The Future Always Comes Looking Like a Toy

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Walt Mossberg interviewing Andy Rubin, Founder and CEO, Playground Global; Partner, Redpoint Ventures

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Code Mobile Conference in Half Moon Bay, California on behalf of Janrain. <Re/Code is an important partner for our company. Not only are they a Janrain customer, but as a media company they report on issues that are crucial to both the software and digital marketing communities of which Janrain is proud to be a part.

The themes for this year’s Code Mobile Conference were wearables, connected cars and mobile payments, and the event speakers included representatives from AT&T, Jawbone, Nissan, Qualcomm, Google, Fitbit, Intel, Apple and Paypal, alongside moderators from Re/Code and The Verge like Kara Swisher, Walt Mossberg and Lauren Goode. We were in pretty amazing company, and you couldn’t beat the view either.

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View from the Patio of the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, California

There were many, many great insights from the two-day event. Whether it was Intel’s Genevieve Bell’s observations about how wearables allow us to “augment, connect and identify” ourselves in increasingly more specific ways or Lauren Goode’s caution that “the marriage of fashion and technology is ultimately short-lived,” there was much to provoke thought. When Amit Singhal from Google took the stage, he informed us that Google handles more than a billion searches per month, and that this past summer, for the first time, mobile search exceeded desktop. That fact was actually surprising to me as I had assumed mobile search was already dominant. Supporting my assumptions were assertions from Tim Armstrong at AOL that 60% of the Huffington Post’s traffic is mobile and executing in that channel was where they were focusing their energy.

However, it was the incomparable Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz who affirmed that “The future always comes looking like a toy.” He was referring to how the next great technological innovation usually doesn’t look or feel like something that will be disruptive, which probably explains why disruption is always jarring for the industry it impacts.

Services like Lyft, Uber and Car2Go, have radically impacted the taxi and automotive industries. Hailing a cab seems downright archaic these days, and more and more Americans seem to be finding good reasons not to purchase or own a car. And of course, mobile disrupted the PC industry then soon after Apple and Google disrupted mobile.

When I processed what Benedict Evans was really saying, it was a powerful moment for me. I thought back to the early days of OpenID and how a protocol essentially developed to limit the number of passwords a user needed to remember, evolved into a solution for managing consumer identity across digital experiences. A simple problem sparked a digital marketing and consumer data revolution. It would have been difficult to predict where we are now, from where we came.

As we continue to innovate in the identity space, it will be important to pay close attention to how mobile — in particular — is transforming the consumer experience. Who knows, we may already be toying with the next killer app or digital experience that will disrupt an entire industry.