The Post-PC era will be a multi-platform era

Windows Phone Marketplace has reached 25,000 apps. That’s an impressive figure given that so few devices have actually been sold. Compared with Android which is activating half a million devices per day, Windows Phone seems like a rounding error. According to Gartner, 3.6 million smartphones using a Microsoft mobile OS were sold in the first quarter of 2011, of which 1.6 million were Windows Phone 7. That implies a daily activation rate of 17,500 per day or one WP device for every 28 Android devices.

And yet the number of apps on Windows Phone is more than 10% of the number of Android apps and Android Apps are about half of iPhone apps. As far as Windows Phone is concerned, apps are being added faster than users. Why is this?

If we take the point of view that mobile platforms behave like the computing platforms of years gone by (i.e. Windows vs. Mac) then this is inexplicable. Developers should not be bothering with a distant third. This would be like betting on the Amiga in the era of Windows.

But we’re not in the PC era any more. That era had very high software development costs. It had very difficult software distribution channels (retail box sales typically) and very few categories of software with high price points. It was also dominated by institutional buyers which did not give quarter to small vendors. It was also a time when there were orders of magnitude fewer users and even fewer buyers.

The post-PC era is characterized by an explosion of ideas and application of new talent to software. It’s an era of immediate gratification and painless, one click distribution. App production is a cottage industry not something entrusted to only a few experts or those who can raise venture capital. It allows the small to distribute widely and get a shot at stardom. It has been (thankfully) avoided by enterprise buyers. The result is an explosion of apps: well over half a million new apps have been built in three years on three platforms that did not exist three years ago.

So the very reasons which are driving developers to spread their bets across all and any new platforms should indicate the potential for new platforms and the sustainability of small platforms. The thesis that one dominant platform wins the mobile “war” is naive. The post-PC era will be a multi-platform era. Developers already understand this. Platform vendors know this. It’s time to unlearn the lessons of the PC era.

  • Totally agree with all of that. What I can't figure out is while the removal of old world sales and distribution channels not only permits small developers to enter markets more easily, how far they can go before their operational scale or, rather, lack of it re-emerges as an growth inhibitor farther down the line.

    Wondering if this era is more transitional (5-10 years) and will ultimately settle around the same market dynamics of two or three dominant players in any space.

    • Yowsers

      It may be based on the class of application or the class of the intended customer. When the small shops and rogue developers build apps approaching the complexity and size of large apps and enterprise-class applications/systems, they will hit a barrier where they need the old-style infrastructure for sales, deployment and support.

      I have been impressed how the small shops — with these new OS/APIs and 1-click app store models — are beginning to encroach into the space occupied by the larger apps. It's still very much early days still, but look at all the image and photo apps that are just beginning to challenge Photoshop. Adobe is responding, of course, but you can see the beginnings of a development trajectory where the bloated, last-gen UI Photoshop beast will be increasingly undercut by these apps.

    • Actually I wonder if the small firms making small, inexpensive apps will be around long enough to support the ongoing development of the apps. With many small, inexpensive apps in competition it's hard to divine which the market will favor. I love cheap plentiful apps but I wonder if they'll be available in 5-10 years. Are we now looking at a future of constant app turnover with little compatibility from generation of apps to the next?

      If we're looking at a multiplatform era then open file standards will be imperative if our data is to be portable between platforms and between competing apps.

  • 21tiger

    It's funny, this is a continuation of a trend, ever since the web went mainstream. As a Mac user, I've noticed being on the Mac was not a problem, because the Indie Mac community is so great. You can find all this stuff on the Web.

    The argument used to be, you HAD to be on Windows because they have all the apps. Now, look at the app marketplace across devices… everyone is porting to Android iOS, and WP7… it's not hard.. these guys all use similar code, and write similar apps. Because of this, we don't NEED a monopoly like Windows.

    • This is a really good point: The World Wide Web is a platform. So obvious it hardly needs stating, yet also so obvious it's easy to forget. Applications for Mac were getting increasingly hard to find at retail locations, until there was a virtual explosion of small publishers and indie developers selling their wares online. And it bears mentioning, good quality applications.

      However, I don't think that devices that use the web as their SOLE platform (ex: Chrome OS) are ever going to be more than niche products. There will always be a large percentage of usage when one cannot connect or does not want to connect.

      But the fact that the WWW is a major platform that all device platforms must share will make it difficult for any one platform to dominate. This is also why (I think) that platform vendors are trying to differentiate from iOS on the basis of Flash and contending that Flash is a very basic component of the WWW. Flash is superfluous to the modern web and its use hurts mobile device performance. Inertia is the main force keeping it alive at the moment. I don't want to say that Adobe will never cure Flash of its ills, but I suspect we're looking at a Duke Nukem timeline.

      Anyway, that's a tangent. Sorry. Back to your point: The WWW is too big and too important to be called a secondary platform or an auxiliary platform, because without it, a mobile platform just can't compete. Yet it's not enough on its own. It's both a platform and an app (literally, the browser) running under the host OS. In this sense, the WWW is a commodity platform and is one component of a device's overall ecosystem that is already leading to commoditization.

    • Walt French

      This is generally true. But yesterday I got my notice from Intuit, informing me that the accounting package we've used and upgraded for a decade will no longer run under OSX 10.7. They recommend a downgrade “Lite” package or switching to Windows. Seems that 6 years since Apple announced the move to Intel was not enough time to port their flagship product; they've been relying on the emulator.

      So there are still key app areas where Mac Marginalization is real. This is a wake-up call for the fact that I've been relying on them for taxes, too: any company that can't keep its industry-leading program supported may just abandon you when it's least convenient for you.

      • sve

        Intuit dropping MacOS is no big deal. That entire class of applications is transitioning to a SAAS online-only model. The advantages to users is too great compared to their shrink wrapped versions.

  • Leon

    Does anyone have any data to indicate the cost to port app assets between different platforms? Some of the 25k may be simply explained by developers seeking to maximize revenues if the cost of porting to WP yields a positive return. For some it could be some "handy cash" to help with cash flow.

