Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not all disruption efforts succeed

In a provocative posting, open source fanboy Matt Asay is predicting failure for Android among other high stakes gambles:

If you look at the history of computing, very few companies manage to resurrect falling fortunes to lead their respective markets. Does this mean that once down, a company should resign itself to being out?

Few companies or products challenge an incumbent, at least not on its own turf. Disruption is required to displace an incumbent, following Clayton Christensen's thinking in The Innovator's Dilemma.

All of which makes me doubt Google's efforts to beat Apple in smartphones, and suggests Nokia and Motorola aren't going to fare much better. They simply aren't disruptive enough.
Matt make an important general point that’s usually overlooked. The Christensen talisman is not a silver bullet: just claiming you’re gonna be disruptive doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. (In this case, he might be underestimating the impact of the bazaar Android Market model).

His other point:
Open source has also failed to offer a disruptive panacea. Motorola is betting big on the Google Android platform, but thus far has little to show for it.

Google, for its part, has attempted to disrupt Apple's iPhone in its apparent area of weakness: its closed nature. Google open-sourced the Android platform and invited the world of third-party developers to flock to it.

They never came.

As Slate's Farhoo Manjoo writes, "Even though it's far friendlier to developers, Android has failed to attract anywhere near the number of apps now clogging the iPhone." Android may be open, but it's not cool, and "cool" is where customers and, hence, developers are.

Which leaves me with my original question: if a vendor finds itself playing catch up, should it even bother running the race? In response I'd suggest that unless a vendor is willing to commit significant resources to a disruptive strategy, it might as well give up.
As I’ve said repeatedly, if you’re desperate enough to be open, you must be far behind. (Netscape creating Mozilla, Sun vs. Apollo, Sony switching to ePub). So sometimes, the amount of money you make from sharing the follower crumbs makes it worthwhile.

Note to Matt: If you’re gonna refer to “pundits like Joel West” (that’s Professor Pundit to you!) then I can call you a fanboy.


Matt Asay said...

Hey! I meant it as a compliment. Pundit either means a Hindu scholar or an expert. Fanboy, well, there are no good connotations for that one. :-)

Joel West said...

The ironic thing is that I should be accused of being a Mac fanboy -- since that's all I've owned for the past 25 years.

However, a year ago I got reamed by the real fanboys about daring to say that Nokia doesn't get the credit that it's due.

Their view was that once Apple gets ahead, no one can ever catch it. Maybe they're too young to remember the grim lost years of 1994-1997.