Will Next Year Be the Subscription Shift

Evernote - Access anywhere (via the EN website)I’ve thought about this a few ways, and have bantered here a few times on similar topics, but I think that 2011 just might become the tipping point for subscription services – just not everywhere.

Personal Talking Points

Right now, I’m looking at some of the (computing, communication, multimedia) services that I use on a regular basis and whether it makes sense to move to a subscription-based model for them.

For example, I’ve taken a liking to using Evernote on my iPad as a notepad. It has literally replaced the built-in notepad there, and I also use it to compose posts like these, documents before collaboration in Google Docs, Twitter archiving, and a means to archive my ink notes written in Tactilis or Adobe Ideas. I use the free service, since many of the content types that I use are small  (images aren’t), but it works, and works well. If I were to push it a bit more, I could make the case for doing the paid service, which gives a few more options – but that would literally take my notepad from being something I “own” to something I’m “accessing.”

I’m in a similar arrangement with Dropbox and Last.FM. These also are excellent services – and with Dropbox, there’s a push on my end to use it a lot more (ignoring the fact that I do need local storage to archive things there from time to time). I can see getting to a point (easily in the next few months) where I’ll need to pay for more space. This isn’t bad – I’ll gladly do so, but again, its moving from ownership to access that’s a question.

Last.FM I already pay for – and its worth it. Question there is can I rely on it? I travel enough in my auto to come across areas of great and not-so-great signals. I’d use it even more if I could keep it reliable. That’s not on their end, but effects access to their offering. Of course, data costs is also a concern here.

Now, this is me. I am by no means near the norm, but I do regard some things that I’m doing to being in or near the radar of a few folks, and so the question of 2011 marking that shift is a nearly valid one.

What Will/Won’t Shift

I can see Office productivity apps being the largest thing to make the shift this year. In just doing various consulting pieces this year, I’ve seen almost no need for the office suites that many companies are using. Do they need the power or some of the features? Yes. But, they don’t need the deployment and support overhead. That part can be changed in a hosted (Office Web Apps, Google Apps, etc.) manner easily.

I don’t see the change happening to all groups equally. I’m not even meaning in terms of generational gaps (which I’m beginning to doubt). Skills and access gaps point to those people that need/don’t need such a shift. For example, if I’m always in a well-connected, wireless, urban setting – then it makes sense to use an operating system like ChromeOS. Paying then for services or apps to foster that kind of computing makes sense. For the traveler, maybe not – maybe so 😉

Dependencies to Mobile Platforms

There are some assumptions that I’m essentially making if I’m saying that going subscription-based is a model that’s (almost) unavoidable.

For one, most mobile platforms just won’t matter any more. The base functionality has gone from “Palm Pilot” to “tricorder” to “personal media player.” That means to differentiate, mobile platforms start from some kind of common base (like the push to treating web apps/widgets like normal apps). Mobile platforms are essentially being rewritten to include the idea of a browser within them. On top of that then has to come those connective-experiences (services, apps) which can be monetized.

I also means that for subscription services, that they can’t play the game of going only to one or a few popular platforms. Being available (access) means that you can’t be constrained to a device that a user might not have. Interesting note, the person I am staying with and I attended a meeting recently where he didn’t take his laptop (has no smartphone, no tablet). Basically speaking, he left his document in Google Docs and just accessed it from a shared laptop at the venue. That kind of experience is 2011’s tipping point.

Bottom Line is Most Important Line

Ok, let’s say that I (you, we) go subscription-based for a lot of these things. How much will that cost?

For me, I’ve also got domain hosting/email, a voice+messaging+data plan with AT&T, prepaid plan with Tru (formerly Truphone), and SkypeOut minutes with Skype. This can quickly get very expensive just to have access. I can’t imagine everyone having these same numbers to run, but many will have a few of these – and some a ton more – is that even economically sustainable despite the direction that’s clearly happening?

I think its possible. And that 2011 will be a tipping point not just for the techie, but the enterprise, the educator, and the late adopter. Going to free services will have their own hurdles too. But its clear, ownership is going away in the digital space, and its not quite the easy answer that MS commercials might make it to be.