    There is also a thesis that new Smartphone consumers have a high probability to remain loyal to the platform of joining – with 1/3 of US users now smartphone users (see link below) we start to see the Late Majority join and i wonder what are their brand loyalty traits? For app developers establishing early title/brand recognition with WP adopters may be considered important for securing future purchases.

    • unhinged

      I think it is highly likely that Microsoft is funding a large proportion of the app development for WP7, so the cost of porting is probably a lot lower than under normal market conditions. How long will this continue? No clue!

  • "The thesis that one dominant platform wins… is naive" simply because we're no longer talking about the thin strata of society that use computers, but truly everyone across the board (mobile adoption eclipses pc adoption). And when addressing this market, the deciding factors are not the same: one platform doesn't "win" by enterprise penetration (as it did in the PC era) but based on providing the most seamless experience for the customer to access their "content" (by content, I mean movies, music & apps).

    It won't matter if you're using WP7 or iOS to sort your contacts and purchase new apps and download movies, as long as once you've done that you can stream that same movie to your tv set in as few taps as possible.

    To that end, Apple is way ahead of the game with their "ecosystem" offering (DRM-free music, streaming audio/video via AirPlay), but it doesn't mean new players can't join. Windows Phone 7 with AirPlay integration?

    The only thing keeping the OS from becoming heavily commoditized is the App ecosystem. Cross platform development counteracts this somewhat, but given Rovio's recent experiences porting Angry Birds from iOS where they had massive success to Android, it is still a non-trivial challenge.

    For now, the platform with the best access to content will stay in the lead.

    • FalKirk

      "Apple is way ahead of the game with their "ecosystem" offering"-richardas

      Exactly. No one is going to dominate Apps the way Windows dominated Applications. If Apps were the be all and end all, then Android – which had virtually no Apps while iOS had 100,000 – could never have grown into the beast it is today. Apple's new moat, their new lock-in is horizontal integration. Via iCloud, Apple will use the Network effect to make every Apple device one owns more valuable the more Apple devices one owns! And Apple's model cannot be easily copied because it requires that you have multiple hardware options (MP3, Phone, Tablet, Notebook/Desktop) and the massive physical and software infrastructure to support it. No one is in position to day to compete with Apple on this front.

      Apple has done a great job in winning the vertical integration battle (Hardware/software integration, iTunes, App Store, Mac App Store, Retail Stores. ) But now Apple has moved on to the next battlefield, horizontal integration. And as of now, they are unopposed.

  • Shawn

    With so many apps for a comparably smaller number of devices, how much money are WP7 apps making?

  • LM, Aust

    I'd suggest that WP's app ratio has to do with the quality of the Visual Studio development toolkits, being best of breed, and its prevalence amongst Windows developers, i.e. they stick to what they know.

    • ScottyRad

      It might also have to do with the fact that Microsoft has been paying developers to write apps for WP7 as Microsoft has fully realized the importance of the entire ecosystem and not just the OS.

      • Guest

        Google have done the same, this was mentioned in articles but people only parrot anti-MS stuff.

    • I agree that has to be a factor. Attending Mix11 helped me see clearly that my PC Visual Studio dev skills will very easily translate to WP7. I'll be getting a WP7 phone later this year and then off we go…

  • Tom F

    Don't underestimate the effort/money that Microsoft has invested in bringing apps to Windows Phone 7. I know enough developers who got money from Microsoft to port their apps to this platform.

  • Will

    Great post Horace. Perhaps with this in mind people can stop proclaiming the "death" of one mobile platform or another.

    • sadly, people will always be proclaiming the death of whatever platform is still in the race (including iOS because it's not open and android because it is). i think that we can talk about corporate abandonment—symbian and blackberry OS (not QNX) are end of life, not dead. meego may be stillborn because it doesn't have an ecosystem, but being open source will attract some homebrewers, even if just a rounding error, in parts of europe ('cause it's not launching the the US). blackberry is still a surprisingly profitable company that will probably be a year and a half too late with QNX, but cannot be counted out yet—we'll see how they fare after a year of iMessage. webOS may end up being like mac OS X, especially with their massive corporate backing.

      anyway, if you take 5% of a billion people, it's still 50 million. we can have diverse ecosystems (if not diverse platforms) at those numbers.

  • simon

    That is a-ok. Microsoft will kepp making money out of…Android.

    Microsoft wants Samsung to pay smartphone license:

  • Pingback: Microsoft ist eine Android-Firma | Sebbis Blog()

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    Developer tools and languages and associated technologies are also really important.

    Most of these Windows Phone 7 apps were made before the sales figures came in on Windows Phone 7. Many were made before the platform launched. They are essentially acts of faith by the large number of users of Microsoft's development tools and technologies. The incredibly poor sales performance of Windows Phone 7 and correspondingly low installed base will affect next year's crop of Windows Phone 7 apps. And when you consider how many Microsoft developers there are, and how many apps there are in App Store for them to copy, then 25,000 is not that big a number.

    Apple also leveraged an existing developer user base, with iOS using the same Xcode tools as Mac OS development. But with Apple, they quickly expanded their developer program to where the new developers outnumber the old. That is unlikely to happen with Windows Phone 7.

    Android suffers because of Java. Plain and simple. All the apps users want are written in C. You can't rewrite something like Keynote in Java and sell it on Android and make your money back. It takes forever to rewrite it and costs you 1000 times more than to port to iPhone, and you make 1000 times less money. iOS made it so easy to port desktop class C apps to a mobile that you could do it really cheaply, then they make it so easy to make money that you can easily do a profitable release.

    We also should recognize that there are small apps and big apps. Apple has all the big apps because they put in a desktop class API. The other platforms all have small apps: Twitter, Facebook, tip calculator, fart machine; but they don't have Keynote, StudioTrack, iMovie, and all these 3D games (almost all written in C++). iOS is the only mobile that has a MIDI subsystem, which even works over Wi-Fi. iOS is the only mobile with color management. So there are many, many, many iOS apps that simply can't be ported to another platform. The other platforms just don't have the API or language support.

