Wednesday, April 04, 2012

War of the Platforms

How quickly we forget Microsoft (not that we should).... From an interview of Larry Page,
We are in an interesting place in tech where almost none of the big companies—Apple (AAPL), Facebook, (AMZN)—are working together. Why is that?

Big companies have always needed and cooperated in areas where it made sense. I don’t know that I believe there is some huge, strange change in that.

We were real interested in getting instant messaging to work across networks back in the day, and we worked really hard with AOL (AOL) to do that. You know, integration between Google Talk and AOL Instant Messaging. It ended up being a tremendous amount of technical effort. There were some user benefits generated by it, but I’m not sure it was ultimately worth the effort. I would say that my experience with these things is that they have been somewhat difficult.
As I interpret the first part of the answer, that's the important part: "We (Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google) don't see cooperation as being in our self-interest." The second part, about technical difficulties, is peripherally relevant - if you are trying to merge multiple platforms into a single interface you will encounter technical issues. But we're really talking VHS / Betamax here - the parties aren't interested in merging their platforms because they all want to win.

A number of years ago, Netscape created an Internet browser. After a sluggish start, Microsoft started listening to concerns that the browser might be the platform of the future, displacing or marginalizing the operating system, and used its massive market power to make Internet Explorer the dominant browser. Judging from their subsequent treatment of Explorer, they apparently then decided that they had killed the threat and went back to sleep.

Also, for pretty much as long as there has been an Internet, there have been efforts to bring the Internet to television. Microsoft was an early competitor for Internet TV, but between poor resolution, a poor interface and a difference in how people traditionally interact with their televisions as opposed to their computers, that didn't work out so well. Which isn't to say that Microsoft has given up - it is trying to turn the Xbox into an interface to television and movie programming.

There was a lot of hype a few months back about the possibility of an Apple television, with a lot of talk about interface. I would not be surprised if Apple is devoting considerable resources to researching television technology, how to improve displays, how to improve streaming, how to improve interface. But I'm increasingly skeptical that they are going to become so territorial about the television space that they attempt to enter the commoditized space of high definition televisions.

If television and movie producers were as eager to sign on to distribution through iTunes in the same manner as the music industry, perhaps there would be a greater opportunity for a premium-priced Apple branded television with an impeccable interface to their store, a brilliant screen, a wonderful interface, and packages of content that would allow owners to avoid subscribing to Cable (although they would have to get high speed Internet access somewhere). But the stars aren't aligning in that manner, so I expect Apple will continue to emphasize its products as an interface to Television. In friendly to not-so-friendly competition with Google, Microsoft and Netflix, with Amazon's recent Playstation deal suggesting that it, also, is entering the game.

Fundamentally, this appears to be a platform war. Microsoft is reportedly fashioning its next OS to integrate well with its relatively unsuccessful smartphone OS and its upcoming tablet OS. Amazon is happy to build its Kindle OS on Android, but strips out the parts of Android that most benefit Google. Google is pushing television integration and Google Play. Facebook is... I'm not sure, but as long as a huge percentage of social network traffic and gaming occurs through their platform, they're a possible contender. And all of them want you to buy entertainment products and software through their proprietary stores, taking a commission on the sale of each new song, TV show, movie or application you purchase.

The iPad has turned out to be an amazing platform. Although people talk about Facebook as a potential advertising company, it is only profitable by virtue of the commission it charges to third parties for the use of its platform. Microsoft understands that Windows for PC is eroding as a platform, and is hoping to reestablish itself through the Xbox and various Windows 8 products. Google is taking a gamble with Android as a platform, with Amazon demonstrating how a third party can take full advantage of its work in developing a fully featured, stable mobile operating system and swap in its own web store, but they'll keep pushing it as a platform and will probably try to come up with a revenue sharing model to keep other smartphone and tablet manufacturers from following Amazon's suit or switching to Windows.

And yes, those platform wars are going to creep into your living room. If you have a gaming system, Apple TV or iPad, arguably even a smart phone, they're already in your living room looking for opportunities to expand their reach. Huge numbers of TV viewers already have a second device running while they watch TV - how do you bring the two (or more) screens together? How do you make your smart device the default interface or control for the television and, from there, perhaps the default source for premium, purchased or rented video content? And as server-based games get more powerful, can even the promised exceptional graphics performance of the next generation of game stations continue to hold n advantage over app-based purchased, subscription or freemium gaming? Take your game from tablet to TV, back to tablet, to smartphone, to car, to friend's house, to friend's TV.... It's going to be interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up....eBay/PayPal is the only big one missing from the lot....


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