industries into being.
It’s going to take a whole new mentality change and approach to the consumer market that maybe Asia is just not ready for yet.
What Asia has to work with and what Steve had to work with
If you look at what Apple did when it pushed out the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, you’ll see that the market was ready for them. There was an ecosystem, a hungry middle class eager to spend, a large developer community ready to create, and huge industries that were ready to benefit (or suffer) from the new consumer paradigms. In Asia, on the other hand, we’re looking at a particularly fragmented world where Facebook is still growing like crazy, a world where the consumer market is still not cohesive, so how is it possible that a new paradigm could grow up here?
I’m skeptical. That’s exactly why I think it will take at least five years for Asia to catch up on a consumer market level, as well as product visionaries to get into place, surrounded by the right people, to execute something that will take the world by storm.