    • David

      The problem really isn't the language, in this sense, but the API. Back in the day, OS/2 and Windows apps were both done in C. But the APIs were radically different. The windowing systems were different. Therefore, the porting costs were high.

      I submit that Android "suffers" not because of Java, but because the APIs are radically different. If, for example, Google wrote a java API analogous to the Java/Cocoa support that OS X had, assuming the API was similar to Objective C, the language would be no obstacle.

      In development, the language is the easy part. Learning the API, understanding the libraries, that's the hard part.

    • poke

      You can write C++ apps on Android. Porting games between iOS and Android is relatively easy since you have native support and OpenGL ES on both.

      iOS has a relatively high barrier to entry. You need to develop on the Mac, in Xcode, and use Objective C. For many developers none of these are familiar. (I wouldn't underestimate how much work adopting Objective C is for the average C developer even if they have experience with other OO languages.) The only desktop apps it'd be relatively easy to port are OS X apps and they're not exactly ubiquitous.

      WP7 probably has the advantage here since there are so many Windows developers. That's probably why we're seeing so many apps on WP7. There's just a lot of people who already know the development environment. This might also explain the low quality of Android apps, since there a lot of developers already using Java, but it's very rarely used outside the enterprise. I doubt many Java developers have experience writing apps for consumers. So if there's been a rush of Java developers to Android, it's a rush of people with no experience in usability.

    • Doug

      I thought iOS apps are developed in Xcode IDE in Objective-C? Also, I thought Java, C++, Objective-C, SmallTalk and C# is derived from C?

    • yep, developer tools are important. but the stuff you wrote afterward, doesn't really make all that much sense:

      25,000 is a big number, it doesn't matter what your base of developers is. and it is accelerating. and mango has yet to be released (so if developers put time and effort into WP7, why would they abandon it the moment it reaches feature parity).

      android can use C, especially for 3D games. java is not really the problem. the subpar developer tools are. the iOS SDK is much more mature. but if developers were sufficiently motivated, they could do more than can be done in iOS (private APIs, root privileges) but it's unlikely because the iOS does a ton of heavy lifting. the larger problem with say 3D games is that the hardware targets are all over the map and testing every device is not feasible by most so strange bugs arise in some handsets.

      and the final, most egregious error in the above: iOS has big apps like keynote and iMovie because they put in a desktop class API. what!? actually, it's specifically and unabashedly a very good set of APIs designed for mobile touchscreen devices, it's called CocoaTouch.

    • Speaking as someone who's been writing code on Android since before Android 1.0 (I started with the 0.5 preview SDK IIRC), the UI toolkit in Android is really hard to get good results with. It's a very traditional design, which is fine, but the layout managers are very poorly designed.

      IB has a much simpler layout model, and that works because you're designing for a consistent display size/aspect ratio (and consistent information density). Android supports more diverse hardware, but the toolkit really doesn't make this easy — the basic layout managers (absolute, relative, etc) are pretty much the same as the ones Motif had 20 years ago…

      I haven't played with the WP7 SDK, but what I've seen looks like they have some nicely polished "screen archetypes" which the application developer parameterizes. This makes it much easier to get something that looks and feels like the rest of the platform on the screen, and means you can focus on going the extra mile for the stuff that really counts. Android has a few consistent archetypal screens (like list screen), but every Google app looks and works different (Maps has a unique toolbar design, Market is entirely unique, GMail's message view appears to be entirely HTML and not done with the Android UI toolkit, etc).

      Finally, there's nothing wrong with Java, it's just a language and it's far easier to debug than Obj-C.

    • Joe

      How do you spout asinine numbers like 1000x more cost to port? Please point us to the study that says anything close to that?

  • Omar grant

    Wait until iCloud kicks in, then Apple will again have an uncategorized lead on it’s competitors, all the while they shuffle to assemble a half hearted cloud solution that will not even compare to Apple’s solution.

    • Honestly, I think the biggest beneficiary of iCloud is not going to be the iPhone, but the Mac. iCloud's goal is to glue each of Apple's device categories together. Basically a stickier fly trap. I think non-tech people still don't understand what it is.

      • FalKirk

        The beauty of iCloud is that non-tech people don't have to understand what it is.

      • haha… I wish I was as poetic as you.

      • Eric D.

        iCloud will work with a PC as well as a Mac. But obviously the Mac will integrate better with iOs devices.

    • poke

      The iCloud API has been really overlooked but I think it's the most important component. Apple is giving iOS developers the ability to add cloud services to their apps without any overhead. Developers no longer have to worry about having their own servers. There's lots of room for Apple to expand too. Anything a developer would have to set up a server to handle now, Apple can eventually do on its data centres and provide an API. This could be the main attraction of the platform for developers. Of course, Google is well positioned to match anything Apple does in this space.

      • @poke. It's not that iCloud isn't a big deal. I call it the 'Mother of All Halos'. It's the first "cloud" solution I've seen designed for devices that are not constantly connected to the internet. I can also guarantee you that Apple is not going to open up any more iCloud APIs unless they are confident it will sell more Apple hardware. For someone like me who is completely Mac'd out, it's a godsend, but I'm a very small portion of the market.

        The thing is, I think that the value for developers is going to slowly move away from apps and into the network. Apple's value proposition is that if you want to link between Apple devices, we will happily subsidize your server costs. But if you want to link to another company's device, then you are on your own.

        I may be wrong and I'd like to hear other points of view.

      • poke

        Well, besides syncing between devices, iCloud does back-up for all app settings and documents and allows syncing between apps created by the same developer. So there's already stuff there that goes beyond just syncing devices. Not to mention Apple's existing messaging APIs for notifications, badges, etc, in-app purchasing and subscription and Game Center are essentially cloud services supplied to developers. You can create a highly connected app on iOS without needing a server. I don't think Apple is going to host push content for developers or support multiplayer games on their data centres, but there's a lot of other stuff they could do here to add value to developers and customers.

