Beyond The App Layer: A Personal Focus On Mobile Computing

Most of what I’m going to say below is not new. It is old news, actually, and quite obvious, in fact. Yet, I hope to present the idea and argument in a way that, perhaps, you have not yet heard. Thank you in advance for your patience. More than anything, this is both the start of something new and still a perpetual work in progress. This also isn’t a singular post. I’ll write more this week, and I’m not sure what exact direction it will take. So, here goes…

Over six years ago, when Apple unveiled iPhone, I was sitting in Cambridge in an old lecture hall in an econometrics class I almost failed. One of my classmates who was in class with me was the kid in class who bought and used all the latest tech gear. My phone was the Motorola Q. When I first saw the iPhone, I didn’t even have a framework for understanding what it was and why it was a big deal. I recall my friend David showing me some “apps.” I remember my brother-in-law raving about it, but I tuned it out. Fast-forward to today, over six years later, and I’ve owned iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, and now iPhone 5, as well as nearly every iPad — on iPhone, I skipped the “s’s” and now use iPad Mini only. And, for about the last 14+ months of my time in Silicon Valley, my life has been focused on these devices, on these operating systems, and on these platforms.

Through these experiences, I have been very lucky to work on many sides of the table, working on the investment side with a venture capital firm, working closely with a technology company that delivers new information to mobile devices, and writing about mobile here on my blog here and on TechCrunch. While I am not an expert (far from it), it just dawned on me while I was away last month on vacation that all of my interests, all of my interactions, and all of the knowledge I’ve built up and leveraged comes back to this — to mobile.

But…Saying “mobile” isn’t enough.

If you’re reading this blog, you already know mobile is a big, big deal. Yet, I would echo the sentiments of my friend Rohit Sharma who recently tweeted this line: “Mobile is the only thing bigger than its own hype in tech.” Rohit is correct. We take mobile for granted, not just the new devices, new sensors, new software changes, new platforms, new advancements in the mobile stack infrastructure, and new challenges presented to the carriers — there’s so much to cover, so much to uncover, so much to discover, that I’ve finally figured out what I want my focus to be…

…”mobile computing.’

Yes, “mobile computing.” Not just mobile. This is an important distinction for me. When I started working in venture capital last year, my concept of mobile equated to apps. I was naive. I quickly learned there was a complex world under each icon, and I began to build an initial, crude investment thesis around mobile to help me sort through the deal flow that came in the door. Only recently did I began to understand that, all this time, I was figuring out what I wanted to focus on for work — but it didn’t feel like work. Rather, it felt like the perfect combination of my own use cases for technology, my interest in technology investing, and my interest in finding a topic that’s both new and interesting that I could sink my teeth into.

Which brings me to: “Mobile Computing.”

Saying “Mobile Computing” is a slight tweak, but makes a difference to me. It opens up the concept of “mobile” considerably. Not only I am drawn to the app layer where companies are bringing new technologies to mobile devices, but I’m also interested in the larger ecosystem of devices that our mobile devices will compute “with,” be that our other computers, our televisions, the things in our home or office, or wearable technologies like the phones we are told to expect this fall. It also means going beyond what I know in iOS to expand to Android (don’t get me started!), to the upcoming forked versions of Android, to newer companies like famo.us (make sure poke around this site, btw), Wildcard, Relcy, and many others bleeding onto the blade of what is the sharpest knife edge I’ve seen in my short time in the technology field.

There’s much more to share and write about this — about “Mobile Computing” — in the days and weeks to come. Expect a lot more, much in line with what most of my TechCrunch columns have been focused on, and I want dive deeper into parts of the mobile stack that are foreign to me and write more about it, to continue to develop my investment thesis around mobile computing and peripherals, and — most importantly — to continue operating in mobile-first and mobile-focused startup companies. This has been one of the best work experiences of my life, and “Mobile Computing” provides the best lens for me to focus moving forward yet affords such an unscripted path ahead, the future seems ultra-bright.

I’ll write more this week on the topic as the thoughts come together, such as the types of mobile investments that make sense to me, the intersection of mobile and other big market trends, the forthcoming advancements in mobile hardware that may enable new experiences, and much more. Finally, I want to underscore that this is all presented in an effort to learn and engage from you, as well as the many great sources I read about mobile technology and trends — not to present an air of expert opinion. We have enough of that online. Rather, I aspire to share the moves I intend to make around mobile, and to artfully, passionately present the “why” of why they’re important to me.

A final note — this isn’t just going to be analysis without conviction or intent. For the rest of the this week, I will try to articulate just how this focus will seep through my three areas of work, specifically (1) my tech writing here on my blog and on TechCrunch; (2) my work with mobile technology companies, past present and future; and (3) some news around investing in this space. Stay tuned…

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus