The Closed Platform Battle…

Whilst everyone has been caught up in the revenue and profits mobile apps are generating at the moment there is one thing which is being overlooked.

The internet as we know it today is an open platform, everyone and anyone can create for the internet and since it’s conception, billions of websites have been uploaded and millions of jobs, wealth and ground breaking revolutions have been founded.

Before you read on, you should know I am certainly riding the wave of the ‘mobile’ era – my business is based around mobile and tablet products. I am hugely passionate about what I do and I think the companies which have allowed for the mobile movement are remarkable. However, I like to think about the big picture and think outside the box. It’s this type of thinking that makes me worried, but this thinking also helps identify opportunities around what I think might be an up and coming trend. I want to open my thoughts to you in order to promote discussion around the topic; What’s going to happen to these closed platforms?

What is fundamentally different about the creation of the internet and the huge scale that is happening with the tablet and mobile adoption at the moment is that hardware manufacturers are actually much more than just ‘hardware’ manufacturers. Apple, Google and other players now own every piece of the puzzle, They own the goods, they own the software and they have the ability to control what you view, what you buy and how you engage with products that utilize the internet.

Imagine this; If Apple wanted to shut Foursquare down, or your application, they could – at the flick of a switch.

Make no mistake it’s very easy to create a lifestyle and live off earnings from your app, or your portfolio of applications. A lot of people are earning a lot of money, but remember, unlike the internet, where no one can tell you what you can and can’t do (apart from Government). If Apple decide to launch a competitor to your business, or remove your software from their distribution channels. That’s it, you could lose everything and you could lose it overnight. That sounds unfathomable right? It’s certainly not and if you do a little bit of research you can soon find people who have been cut off, totally buried and finished. Here’s a few starters for you;

- Wobble Premium

- WhatsApp (these guys haven’t been busted but Apple have ripped them off with iMessage)

- Airfoil Speakers

When you think about the mobile revolution with that perspective I think it changes your mindset. It certainly changed mine. I now understand that the products I create need to be a stepping stone to where my company and I need to get to if we want to generate real value. I have started with software because the barrier to entry is much lower than penetrating a hardware industry and it has less logistical challenges. The software we are creating now will bring in a user base whom we can look after, remain loyal to and engage with on a frequent basis. If we do that, and they grow to love our products, when we make the switch to take more control of the distribution of our products, or move them to other emerging platforms, we will be in a much better position to do so.

Africa and China all spring to mind when someone mentions the future of mobile & tablet. These areas have been largely untouched by technology when you look at the general population. Surely there is room for a less expensive open mobile platform to operate freely in these territories? If someone can attempt that – the rewards would be huge. That’s not just an incredibly difficult business challenge but an incredibly dangerous one and a huge change in lifestyle.

I know off the back of this post, many of you will say go and develop on HTML5 but you’ll have missed the point. HTML5 will never really succeed whilst there are hardware monopolies because these companies restrict what can and can’t be achieved through the web.

- Can you upload a zip file from your iPhone to the web without using an app? No.
- Can you access the camera directly from a HTML5 website? No.
- Can you download items from safari straight onto your device? No.

There are many more examples like this that you can find. If Apple and Google open up what can be achieved on the web via a mobile device they lose an element of control. The mobile web will start to cannabalise native apps and this will ultimately effect their bottom lines negatively.

I don’t really understand how a future of ‘closed’ platforms is sustainable or controllable and we are already seeing some big players attempt to make mobile a more open space. The difficulty here is we need a hardware manufacturer to innovate to the extent Steve Jobs did with the original iPhone. We need a bold start up or corporation to push the boundaries in order to create change.

If ever there was an opportunity to revolutionize mobile devices and how they interact with technology developed by others, there has probably never been a better time.

It’s a monumental challenge but one thing is for certain, we need more competition. Apple has innovated but it’s now becoming too much of a monopoly. The bigger they get, the more control they will demand.

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