      • The real power of iCloud is not the synching of preferences, or the re-downloading of files, or "storing things remotely", which is what most of the attention has been focused on so far.

        iCloud is a replacement for the filesystem as we knew it. The way it works is to replace the "save" action on documents with constant version snapshots that are stored remotely, with automatic conflict resolution.

        An app that utilizes the iCloud API's no longer has to worry about saving a "document" in the traditional sense, that gets moved around as a solid binary. You instantiate your data collection via iCloud and then let it manage your data. That's from the app perspective.

        From the user perspective, you'll pick up an iPad start writing a document (or composing a song, or painting a picture), tap the sleep button, walk over to your Mac, open up the same document, make some more changes, step-undo (through the edits made while on the other device), and then walk out the door and pull up the same document (in the same state) on your iPhone. You will never press "save", you will never transfer a "file". Your work will be with you on whatever screen you choose to use.

        That's the vision.

      • Thanks for your input Richard.

        Let's say a user owns no Apple products and they are about to buy their first smartphone. They have no intention of every buying an iPad or a Mac.

        How does iCloud differentiate the iPhone from an Android phone?

      • Re: How does iCloud differentiate iPhone from Android

        iCloud by definition really comes into its own when considering multiple devices, because it addresses the "seamless" flow of data between them. I don't see iCloud as a big differentiator for users who only have a single device, since both platforms support the remote storage/saving of data and preferences (Android via google, and iOS via iCloud).

        For the single-device user, other factors would be the bigger differentiators in the near-term.

        I do think that the eco-system offering as a whole that Apple offers is very compelling for customers coming to the platform for the first time. Knowing that, if you wanted to buy a device in the future, it would allow you to stream all your music, video and photo content to your big screen tv (without needing to buy a new tv) is a compelling proposition. Or, if you wanted to buy a tablet at some point in the future, all these apps will continue to work just fine… at this point iCloud becomes relevant.

      • ScottyRad

        I think that for a person who is purchasing their first smartphone and has no other Apple products, iCloud is more about bringing the iPhone/iOS device the same features that an Android Device might have.

        With that said, I believe there are some things that iCloud offers that Andriod doesn't (or doesn't as smoothly): being a backup for purchased media (esp since Andriod doesn't have an answer to iTunes), syncing photos automatically with your computer (Mac or PC), and allowing for over the air updates (which I believe Andriod does, but at the carier's behest, not Google's).

        Ultimately though I agree with Richard, this is more about networking affects of multiple devices, encouraging people to buy multiple iOS devices, and to stay within Apple's Ecosystem once they're in.

      • OpenMind

        iCloud will be the equivalent of Microsoft Office. Microsoft Windows may fade away, but Office will stay on forever. Likely, iDevice may fade, but iCloud will stay on forever. Lookout, other platform vendors.

    • FalKirk

      "Wait until iCloud kicks in…"-Omar Grant

      Couldn't agree more. iCloud is the new Network effect in action. With every new Apple device you buy you enhances the value of all the other Apple devices that you own (including your Apple TV and, by proxy, your large screen TV). And once you have the ability to share and sync your contacts, calendar, email, applications, books, backups, documents, photos and music across all of your Apple devices, you are never, ever going to want to leave that ecosystem – and your content – again.

  • CndnRschr

    The hierarchy of platforms will be reflected in app time-to-platform (i.e. which platform releases a particular app first, second…). Cross platform apps will reduce this delay but this is why Apple has tried to discourage such tools (especially lowest common denominator tools). I can see each of the vendors promoting (and incentivizing) apps that are designed to specific features of a platform to exemplify the unique capabilities of the OS and hardware. Apple (and MS) also has more control over apps and so can ensure future-proofing such that new OS capabilities and hardware (e.g. displays) don't totally screw up the apps. This all adds up to a better and more consistent experience as well as encourages users to run the latest OS version (which encourages developers to build apps for that OS, etc). A virtuous cycle.

  • Eric D.

    Before iPhones, manufacturers used physical design to differentiate themselves. This mentality still dominates the thinking of some analysts, who believe Apple should put out more than one design a year, to keep up with the Samsungs.

    But Apple has reduced the physical phone to a tabula rasa, the better to exploit the burgeoning app renaissance. This is where the differentiation is happening now. The phone is a vessel for every magical idea that developers can deliver. And the magic keeps coming, day in, day out.

  • Developers should be frothing at the mouth. There is going to be so much value in being able to integrate your app across different platforms. Excuse me while I wipe my mouth.

  • sve

    Interesting article, but it does not jive with what I'm hearing at developers meetings around the Bay Area. They are saying that for getting paid for your apps that iOS is the best choice. Android users expect everything for free and so this market is at least 10 times less lucrative. And WP7 is sometimes done because the dev tools are so good and make it very easy. I have heard that people experimented with releasing on WP but are not seeing the revenue and so will probably wait and see for the future. RIM is a no show. So to summarize, this multiplatform future Horace predicts is not being seen by today's developers. If you want to make money, there is currently just one choice.

    • My pet theory is that Android only exists because the early rise of iOS has revolved mainly around software. As the Apple ecosystem grows beyond just the software, it becomes more and more difficult to simply "replicate" without the deliberate support of the rest of the ecosystem, which simply put, no one else has.

      If you think about it, any old consumer electronics company could have come along in 2007 and put together OEM parts and built an iPhone *if* they had the software expertise. One did, and it was Apple.

      In 2011 it's not so easy to come along and replicate iPhone, iPad, iTunes Store, App Store, iCloud and the vertically integrated design, no matter your software chops. For starters, Apple is writing features for proprietary hardware now (their A4 and A5 CPUs). Because today the experience is waaaaay more than just the software. Ask anyone who has held a phone made of plastic.

      Software is the "glue" that holds it all together, but you can't build a platform out of just the glue.

