The 800 lb gorilla and the elephant in the roomPosted: November 4, 2011
While having cocktails yesterday evening after a great day at the Open Mobile Summit, we started talking about phrases such as “the elephant in the room” and “the 800 pound gorilla”. So I thought I would research those sayings, and see what they tell us about the mobile / app world today.
The elephant in the room
Here are a few good definitions;
An important and obvious topic, which everyone present is aware of, but which isn’t discussed, as such discussion is considered to be uncomfortable.
is an idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue.
And there’s an example or two at idiomeanings.com;
There was an elephant in the room when I spoke with my mother, because she hates my new boyfriend.
So, here at the Open Mobile Summit, if there had been a real elephant in the conference room I think people would have had a hard time ignoring it, but there were a few elephants in the room in the idiomatic sense. Here are three that I picked up (well, I didn’t pick them up as such, because they weren’t said, but that’s what makes them elephants in the room!)
- Is the mobile and app industry truly comfortable with letting Google start to dominate via the Android OS, search, apps, content (e.g. YouTube), videos, books and movies (in Android Market), cloud, billing, Google Wallet, maps and navigation, and on and on? Everyone talks about how open the new mobile world is, but are the traditional players (operators, OEMs, software vendors, LBS mapping companies, etc.) feeling comfortable right now? One person at the conference said to me “At least when Nokia were trying to dominate via Symbian, people knew where they stood because Nokia is a proper company, whereas does anybody really know what Google might do next?”
- Are the wireless carriers already dumb pipes, but they just haven’t realized it? I actually don’t agree with that elephant; I think the carriers are halfway through reinventing their place in the value chain, and it is the carrier networks that still power the mobile digital revolution, and will continue to do so via LTE. Because the carriers are strong consumer brands (in the US who hasn’t heard of Verizon and AT&T?), they will still play a vital role in curating content that they recommend and deliver in a compelling manner, because their customers trust them and pay them every month
- Are we in another dot-com bubble where all that VC money that is sloshing into tech companies will vanish into thin air just as it did a decade ago notably in this very city, San Fran? Now this is a good example of an elephant in the room, because while the startups are being funded, and while the app economy feels rosy, nobody wants to spoil the party by saying that silly money is being poured into silly ideas that have no chance of generating a 10x return on investment. It’s a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes, another great idiom that has stood the test of time.
An Emperor who cares for nothing but his appearance and attire hires two tailors who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “just hopelessly stupid”. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects, who play along with the pretense. Suddenly, a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.
“800 lb gorilla” is an expression for a person or organization so powerful that it can act without regard to the desires of others or the law. The phrase is rooted in a riddle:
“Where does an 800 lb. gorilla sleep?”
“Anywhere it wants to.”
This highlights the disparity of power between the “800 lb. gorilla” and everything else.
The term can describe a powerful geopolitical and military force, or, in business, a powerful corporate entity that has such a large majority percentage of whatever market they compete within that they can use that strength to crush would-be competitors. (The metaphor includes an inherent bit of hyperbole; the highest weight yet recorded for an actual gorilla is 600 lb).
The metaphor has been mixed, on occasion, with the metaphor of the elephant in the room, as in TV advertisements by the financial firm AXA Equitable broadcast in 2010. In 2011 former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee referred to the healthcare plan instituted by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as “the 800-pound elephant in the room”.
So I decided to see whether I could think of any “powerful corporate entity that has such a large majority percentage of whatever market they compete within that they can use that strength to crush would-be competitors“. Now that’s an interesting question in an industry with major carriers, Apple, Google, Samsung, Oracle, and others.
My opinion is “no”. After all these years where Symbian and Microsoft threatened to dominate the mobile industry, there is still no clear leader, in fact it’s not even a clear 2-horse race (as my previous blog article discusses).
Perhaps one gorilla is ARM, the silicon chip IP design company, which has 95% of the smartphone market tied up until Intel takes another run at it in 2012. However I don’t see them as a gorilla because they don’t leverage their dominant position or try to crush anyone.
So, in the interests of following up on our discussion over cocktails, I will now invite my colleagues here at App Carousel (who also attended the Open Mobile Summit conference sessions) to wade in and give their opinions … is there an 800 lb gorilla in wireless, or a family of gorillas, or a gorilla riding on the back of an elephant, or ……… ?
Feel free to roar your own opinions too.