The Race To The Next Platform Is On

Virtual Reality, The Blockchain, or both?

I’ve seen hundreds of pitches as an investor, and thousands if you include my time as a writer. Naturally, with such large datasets, trends start to become clear. Two such trends have emerged in the past several months. And they’re both related and unrelated.

They’re related in that they’re both new platforms on which massive companies may be built. And this seems a bit odd since we’ve gone quite a long time without a true new platform to take the baton from mobile.

They’re unrelated in that they’re quite different. One is The Blockchain. The other is Virtual Reality.

Both should be fairly obvious to anyone who follows tech news. No less than Mark Zuckerberg has declared VR as the next platform, following Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus. But the key is that developers are buying in — big time.

I feel like every other pitch I see these days is directly or indirectly related to one of these two spaces. A year ago, this was not the case. It was still mainly social and mobile applications that had the mindshare amongst developers.

But both of those spaces are long since saturated. That’s not to say there can’t be great startups build in those spaces anymore — there undoubtedly will be. But the barrier to entry is so much higher because those platforms are now more mature. There is no longer any sort of first-mover advantage. The only real path to success left is to be leaps and bounds better than what everyone else is doing in those spaces.

(A caveat being that new mobile devices and APIs, such as those just unveiled by Apple in iOS 8, have the potential to unlock new markets.)

In both VR and The Blockchain, it’s still the early, Wild West days. But both sectors now seem to have their catalysts to move them from simply promising technologies and into real platforms. VR has the Oculus. The Blockchain has Bitcoin.

New gold?

I’m far from an expert in Bitcoin. My general stance has remained consistent: I find it fascinating, but I’m skeptical about its long-term potential as a widespread currency. But I do believe the fundamental idea that exists just beneath it, The Blockchain, has a ton of potential for all kinds of things going forward.

And again, I think developers are backing this notion up. It’s not just that we’re seeing pitches related directly to Bitcoin — which we have for months. It’s that we’re starting to see pitches now specifically around The Blockchain.

While the concept of VR is nothing new, the Oculus seems poised to be the device which will finally push it mainstream. But it’s the Facebook deal in particular that seems to have lit a spark underneath the developer community in VR. Perhaps because people now know that a multi-billion dollar company will be supporting Oculus and believes in it, they now have the faith needed to go all-in developing for this platform.

And that’s not to say Oculus will for sure be the winning player in the space. Sony and others have obviously voiced their intentions to own this space as well. But regardless of which company “wins” (or if multiple ones do), these factors have pushed VR itself into the viable platform stage.

The Oculus Mouth Agape™

All of this has me incredibly excited as both an investor and as a technology enthusiast and user. We may once again be on the verge of a sea-change not seen since the release of the iPhone (and to a far lesser extent, the iPad). While much of the tech press swirls around television and wearables as the next potential platforms (undoubtedly because those are the next rumored products from Apple), I think many are overlooking the next two platforms that are already here in some respects.

And it’s even more exciting if you believe that both of these platforms will take off at the same time. That’s why I didn’t frame this post as a battle, but rather a race. It’s entirely possible that both of these platforms take off together. Certainly, the developer communities around both seem large enough to fuel both at once.

With the last great platform, mobile, having saturated many developed markets and quickly penetrating the developing markets, the time is right for the next platform to emerge. And clearly, developers are already placing their bets.