    • sgns

      I agree with both sve and Horace. From my limited knowledge, it seems Apple continues the trend from the Mac to take the high-end customers, and Android gets the more commoditization-inclined smart phones. At the moment, HP, Nokia/MS and BB will fight and maybe succeed to create their own niches, but yes, developer-wise iOS rules.

      In the immediate future, depending on how the importance and structure of app markets pan out, iOS will likely stay well at the top, but to the degree that big corps and others interested in reaching everybody, development for cross-platform apps on Android and some other platform's will be paid for too. That's obviously not automatically the same as independently profitable app-development.

      It's exciting to me that software development could be allowed to bloom as an art of decisive importance.

      • unhinged

        Software has always been of decisive importance. Why did Windows flourish? Because "everyone" was able to make money by developing for it. Why is iOS flourishing? Because "everyone" is able to make money developing for it.

  • I agree with Horace.

    In the short-term, however, Apple will dominate with tablets, phones and computers; who knows what the long-term would look like.

    In the medium-term, there will be several platforms in the mix, with equally, or almost equally, compelling ecosystems. I would think that individuals will be tethered to different systems, be it Apple, HP, or Android.

    The key at that point in time would be avaiability of cross-platform apps, so if you have an iDevice, you could communicate with the person using, say, the WebOS. There could also be a possibility of one person owning multiple devices with different OSes, and s/he would like to be able to integrate them all.

  • Have to agree that the notion of there being some kind of 'smartphone bloodbath' – a war for supremacy – is somewhat excitable, perhaps even immature.

    I am convinced that Microsoft will become a force to be reckoned with; normal everyday customers *like* WP7 just as much as they *like* iOS and Android and for the vast majority of on-contract consumers the cellphone purchase decision is still delimited by device subsidy and in-store recommendation.

    • Robert

      The carriers all hate Skype. MS is now promoting Skype. wp7 won't be subsidized, will not be recommended by any carriers. MS is depending on Nokia, which is now a case study for platform destruction. Good luck to you all.

  • This is spot on. In fact, we need to take this a step further because just about every aspect of the mobile, post-pc world is complex.

    • Market share – (There are at least 10 market shares at play, including profits)
    • Free-for-all vs. curated
    • Interacting elements – (operators, brick&mortar stores, ecosystems, advertising, and many more!)
    • Development tools – (hodgepodge, web-based, multi-platform, Apple/MSFT sophisticated tools)
    • Company market position – (cash, market cap, growth rate, international markets)
    • Apples and oranges comparisons (handset manufacturing vs. platforms used by a given vendor)
    • Quoting "concrete" info that isn't that meaningful (500K apps vs. 200K, etc)
    • Ability/Inability to deal with human and emotional aspects of the marketplace

    Far too many tech articles are still quoting (or should I say parroting) single market share numbers which is not really representative of much anymore. And while Horace can come up with "composite market share" representations to make things easier to discuss, there are still other areas which aren't so easy to discuss, such way to normalize comparisons of dissimilar things, such as the number of handsets Samsung has sold vs the number of handsets the Apple has sold, and whether to include iPod Touches and iPads when you're comparing platforms.

    Mobile is messy!

    To be successful in the marketplace, the trick is to take that mess and do the best you can to "optimize" the complex interacting components to your benefit since there's just no simple silver-bullet answer either.

    But to be successful in discussing it, it's not practical to apply better writing and discussion conventions to improve the way complex things are discussed. That would be like herding cats in congress, especially with pageviews being the lifeline of tech sites. Sensationalism rules. Binary comparisons pervade (win, lose, killer, death, open, closed, etc) Discussing complex things, and "Information Interface" is my specialty, but my daily experience reading in the tech space is more like fingernails on a chalkboard. 🙂 (I think that's true of all fans.)

    Thankfully there are oases like!

    • Mark, it's perhaps pertinent to point out that mobile is not interchangeable with post-pc. A key issue I think that many of the "mobile" players are missing out on is the rest of the landscape. What happens once I've obtained some content for my 'Mobile Device'. Where else can I view it? What else can I do with it?

      I think the "winner" of the post-pc era will be whoever addresses the entire ecosystem of the user, not just what device they put in their pocket.

      Components might be solution to this. A Windows Phone streaming video to a Samsung TV, and an Amazon Kindle for book reading. Maybe. I don't think the majority of consumers will have the patience to figure out how to connect all that though. Meanwhile vendors have no incentive to work on interoperation for devices that are beyond their own market.

  • phil

    What about all the cross platform tools? Do we know how many apps are created from cross platform frameworks like Titanium, Rhomobile, and Flash?

    • LOL you said "Flash".

      As a Flash developer for over a decade, I can tell you Flash is over. By the time Adobe get it running on something that your average consumer will even want to buy, we'll all be wearing jetpacks and driving around in flying cars.

      • I was being a little sarcastic there, apologies if my tone was off.

        Flash is a technology built for a world in which resources are perpetually increasing. Performance is not an issue because tomorrow's computers will run at faster clock cycles and always have more memory.

        This was true for a while, and served Adobe well.

        However, with computing moving to mobile, performance has never been more important because efficiency translates into features for the user. Slower clock speeds, multiple cores. Less RAM, less storage. Do more with less. The more efficient you are, the longer your battery will last, the less your device will weigh, the thinner it can be.

        Adobe sat on the fat goose for years, waving their arms at "performance", now it's come to bite them on the butt because the technology they built on no longer fits in the modern, mobile world.

        Turning that ship around is hard work, and the Adobe machine is only built to sell copies of Creative Suite on a 12-18 month cycle.

  • I think you've hit it on the head, Horace. We've never seen so many different platforms be simultaneously competitive (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, WebOS, QNX, MeeGo, etc.). It's fair to say that even 4th and 5th place platforms have active development communities.

    This explosion of new platforms is not just a land-grab. In evo­lu­tion­ary terms, one might call it punc­tu­ated equi­lib­rium: the idea that envi­ron­men­tal changes can occur rel­a­tively quickly, caus­ing rapid, local­ized bursts of evo­lu­tion rather than a slow, grad­ual shift.

