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What’s meant by digital ecosystems? Richard tells us it’s the digital giants of our world that offer a range of connected services; the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Xiaomi and Baidu.
“Ecosystems are the glue that holds together digital life experiences, and present those experiences to their users in an easy and fun to use way.”
They also represent a lot of money. “Consumer choice in the digital world is driven by their choices between ecosystems. Those ecosystems that can monetise their users have a market value in excess of $2 trillion.”
Following and predicting the fortunes of these ecosystems is thus of considerable interest, but Richard is wary of trying to look too far ahead. “Most of the time, I would be wary of looking more than three to five years ahead,” he says. “Sometimes less in the case of certain technologies. I actually think that the pace of change is going to slow down, unlike many people, but the level of uncertainty about how things will turn out increases.”
Nonetheless, many of Richard’s opinions about the giants that make up our digital life are bold. “In the next three to five years, Apple will be forced to start to compete in completely new ways. Over the same period, Google will make the Android operating system proprietary. And China’s domestic ecosystems will become considerably more sophisticated.”
He’s also sanguine about the role of HERE alongside or embedded into these digital giants. “People may not spend much time directly using maps, but location and location awareness is an important ingredient in digital life services.” Aside from getting directions, when people post an update with their location, or use any of the major photo-sharing apps, geographical co-ordinates, even actual maps, are very often part of those posts.
Richard also says he understands the attractions of HERE to carmakers. “Automotive companies have historically been forced to pass their customers on to dealer networks. With connected cars, they can maintain a direct relationship with their customers.” The applications and opportunities here are extensive, and Richard points out the way in which automakers might forge relationships with the insurance industry, for example, to offer better deals to drivers whose safe conduct can be verified using connected monitoring.
He is less optimistic when it comes to predictions of the imminent arrival of fully autonomous vehicles. “The opportunities are very great. Reduced congestion. Getting non-drivers on the road. But the market isn’t ready and I don’t think it will be for a long time.”
“A very clear example is liability. If your autonomous car kills a pedestrian, would you be prepared to go to jail for 10 years? I’d imagine you would not. The whole way that liability operates will have to change.” And that’s a lengthy legal and cultural shift, Richard says.
But if it takes longer for autonomous vehicles to rule the roads than some industry figures suggest, there are still a growing number of opportunities for location players such as HERE. Richard concludes: “As ecosystems become more sophisticated, location will play an increased role. And for HERE, all of Google’s competitors in the ecosystem space want to avoid using Google Maps. I can envisage all of them having a strong interest in HERE."