Thursday, January 26, 2012

One Platform

A couple of things have struck me about the iPad and iBook Author.  If you want to read some background John Gruber has a good summary.  It may well come down to whether being focused on one thing is wrong.

Firstly, Steve Jobs is quoted in his biography saying he'd give away textbooks.  This is a pretty big bargaining chip when Apple was talking to the textbook publishers: go with us or we'll give your product away for free.  How does this differ from Bill Gates saying they'd cut off Netscape's oxygen supply?

The other thing it reminds me of is Bill Gates' developer virtuous cycle.  This is where developers write applications for a particular platform, users pick the platform with the most applications which then feeds back to developers supporting that platform.  In the past, developers have had to make a single choice as to which platform they wanted to support in order to succeed.  It continues to happen with Android and iPhone.  Jeff Raikes has given a good example in the early days of Microsoft in, "The Principle of Agility", he says:
I suspect many of you or in the audience might if I ask you the question of, "What was Microsoft's first spreadsheet?" You might think Excel was our spreadsheet. But in fact, we had a product called Multiplan...Our strategy was to be able to have our application products run on all of those computing platforms because at that time there were literally hundreds of different personal computers.
And on January 20th, 1983 I realized, I think Bill Gates also realized we had the wrong strategy. Any guesses to what happened on January 20th, 1983? Lotus, it was the shipment of Lotus 1-2-3. How many personal computers did Lotus run on in January of 1983? One, and exactly one. And it was a big winner. So what we learned was when it came to customer behavior. It wasn't whether you had a product that run on all of those computing platforms. What really mattered to the customer was, did you have the best application product on the computer that they own. And Lotus 1-2-3 was the best spreadsheet. In fact, it was the beginning of a "formula for success in applications". That I defined around that time called, "To win big, you have to make the right bet on the winning platform."
So what's the principle? The principle is agility. If you're going to be successful as an entrepreneur what you have to do is you have to learn. You have to respond. You have to learn some more. You have to respond some more. And that kind of agility is very important. If we had stayed on our old strategy, we would not be in the applications business today. In fact, one of the great ironies of that whole episode is that in the late '80s or early '90s our competitors, WordPerfect, Lotus. What they really should have been doing was betting on Windows. But instead they were betting on and WordPerfect was the best example. Betting on, putting WordPerfect on the mainframe, on minicomputers. In fact, they went to the lowest common denominator software strategy which we switched out of in the 1983 timeframe. So, for my key principle is, make sure that you learn and respond. Show that kind of agility. 
This is echoed in one of the recent exchanges (about an hour into MacBreak Weekly 283) where Alex Lindsay talks about how important it is to him to make education interesting and how he's not going to wait for standards, he just wants to produce the best.  Leo Laporte responds by saying how important it is for an open standard to prevail in order to prevent every child in America having to own an iPad in order to be educated or informed.

You have to wonder if developers have reached a level of sophistication that allows them to use a cross platform solution or whether that will ever happen.  I think that it's inevitable that a more open platform will succeed but I'm not sure whether multiple platforms can succeed - we shall see.

If you want to here more there are many interesting conversations around including: Hypercritical 51MacBreak Weekly 283 and This Week in Tech 337.
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