    We're seeing a rapid explosion in two different areas: software platforms and supporting hardware. The iPad became an instant success in part because it delivered a familiar iOS experience. But as we see Google push Android as a base OS for smart appliances, smart homes, smart cars, one wonders how these platforms will infiltrate new markets and drive new hardware innovations.

    • Ian Ollmann

      We had this level of diversity in the early PC days, when we had TI-99, Apple ][, Commodore 64, Atari 800, and IBM PC clones. The survivors were ultimately those who positioned their devices as general purpose machines and productivity workstations, rather than just game machines.

  • castor

    This speaks to the what Google had been driving towards from the very beginning with Android. Google's bread and butter relies on a relatively open Internet. If Android had not been an existence proof for a multi-platform non-apple smartphone, we might have been cruising towards a 90% iOS world, one where Apple could credibly start taking on search for itself.

    In a multi-platform world, we'll see more emphasis on rich HTML5 applications and a variety of revenue paths. These help ensure Google's long-term relevance.

    • I really don't believe Apple wants much more than 20% of any given market. Steve Jobs shows disdain for the masses, and that's not actually a bad idea: highly targeting a loyal demographic with high-end devices means big bang for the buck, and no need to please a widely diverse and fickle clientele. That's Windows (and now Android) territory.

      • I guarantee you that Apple wants more than 20% of every market they are in. They just are not willing to make a crappy product in order to do so.

      • And I'll bet you're wrong.

        Jobs knows that the majority is diffuse, diverse, chaotic. Going after the majority market means lower margins and harder work. Cultivating a well-heeled and highly-focused 15% to 20% is what Apple is good at. Trying to satisfy that other 80% is what leads to crappy products.

      • Texrat, I'd be interested to hear why you think that Apple is interested in capping their market at 20%?

        Do you think they pursued 20% marketshare with iPod? What about their strategy indicates to you that they strive for anything but growth?

      • I'll defer to @capnbob66 below. I spoke too simply.

      • capnbob66

        Apple will take precisely that share of a market that will drive 35-40% gross margins. That implies making products that create sufficient perceived value to justify those margins. Typically more expensive ones.

        That obviously varies by market with their varying market set price points etc.
        iPods had a low absolute price to consumers ($40-400) and Apple could serve the entire market with high margin products at the industry price points. Sure, there were $20 MP3 players but why save the cost of a round of drinks when iPod has such a significantly more compelling ecosystem (iTunes, Nike[plus], accessories etc.). [weirdly, ID won't let me use the plus symbol for NikePlus]

        In PCs the reality is that there is a very limited potential for high margin product at the lower price points that dominate the unit sales charts. One might see Apple's growth as tied to the "real" (inflation/PPP adjusted) cost. A $1000 MBA today is (recession impacted excluded) not the same proportion of personal income that it was 10 years ago. As Apple reduces its real price points and improves manufacturing scale it grows with the addressable market – those who want to spend >$1000 on a computer. When Apple can create a truly compelling product for $800 and make the required margins, it will. Look where the MBA went in 18 months – $1799 base to $999. Sales have skyrocketed.

        With Phones we have a potential evolving situation. It started out as the PC model – taking as much of the $200 subsidized/$600 unlocked market as it could but if the new rumored $300 unlocked iPhone lite materializes, then Apple will be facing a much larger addressable market (especially in all the pre-paid markets). Then Apple is looking at an addressable share ceiling of 60-75%, excluding only the cheapest smartphones or remaining dumbphone users. Other factors such as preference, features, distribution will impact the actual share but the point is, there is no magic about 20% – that number is the result of the addressable market at the relevant price points x the effectiveness of the Apple proposition.

      • Okay @capnbob66, well-reasoned and no argument. But I base what I said on interpretation of comments that Jobs himself has made. While he may not be directly targeting that number, and has not said so specifically as far as I've seen, he's alluded to his comfort there and discomfort trying to appeal to the masses. He seems perfectly willing to let others, like Microsoft, have the "rabble".

      • capnbob66

        I'm sure that Jobs has no love of the low end of the market but that doesn't translate into any hard numbers about desired share. I'm sure he loves the Shuffle since it is often a second iPod or a gateway iPod for kids etc. The current share barriers would seem to be 5% for PCs, 25% for phones, 75% for PMPs, 90%+ for Tablets. I'm sure Steve is OK with those but would be happy to see the first 2 double.
        I also think he/Apple likes the idea of elevating the lower end of the market to meet the Apple price points. People spending more than they otherwise would to buy a premium (Apple) product. I know several families with much lower incomes than your typical Apple store dilettantes that still save up for Apple equipment, for the experience (and maybe the cache).

        Thanks for the deferral above 🙂

      • asymco

        I think it's dangerous to make a statement about “disdain” for a market. Apple was the company that, under Steve's leadership, targeted computers to mass market consumers–a radical idea in 1976.

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  • At what point does it become redundant to congratulate you on the quality of your work? I am starting to worry that it is patronizing. I wouldn't write to The Economist after every issue… and I would view those guys as your peers, not really the tech blogs.

    But that said, excellent article this plus your previous and the 5by5 are really great. Less data intense, but very meaningful and I get the sense you will explore the themes raised in the coming weeks, with quantitative analysis?

    Congrats. Great stuff.

    • asymco

      Thanks. Appreciated. I sometimes fall behind in reading but I do read every comment.

  • Leo

    This is an interesting blog and comments. I agree with most of it, but it's worth noting that BlackBerry and WebOS
    are not exploding in numbers of apps. There must be some choices of what platforms to support, and that seems
    to be the three that have the most momentum or promise to persist. It seems that we won't return to the world where there are many platforms.

