?First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin?
Once upon a time in the great new beginning that was early computing, hardware was king and ruled absolutely.
My elder brother still has his Wangwriter stuffed into a crevice of his garage: an expensive, ridiculously expensive relic of a word processor at $7,500 in 1979 dollars (which is $25,000 in 2014 dollars, according to Dollar Times). See what I mean by ridiculously expensive?
Not so suddenly, but suddenly enough, computers got smaller, got commoditized and got way cheaper. Software overthrew the despotic monarch and has remained on the thrown ever since.
Is robotics headed for the very same fate?
Will robotics manufacturers defend their proprietary software to the bitter end, as Wang and all the others did in the age of iron?
Proprietary software for robots is quite profitable
According to Japan?s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the world market for industrial robots in 2012 was $8.5B; for packaging robots $13.3B; and for service robots $3.7B. Of that estimated $25.5B, a full 50 percent, according to the International Federation of Robotics, is robotics software and parts.
For a KUKA or an ABB or Yaskawa or Fanuc, proprietary software is a big chunk of revenue, over which they may choose to fight to the death. Computers tried to retain theirs and lost.
From consumerization of software to consumerization of robotics
It is how apps are winning out over software, so what?s to fear when robotics goes the same way? Nothing, really.
Think robotics as you read
Excerpted from Why Software Is Eating the World
By Marc Andreessen
We are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.
More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services?from movies to agriculture to national defense.
Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.
Why is this happening now?
Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.
Over two billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago, when I was at Netscape, the company I co-founded. In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.
On the back end, software programming tools and Internet-based services make it easy to launch new global software-powered start-ups in many industries?without the need to invest in new infrastructure and train new employees. In 2000, when my partner Ben Horowitz was CEO of the first cloud computing company, Loudcloud, the cost of a customer running a basic Internet application was approximately $150,000 a month. Running that same application today in Amazon’s cloud costs about $1,500 a month.
With lower start-up costs and a vastly expanded market for online services, the result is a global economy that for the first time will be fully digitally wired?the dream of every cyber-visionary of the early 1990s, finally delivered, a full generation later.
Perhaps the single most dramatic example of this phenomenon of software eating a traditional business is the suicide of Borders and corresponding rise of Amazon. In 2001, Borders agreed to hand over its online business to Amazon under the theory that online book sales were non-strategic and unimportant.
Today, the world’s largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company?its core capability is its amazing software engine for selling virtually everything online, no retail stores necessary.
On top of that, while Borders was thrashing in the throes of impending bankruptcy, Amazon rearranged its web site to promote its Kindle digital books over physical books for the first time.
Now even the books themselves are software.
Today’s largest video service by number of subscribers is a software company: Netflix. How Netflix eviscerated Blockbuster is an old story, but now other traditional entertainment providers are facing the same threat. Comcast, Time Warner and others are responding by transforming themselves into software companies with efforts such as TV Everywhere, which liberates content from the physical cable and connects it to smartphones and tablets.
Today’s dominant music companies are software companies, too: Apple’s iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. Traditional record labels increasingly exist only to provide those software companies with content. Industry revenue from digital channels totaled $4.6 billion in 2010, growing to 29 percent of total revenue from 2 percent in 2004.
The best new movie production company in many decades, Pixar, was a software company. Disney?Disney!?had to buy Pixar, a software company, to remain relevant in animated movies.
Photography, of course, was eaten by software long ago. It’s virtually impossible to buy a mobile phone that doesn’t include a software-powered camera, and photos are uploaded automatically to the Internet for permanent archiving and global sharing. Companies like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Flickr have stepped into Kodak’s place.
Today’s fastest growing telecom company is Skype, a software company that was just bought by Microsoft for $8.5 billion. CenturyLink, the third largest telecom company in the U.S., with a $20 billion market cap, had 15 million access lines at the end of June 30?declining at an annual rate of about 7percent.
Software is also eating much of the value chain of industries that are widely viewed as primarily existing in the physical world.
In today’s cars, software runs the engines, controls safety features, entertains passengers, guides drivers to destinations and connects each car to mobile, satellite and GPS networks. The days when a car aficionado could repair his or her own car are long past, due primarily to the high software content.
The trend toward hybrid and electric vehicles will only accelerate the software shift?electric cars are completely computer controlled. And the creation of software-powered driverless cars is already under way at Google and the major car companies.
Today’s leading real-world retailer, Wal-Mart, uses software to power its logistics and distribution capabilities, which it has used to crush its competition. Likewise for FedEx, which is best thought of as a software network that happens to have trucks, planes and distribution hubs attached.
And the success or failure of airlines today and in the future hinges on their ability to price tickets and optimize routes and yields correctly?with software.
Oil and gas companies were early innovators in supercomputing and data visualization and analysis, which are crucial to today’s oil and gas exploration efforts. Agriculture is increasingly powered by software as well, including satellite analysis of soils linked to per-acre seed selection software algorithms.
Health care and education, in my view, are next up for fundamental software-based transformation. My venture capital firm is backing aggressive start-ups in both of these gigantic and critical industries.
We believe both of these industries, which historically have been highly resistant to entrepreneurial change, are primed for tipping by great new software-centric entrepreneurs.
Even national defense is increasingly software-based. The modern combat soldier is embedded in a web of software that provides intelligence, communications, logistics and weapons guidance. Software-powered drones launch airstrikes without putting human pilots at risk. Intelligence agencies do large-scale data mining with software to uncover and track potential terrorist plots.
Companies in every industry need to assume that a software revolution is coming. This includes even industries that are software-based today. Great incumbent software companies like Oracle and Microsoft are increasingly threatened with irrelevance by new software offerings like Salesforce.com and Android.
In some industries, particularly those with a heavy real-world component such as oil and gas, the software revolution is primarily an opportunity for incumbents. But in many industries, new software ideas will result in the rise of new Silicon Valley-style start-ups that invade existing industries with impunity.
Over the next 10 years, the battles between incumbents and software-powered insurgents will be epic. Joseph Schumpeter, the economist who coined the term “creative destruction,” would be proud.
This is a profoundly positive story for the American economy, in particular. It’s not an accident that many of the biggest recent technology companies?including Google, Amazon, eBay and more?are American companies. Our combination of great research universities, a pro-risk business culture, deep pools of innovation-seeking equity capital and reliable business and contract law is unprecedented and unparalleled in the world.
Still, we face several challenges.
First of all, every new company today is being built in the face of massive economic headwinds, making the challenge far greater than it was in the relatively benign ’90s. The good news about building a company during times like this is that the companies that do succeed are going to be extremely strong and resilient.
And when the economy finally stabilizes, look out?the best of the new companies will grow even faster.