For years many of the most exciting advances in personal computing have come from the armed forces, large research centres or big businesses that focused mainly on corporate customers. Sometimes these breakthroughs found their way to consumers after being modified for mass consumption. The internet, for instance, was inspired by technology first developed by America’s defence establishment.
Over the past ten years or so, however, the consumer market has become a hotbed of innovation in its own right. “The polarity has reversed in the technology industry,” claims Marc Andreessen, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist whose firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in several consumer companies, including Facebook and Twitter. Now, he says, many exciting developments in information technology (IT) are appearing in the hands of consumers first and only then making their way into other arenas—a trend that tech types refer to as the “consumerisation” of IT.