Cozi is expanding its family software to the mobile domain. We have a Cozi iPhone application, and are obviously looking at Android as well. The problem is what to do about Blackberry, Palm webOS, and perhaps Windows Phone 7. As an entrepreneur with friends at two of those companies, I wish good luck to those OSes in third place and beyond. As a designer of family software, I have a goal to address the needs of my users, and support whatever phone they find meets their needs. And as an executive at a company that makes mobile phone applications, I wish those OSes in third place and beyond would please die—and soon, if they wouldn’t mind.
Dear Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, Palm webOS: Could you all go away? Please?
As an ISV working on top of a platform, I want exactly two platform providers. Not one, not three, or four, or ten. Two. If there’s only one platform provider, the provider inevitably becomes arrogant and insensitive to the needs of the ISVs that keep it alive. Not three, or four, or more—those platforms can never get enough market share to make it worth your while. All they will do is produce enough users to make your life miserable with endless requests for when you’ll get around to supporting the OS they prefer, with its 3% market share. The only good case with the smaller players is if they can become commoditized, ideally in combination with the first or (more likely) second place platform, in which case their existence makes no difference to the ISV.
An ISV wants exactly two platform providers in any given space. The first one can be the successful one, with something like 70% market share. The second one can be the underdog, with 25% market share. From the ISV’s perspective, the underdog’s job is to keep the top dog honest, while maintaining sufficient market share to justify the ISV’s investment developing for that platform. Without the latter justification, the ISV can’t justify the investment, which means the underdog eventually loses compelling apps, and loses market share until they can no longer play a meaningful role as underdog. The remaining 5% of the market should be splintered among tiny players. None of them should have sufficient market share to create a compelling business case to the ISV, so the ISV can focus on the two players that really matter.
This effect has been demonstrated over and over again.
- In the golden age of personal computer OSes, the Mac had just enough market share to be worth developing for, which kept Microsoft honest. When the Mac nearly became irrelevant, Microsoft slowed its pace of innovation, and took forever to release Vista. Without OS/X nipping at its heels, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Microsoft would have gone on to produce a nice Windows 7. Thankfully, a personal computer OS is now largely a commodity whose greatest purpose is to run a web browser, and web-based ISVs can often ignore the space entirely.
- In the gaming console space, game ISVs resent Nintendo’s steadfast refusal to die. Microsoft and Sony can keep each other honest on their own. So, from a game developer’s perspective, Nintendo’s existence doesn’t improve their life, it only complicates it.
- When Microsoft maneuvered IE into a position of browser dominance, ISVs had no choice but to optimize for IE, giving Microsoft so much market power that they could ignore the call to adopt standards. When Mozilla, Chrome, and Safari eventually became clawed their way to being good enough and threatening enough, Microsoft finally had to get serious again about making IE good. In this particular case, web standardization has commoditized the smaller players, so as an ISV, I really don’t care whether Mozilla and WebKit both stick around. All that matters is that, collectively, they can force Microsoft to improve.
Now, the mobile OS space is increasingly dominated by iOS and Android. To an ISV, that’s fantastic news! The fewer players, the less work the mobile ISV has to do to reach more users. I’m really hoping Android manages to create a meaningful application marketplace and sustain fast growth. When iPhone was the sole high-end mobile OS of interest, they could afford to subjugate ISVs with completely mysterious and arbitrary rules for who could be in the App Store. With Android on the rise, Apple has been finally forced to open up a bit.
The mobile ISV wants to see that tussle between Apple and Android. But what would really make me happy would be to see those other guys get a lot weaker. The other mobile OS providers don’t weigh enough on their own, and hence can only serve to make the ISV’s life harder. Hey, you guys can all share that last 5%!