The 800 lb gorilla and the elephant in the room

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.

From Wikipedia;

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;

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!)

  1. 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?”
  2. 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
  3. 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.
In your opinion, which of those is the biggest elephant in the room, or are there others that you would like to share?  Add a comment at the bottom of this email.
The 800 lb gorilla
When me and my colleagues starting this whole discussion, we were a bit confused … is the gorilla meant to be in the room alongside the elephant, does the gorilla pretend he can’t see the elephant, how much does the elephant weigh, is the elephant scared of the gorilla, is a gorilla really 800 pounds in weight, is the gorilla outside the room waiting to come in and scare the elephant, is there only one gorilla or an entire family, and on and on.  (The discussion was over cocktails after all).
So I set about researching what the expression “the 800 lb gorilla” means;
Unfortunately the first thing Google presented me with was a picture of an 800 lb woman.  Seriously.
I needed to refine my search.  I then found a picture of an 800 lb gorilla, and he was certainly in the room as you can see.
In the picture it appears the attendees are ignoring him, so isn’t that the same idiom as the elephant?
So I then dug up a definition, thanks to Wikipedia … very interesting.

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?”

The answer:

“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.


Managing Director


3 Comments on “The 800 lb gorilla and the elephant in the room”

  1. Alan P says:

    Another animal that’s often used in our wireless sector is “behemoth”. It’s used to describe a large powerful entity that moves very slowly. Many of the blue chip companies like Oracle and IBM are often described as behemoths. However, unlike those real tangible companies, a behemoth is actually a mythological creature and never existed. Just thought I would add that to the list!


  2. spinarama says:

    The elephant in the room in the wireless industry really alludes to a major organization of great importance that no one wants to talk about because it is uncomfortable to do so. In my experience, all the people I’m connected with, including my colleagues, partners, competitors, and other industry players, have no qualms whatsoever in talking about important industry players and their influence (whether positive or negative) in the marketplace. In fact, if an organization is important and is making moves of great consequence most people talk about it. Take, for example, Google’s play into many different market segments. Like Terry said, this could be considered an elephant, but the fact is that people are talking about it! Good or bad, people have expressed their opinions. Just search for “Google’s monopoly” and you’ll find a lot of different websites that address this concern. An elephant in the room? Really? I don’t think we have one. We are all too bold for that!

    Now, is Google the 800lb Gorilla? In my opinion. Yes.

    Google has done a great job in creating a brand that is liked and used by consumers and organizations that, all in all, they are looked at as the good guys. Lots of people use their email, calendar, market place, etc. The reality is that when Google announced the launch of Android, Apple had to be concerned. When Google announced their mobile phone handset, competitors turned their head and looked. Now, Google is revving its engine with Google+ and Facebook is starting to worry about losing market share. If they will be successful or not, it remains to be seen. Diversifying into too many segments can be the downfall of a company (as history has taught us). Nonetheless, Google remains a giant force in the market with the resources, creativity and willpower to enter into new products and market segments, and make an impact big enough to shift market share and get its competitors attention.

  3. spindat says:

    The 800lb gorillas are a ubiquitously known band: Google, Apple, and arguably, Microsoft. Case in point: in Google’s highly visible burgeoning anti-trust case, they’ll point out how competitive the market is: how Apple’s Siri is changing the landscape, how Android’s market share isn’t as big as some might think, and how Bing is a legitimate threat. Sure, Windows Phone 7 isn’t exactly a close third in smartphone OS market share, but the ramp up of Nokia’s efforts to bring their rendition of the platform (RIP Symbian) will benefit Microsoft’s mindshare amongst both developers and consumers.

    If there is a big white elephant hanging out, it has to be the fundamental issue of privacy. I’m waiting for a gutsy startup to come and say, “We’re going to take all your information, give it out to everyone, and bring you products that fit you to a T.” Of course, there’s probably some firms that already do something similar to this. Heck, Facebook wants to own your whole life on a page. In an age where so many consumers simply hit “Agree” to every Terms and Conditions page that heads their way (anyone watch the South Park episode involving the Human Cent-iPad?), it can’t be long before we’re being sold on items based on information we never consciously agreed to give. Google is well position to become the aforementioned “Gorilla riding on the back of an elephant”.

    Is that such a bad thing? Like the moon, there’s a dark and a bright side. Like all decisions, we all commit to an ad-hoc NPV analysis and time will till if consumers are willing to pay the price of privacy for impeccable targeting.

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