    This makes me wonder if there won't be some gestalt that attracts different people to different platforms. For instance, Microsofts approach is purposefully different than the one chosen by Apple. Apple's focus on apps, and messaging between them is very different from the PC/Mac idea as well. I am still (enjiying) getting used to the iPad approach of messaging files from one App to another. It makes me wonder if this is somehow related to the Objective C style of programing where messages are sent to objects. Anyways, mobile devices have lower cost-of-ownership and perhaps this is providing a new chance for software engineers and developers to try new styles of approaching 'computing' tasks. It will be interesting if this becomes a part of the 'who chooses what platform to own' question…

  • KenC

    I thought the PC market was the outlier? Didn't Microsoft distort the market by locking down OEMs with punitive licensing if they also offered alternate OSes? In a distortion free marketplace, there's no barrier to multiple platforms.

    I suppose the next question is, how many platforms can a marketplace support? I'm thinking 3 of the 20% or more share variety. We all assume that iOS and Android have booked their seats at the table, and with Nokia's weight behind WP7, presumably that OS can be the third. Does RIM's QNX have a chance when they are going to offer apps from other OSes in emulation? Who's going to build a native app? How about WebOS? Can HP spread WebOS across enough devices to make it a viable platform? Bada? If Gartner says 1.6M WP7 phones were sold in Q1, does that mean Bada is ahead of them with 3.5M shipped or sold? What do we know about Bada, is it all just in S Korea?

    • capnbob66

      Not sure there is any consensus on whether Nokia's adoption of WP7 will save them let alone the WP7 market. Several factors should be worrying to MS/Nokia fans:
      1) Their precipitous falls in sales and share (those people are not coming back any time soon)
      2) the non-adoption of WP7 (let's not pretend that Mango will save it – consumers have no idea what Mango is)
      3) the high switching costs of moving from Symbian to WP7 (why not switch vendors as well as platforms while you're at it)
      All these factors, to me, far outweigh the nice hardware designs and strong distribution that Nokia has in its favor. These new phones won't even have the perennial Nokia advantage of a strong accessory ecosystem – all the good vendors are making for iPhone now.

      I think it is unclear how this will shake out. The law of really big numbers (overall phone market) suggest that even low shares will have critical mass to make $s for developers (like with the Mac today. You could have a 100M installed base and still make decent money in apps and content (and even hardware). However, the collapse of Symbian and growing decline in RIM share suggests that there may be forces at work that won't allow a stable single-digit-share player to survive, no matter how theoretically profitable it could be. Lack of consumer confidence in a platform's longevity, domino effects, limited developer resources, etc. ???

  • I see a couple of other reasons for the large amount of Win7 apps compared to Android's.

    1) Microsoft (has) paid app developers to port their apps to Win7. I know several developers who were asked to do such a port.

    2) Android is such a diverse market with handsets with very different features, screen sizes, buttons and OS versions it is extremely expensive to test apps on all of them. Even big developers support only a handful of devices. Win7 with its small number of handsets at the moment is much easier to handle.

  • JamesW

    Doesn't this contradict the prior thesis that in the mobile world, once you start losing, you are unlikely to recover?

    ie. If #3 and #4 are "losers", how can they sustain their existence, even if apps are written for them?

    • asymco

      My observation was different: it was that there is no recovery for phone vendors once they reach a point of negative profits (losses.) It was not an observation of the behavior of platforms.The title, I believe, was “Does the phone market tolerate failure”.

  • Dear Horace, and the Asymco Community.

    What are your views on the arguments put forward by Tomi Ahonen on his blog Consumers Dominate Brands?

    To precis his views, expressed on a number of posts, he says that

    – Microsoft have angered the operators by acquiring Skype and saying they will integrate this into their products = direct attack on voice business
    – Nokia have angered the operators by producing dual SIM phones
    – Nokia already had a dire relationship with US carriers and the above has made it worse

    Ergo, the carriers will not subsidize, promote or even stock Nokia/Microsoft Windows Phone products and doom awaits. Thus The Third Platform must be something else: Bada, MeeGo, webOS…

    • asymco

      Operators are waiting for Microsoft to open its checkbook. Once the cash flows into “promotions” then they will humor the platform. Once the cash subsides, well, maybe they will shrug and say c'est la vie.

  • I believe, given current patent situation, Microsoft is gearing up to acquire one more exclusive WP7 OEM from among the Android crowd. Subsidizing app development may as well turn out to be a smart move, since the available quality app catalogue will certainly be a factor in such decision. Note quality app catalog, not just a total app count.
    If Microsoft offers a license comparable to the Android patent fee, 5-15 usd, more than one Android player may jump ship. MS could potentially offer these OEMs a cut of the app sales as well. Moreover, MS is the only player apart from Google and Apple that can offer a comprehensive cloud solution, which technically already exists – azure. And once it clears corporate bureaucracy, it will be ready for WP7.
    This of course does not mean the death of Android as Horace lucidly points out, but strengthens the hypothesis that there are potentially different business models, each of them being able to thrive in the rapidly expanding market for years to come.

  • NormM

    If developers are spreading their bets across any and all platforms, why are there 100,000 apps for iPad and only a few hundred for Android tablets? I think developers go where the money is.

    • asymco

      Not always. Consider that when the App Store was launched the dominant platforms by volume were Symbian and Blackberry. Even Windows Mobile had a bigger install base. They made money for their developers too.

    • Alan

      One reason there are few Android Tablet apps is that Android Phone apps scale up to the tablets reasonably well. So the incentive is not there – an app developer knows that he doesn't really need to create a tablet version since the phone version works OK. Whereas on iPad the phone versions are intentionally crippled to 480×320.

      The question is are scaled up phone apps good enough?

  • I rarely disagree with you Horace but this time I have to say that I think you're wrong. There isn't a single industry today that's not susceptible to a power law. There might be one or two competing platforms that will battle it out over the next 5 years but they will control 90% of marketplace. The third platform will simply not be a viable one and will die off.

    • asymco

      Consider retail (physical and on-line), mobile operators, autos and even search. Many industries do not scale internationally and even if they do there are few who achieve hegemony.

