A fascinating article appeared this week in the New York Times questioning the stalwarts of the tech industry being able to cope with the growing dominance of mobile. Companies like Intel and Microsoft made their fortunes from personal computers and Google from people using them to search for things on the internet, but times are a changing and they may all be left behind.

The article points out that “these and other tech companies are scrambling to reinvent their business models now that the old model — a stationary customer sitting at a stationary desk — no longer applies.” Once the great disruptors of older traditional business models themselves, they now find themselves being disrupted by the rise of mobile devices.

Recent earnings reports for all three were down, and Yahoo’s new CEO bemoaned the fact that Yahoo had also failed to capitalize on mobile and must become a predominantly mobile company. But that may be easier said than done, and Yahoo has certainly dabbled in the space before, albeit unsuccessfully.

Even Facebook’s poor showing since its public offering is being put down to a failure to address the 60 per cent of its user base accessing it via mobiles. What will it take for these players to get in on the act and what is proving to be successful so far?

Sure, we all know the dramatic success of smartphones, triggered by the iPhone, and all the things we can now do with them. Yet, despite their appeal and functionality, advertising on them has yet to be a big money spinner, even though everyone seems to be hoping it will be, especially Google and Facebook. The problem with mobile ads is how monitor their success. One of Google’s biggest challenges is tracking whether people actually make a physical purchase after they see a mobile ad and why more people don’t use a smartphone to make more digital purchases.

Both are trying hard to build profiles of all users in order to tailor offerings to them and sell the information to would-be advertisers wanting to target specific demographics. For Intel and Microsoft, it could well be case of the horse having well and truly bolted already. Apple seems possessed with producing all its own components and ARM/Samsung/LG are supplying most Android devices with their chip sets. Microsoft has just released its tablet competitor to the iPad and is banking on relationships with Nokia and HTC to infiltrate the mobile device market with its Windows Phone OS.

Too little – too late, perhaps? In the meantime, the telecoms industry moans about those very same OTT players when they might not be the biggest threat after all. Maybe we don’t even know who will rise from the myriad of app developers, social networking start-ups or device makers that will even come close to threatening the big players like Apple and Samsung that have mastered the mobile space so convincingly. Google’s really successful play, however, is Android, but how much money is making form that? Very little it seems. Who or what do you think will be the next big disruptor?

First published at Telco Professionals on 24 October 2012