Thursday, December 13, 2012

Open platforms enable open competition

The Twitterverse last night was agog with the breathtaking news that Google Maps would be returning to the iPhone any minute now. Sure enough, the app was released at the end of the business day and an iPad version is due Real Soon Now.

This brings some closure to the whole painful episode for Apple. Apple's execution, QC and timing were badly flawed but the strategy was basically sound. Meanwhile, Google gets a badly needed PR win and causes the million of iPhone and iPad owners to trust Apple just a little less.

The whole episode shows an essential attribute of open platforms: enabling intra-platform competition. Openness has many dimensions [link] and degrees: normally pundits focus on whether the core code is available to rival companies (Android vs. iPhone) or the IP is free (Linux vs. Windows), and occasionally whether the platform control is shared, permeable and transparent (Linux vs. Android).

As I noted in my 2007 book chapter on openness, nearly all platforms are open to third party applications: they're essential to the value of most (but not all platforms). There are exceptions, as when Microsoft used selective access to technical information (as well as superior execution) to help Word and Excel crush WordPerfect and 1-2-3.

In practice today, openness for third party applications is rarely a technical or contractual, merely one of business models. Healthy, open platforms give customers access to the widest range of choices, as when Google’s Chrome browser allows users a choice of search engines.

Competition is what gives customers efficiency and choice. It's as essential in platforms as in politics. Even government competition is healthy for society — as is sometimes found within the US, German or Canadian federal systems — at least until such time as all regulators become omniscient, infallible, incorruptible and selfless.

While iPhone users will no longer get lost, Apple still needs to release its own updated Map application. Apple’s app may never be as good as Google’s, but the availability of its own map but it will keep Google honest. Already it seems to have worked, with the new Google app providing the features that Google once held exclusively to Android to provide its own platform an advantage.

As long as Google controls a rival platform and can use its apps for differentiation, Apple still needs to develop its own map application. Meanwhile, giving its users the choice of two (actually three) serious map applications supports a key aspect of the iPhone/iPad value proposition: having the widest variety of third party software.

1 comment:

Kenneth M. Kambara said...

"While iPhone users will no longer get lost, Apple still needs to release its own updated Map application."

Why? I vote for distinctive competencies.