Competition is Necessary to Validate Disruption

March 04, 2014 | By Sudheesh Nair
| min

Five hundred dollars fully subsidized with a plan! I said that is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine”, said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in an interview following the unveiling of the iPhone in 2007.

David Pogue of NY Times famously complained; “Typing is difficult. The letter keys are just pictures on the glass screen, so of course there’s no tactile feedback.”

“The BlackBerry keyboard is an engineering wonder” wrote Paul Boutin of the He continued; “I have a model with a full QWERTY keyboard rather than a downsized phone pad, and I can thumb-type my editor with one hand while hanging off the side of a San Francisco cable car with the other. iPhone’s virtual on-screen keyboard is a whole lot cooler, but it loses its luster as soon as you have to meet a deadline. After hours of practice—the trick is to tap the virtual keys lightly with your fingertips, rather than trying to press down—I still mistype my own name”

The year was 2007 and almost everyone, except perhaps Steve Ballmer, agreed that iPhone was a cool gadget. But there was also universal trepidation that the touchscreen keyboard was a step too far. After all, companies were coming out with phones copying RIM’s keyboard models and thriving all over the world. Why go and spoil a perfectly good thing and risk the future of a company that already almost went under once?

But, risk it all was exactly what Steve Jobs and team did. They believed in their invention and that the world was wrongly assessing their device and its input methods. Such was their conviction in their people and in their capability to innovate, that they changed the face of computing and communication forever.

A thought experiment

Let’s do a thought experiment together. What if in 2007, Apple released the iPhone with all the present features, but had full QWERTY keyboards just like Blackberries. What do you think would have happened to RIM?

I believe that that the following scenario may have played out:

1. Apple still would have been a dominant player in the phone market.

2. But, the strong validation and direct competition from Apple would have caused RIM to thrive as a better company.

Instead, Apple changed the game. It moved away from the closed eco-system and rugged, business centric user experience of RIM to more of an elegant consumer-friendly design and user experience. They captivated the world by showing it new possibilities.

Now, look at what happened when Google followed Apple’s path and released an OEM-friendly version of iOS. Android competes directly against iOS; every time a new version of a Samsung phone or iPhone comes out, people on one side scream death at the other. It is of course, exciting and fun to watch and participate in.

But let’s not pretend that the loser of this battle is going to be either Google or Apple. The losers are the phone handset makers like Nokia and RIM. And as iOS and Android continue to extend their reach into tablets, they are in the process of wiping out PC makers as well!

Competition is not just validation, it’s a necessity in business world. Companies with disruptive cultures use competition as fuel…and thrive in it.

Meanwhile in the datacenter infrastructure world

In 2011, when Nutanix released the first version of our Virtual Computing Platform, the world primarily either ignored us or ridiculed the notion of running enterprise applications without the help of mighty datacenter manufacturers and their SANs.

As we fast forward to 2014, Nutanix has a 2-year lead and has built a passionate company and community around our vision for Web-scale IT. We have amassed hundreds of passionate customers running their entire businesses on Nutanix infrastructure. Now that most of the large manufacturers in the space are coming out with their own versions of SAN-Free Data centers, we are hearing the usual commotion from the gallery. It’s expected.

But, it’s misguided to assume that the immediate causality is going to be Nutanix. The first bunch to feel the heat will be the old, long-in-tooth legacy SAN vendors (think: “old flip phone makers”). The second bunch will be the “new age” hybrid and all-flash vendors (think: “QWERTY peddlers”) because, let’s face it, once you remove the marketing hype, they are also a bunch of fibre channel or iSCSI connected SAN or NAS vendors.

The real question is whether Nutanix can keep up its technical superiority and market dominance. It’s a legitimate question. Let me just say that you ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes what we have in store for the world!