      • Those are industries built on standards and are easily substituted. If I buy a BMW, I don't need to drive it on a special road and I can easily change my next car. But if I buy iPhone, all my data storage and apps will be unique in the marketplace and switching will be hard, if not impossible. And lets not forget about iMessage & Facetime and the pull that they will have on this ecosystem. It seems to me that standard-based, fee-based, solutions and services (i.e. SMS and MMS) are being replaced by proprietary, free, solutions.

        Same goes for Android and their ecosystem. All these ecosystems are incompatible and only web is compatible because it's built on standards but standards development is super-slow and always lags proprietary solutions.

        For these reason I don't think we'll see a fragmentation of industry and I don't think we'll see a marketplace full of competing ecosystems. Ecosystems are getting to be expensive and only few companies will have the capital needed to make them successful.

  • Sound data followed by a thought-provoking and reasonable conclusion. Nice.

    I have to say I get a chuckle out of the "iOS/Android rule all so WP&, MeeGo and other entrants should just give up" contingent. iOS and Android took share from Symbian– it can easily happen to them.

    • kevin

      The others shouldn't give up, but they should think carefully about how they want to attack iOS and Android. Rather than just duplicate, or duplicate with slight improvement, all the features of the incumbents, they should be looking to make an OS/handset that is significantly different (and a huge leap forward) in one major aspect, while barely meeting a low threshold for the remaining limited core set of features. They need to go way beyond iOS and Android in at least one major way.

      I get a chuckle out of those who put down Apple by saying that Apple has had only one innovation (super-responsive touch-gestures UI on a large display) and been behind in every other way on mobile (i.e., 3G, GPS, cut and paste, apps, camera, SMS, MMS, videocamera, multitasking, messaging, notifications, cloud services, social networking, etc). They don't even realize that they are stating the recipe for success.

  • You lost me when you used the term "post-PC era." We won't be "post-PC" until most people, you know, stop using PCs.

    • asymco

      Post-pc does not mean end of PC use any more than post stone-age means the end of stone use.

    • Terry R. Oll

      Perhaps you should stick to parrot loving.

  • Martin Bradford

    Surely it's just a reflection of the fact that phones, like tablets, are more fashion items than serious devices and Windows is simply not fashionable at the moment. The vast majority of these "apps" are trivial and probably fall into disuse within a few days of installation. They are just this decade's equivalent of the inane ringtones that plagued us through the nineties…

    • kevin

      Just like the vast majority of PC software applications fell into disuse as well. Looking back, most of those applications were trivial as well, and eventually were taken over by the web.

      The computational power of phones and tablets is rapidly increasing; they will soon have the ability to run the majority of consumer applications, and as John Carmack says, have the ability to outclass even the specialized game consoles. But I bet you think the games for the game consoles are trivial, and were a plague throughout the last two decades.

  • Andrew

    Well people still use horses and carts, but you could characterise the last century of motor vehicle use as the "post horse and cart era" if you wanted.

    I am curious about the fact that, if you buy an iPhone app, it only works on the iPhone, you have to buy the same app again if you want it to work on Android. Just like vinyl LP's and 8-track tapes. What if you could buy an "Irate Avians" app and it would work on your iPhone or your Android phone? Or a Windows Phone 7 if you chose one?

    People could switch between devices based on their choice, without having to consider the cost of abandoning or re-purchasing the app software they use?

    If app developers all decided to do this at once, they would never again have to decide whether a platform was worth developing for based on the number of existing users, all apps would work on all devices, users could choose devices and switch between them knowing the apps they paid for would continue to work.

    • MarvinC

      This is why I think that the push towards HTML5 will be important. As a developer, I would love nothing more than to write software once and have many uses for it. That is what HTML5 is suppose to be all about. The ability to develop the software once and have it run in multiple devices. More specifically any HTML5 enabled device.

      So I write my application in HTML5 and because all devices, mobile or not, have a web browser as long as its HTML5 capable my application will work. And I give the user the same look and feel across devices. That I think is the goal.

      • Wilhelm Reuch

        Yes, but your cross-platform will not be optimized for any platform and on each of the you will have competition that is optimized, working smoother than yours. What do you think users will buy? Why are users abandoning the (crossplatform) web-internet for the app-internet?

      • Tim Yen

        I think web apps being cross platform are not going to be as profitable as native apps and that will deter a lot of developers and companies from persisting with that path. Web apps seem to be mostly vehicles for ad's and people don't seem to pay for them the same way they will pay for a native app.

    • kevin

      With apps mostly costing less than $5 a pop, I don't see apps being (or remaining) a barrier to switching handset ecosystems. And I don't think Apple sees apps as a long-term advantage. Eventually, at least one other ecosystem will catch up, but until they do, Apple will play up and trumpet its advantage. Apple continues to play its game – innovate and "force" others to catch up, and while they catch up, Apple is off innovating in still other directions.

      For some apps, the bigger hassle is bringing your data (that is stored with the app) over to the other handset. (For those apps that store the data in the cloud, it is a very minor hassle.) Note that while iCloud will eventually (when 3rd-parties can use it) make it easier to upgrade iPhones or to expand to other Apple products, it will not help someone move to another ecosystem.

  • anandeinkam

    But no. of apps on android platform had crossed more than 200000 as of May 2011. How can you say then windows platform has apps 10% more than on android?

    • asymco

      I said Windows has more than 10% of Android not that it has 10% more than Android.

      • anandeinkam

        Oh ya sorry, I totally misread it. Thanks a lot for spending time to reply to my stupid question. I will be more careful in further readings. Because I misunderstood that statement, the whole article was kind of nagging me. But actually I am delighted that I got a reply from you. I like your blog and your thought process truly.

  • Phyll

    Its interesting that now that everyone (mostly Apple and newbee Google) are making their platforms accessible by anyone to write programs for (Apple with constraints) people think we are in a new era. Maybe those of us that have been developing software for Windows all along have trouble seeing the problem.

  • Bazz

    Cars in USA are a good metaphor for PCs. Many at the start 100 years ago ONE without government intervention in 2008! But many foreigners! WHY?

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