Publishers find new mobile opportunities by looking to the past.

Each new computing cycle brings predictable patterns of behaviour. As such, one of the interesting things about the shift to mobile devices is that while publishers are certainly struggling with the number of “unknowns” our businesses are forced to deal with, you get a clearer view of some of the factors playing out in 2015 by looking at the past.

During the last 60 years of computing, in each platform shift — from the mainframe to the personal computer to desktop Internet and now into mobile — definite similarities have emerged. Each new platform was initially seen as inferior to the one preceding it until, over time, the emerging platform become more robust and replaced its predecessor.

It is classic disruption. New platforms are not just significantly better; they are far cheaper and vastly more accessible. They have an addressable base that has increased, more or less, by a factor of 10.

The quality issue is playing out again. For example, while we are reasonably comfortable with smartphones and tablets (up to a point), most people have a hard time imagining how they will create, as well as consume, content on mobile devices.

The usual answer is: “It’s just not as good as my PC for some tasks.” History has shown, however, that technology and experience will improve over time, and the use cases will evolve.

I have no doubt that the few hundred thousand users of the mainframe computers back in the 1950s laughed at personal computers when they first came out and thought they would never be good enough. Would they ever have expected that today we would have millions of personal computers and billions of mobile devices?

Publishers must not fall into platform myopia. They need to consider this: Mobile will eventually be comprised of 10 billion units in comparison to a mere 1.5 billion internet-connected PCs. Undoubtedly, this is a huge opportunity for all publishers, but they need to approach the platform in a new way.

Lessons from the past show that there are winners and losers in any move to a new platform; there will also be winners and losers in this move to mobile.

The winners will be those who take advantage of the new technology, new methods of customer acquisition and engagement, and, more importantly, new possibilities for creating user experiences on emerging platforms.

The winners will be those who ideate and experiment and then execute incredibly well.

Those who try to shoe horn old products, processes, and business models into the new platform with no regard for the platform efficiencies or platform dynamics will definitely be the losers.

Microsoft is a good example of a previous platform winner that was beautifully built and well suited to the PC era; it couldn’t have been built before or after.

Google, Amazon, and a ton of other Internet start-ups that emerged around the turn of the century are examples of winners in the change to the PC Internet platform. Instagram, Uber, and Lyft are billion-dollar companies that are custom built for the modern smartphone.

Publishers have a responsibility to find new mobile models by encouraging innovation in their own organisations.

At Fairfax Media, we are navigating mobile with a clear and articulated strategy that will reshape our products, processes, and people to be “mobile first.” This doesn’t mean mobile only – we believe in letting our customers reach us on whatever platforms they choose – but it does mean that we will favour the smartphone.

Product experimentation is vital. To that end, we are exploring new mobile platforms like Apple Watch. Skim, our just-released app from The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, will deliver the latest and most popular news in a format perfectly suited to quick glances. This creates potential for exciting new content services.

Advertising innovation is key. Fairfax Media’s strength in mobile display revenue is partly based on our development of innovative advertising solutions for premium advertisers.

We are creating new advertising units specifically for mobile devices to take advantage of the unique experiences these devices offer. And the strategy is working very well for our advertisers.

The mobile platform race is not yet finished. A question remains: What other billion-dollar companies are yet to be formed to take advantage of the unique smartphone experience?

If you are looking for future mobile opportunities, perhaps you should start by looking at the past.