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White spaces: An analyst explains the grand opportunities he sees for innovation

Horace Dediu thinks the arrival of wearable technology such as smartwatches will drive changes in health care. Here the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit is pictured. (Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg)

What will be the next massive shift in our world? Analyst Horace Dediu, who writes insightfully on Apple and more at Asymo, offered his thoughts on The Innovation Engine podcast.

“People say there’s no more opportunities, I say there’s tons of opportunities because you look at all these spaces where — to put it bluntly — software has not yet infiltrated. Software — you can say technology but let’s be more specific — it’s software. Once you inject software into any product you go from making it dumb to smart.”

He singled out health care, education and transportation as fields likely to go through upheaval that will benefit the average individual. Dediu expects wearables to drive the change in health care.

“A lot of this excess baggage of health care — really think about diagnostics, which are probably 80 percent of the workload in health care. A lot of that stuff can be now offloaded to the consumer themselves doing their own measurements and diagnostics, and then having the decision making being done by a physician,” said Dediu, who imagines we’ll need 20 years to see the full effects.

“We’re throwing off a huge amount of information that can be picked up with sensors that are going to become really cheap to make and really comfortable to wear. The question will only be whether you want to bother or not or whether you want to be nagged or not,” he said.

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote a much-cited essay in 2011 arguing that software is eating the world. The world’s biggest companies, from Google to Wal-Mart to FedEx, have risen on the back of great software. Dediu has the same idea, pointing out how software revolutionized consumer electronics through the iPod, and the iPhone was a disruptor in part due to its software.

“Once you got that capability, a product becoming intelligent — by having a microprocessor running software with APIs and all these other things, that industry is never the same again,” Dediu said. “That’s the technological core that causes the disruption.”

He also discussed another area, largely untouched by the latest technology: the home.

“You have more intelligence in your smartphone than in a multi-million dollar house. The house has no intelligence because it has no software at all. It’s very very crude, almost like 1960s mentality about it,” Dediu said. “Now what happens when you inject it [with software]. You’re not going to inject it into the walls. You’re basically going to buy little appliances like smart light bulbs, smart locks, smart appliances and these things will end up talking to each other and they’ll be controlled from your phone, which becomes really the brain and the house becomes an accessory product to your phone.”

There’s something funny about a McMansion or any home being viewed as an accessory to a small device that can fit in one’s pocket. A million-dollar accessory for something that costs about $200?

But having spent a couple days using Google Chromecast, I think Dediu is dead right. Chromecast is an easy way to watch online videos on my TV, by using my iPhone as a remote control. I pull up the YouTube app, and am quickly streaming video on the largest screen in my home. Being able to use a smartphone as your TV remote is a radical upgrade from the remotes TV manufacturers or cable providers saddle us with. I really can’t stress enough how big the improvement is, and it’s all due to a microprocessor and good software.

We tend to always have our smartphones on us, so they are a natural fit to be the hub of controlling everything in our homes and lives. As Dediu puts it, the question is when, not if these changes happen.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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