Open-ness in the mobile value chain

By September 24, 2008 9 Comments

Back in August I wrote about the Apple App Store and the coming T-Mobile open app platform saying that for all Apple’s history of closedness it is just possible they will end up unleashing a wave of competition in the mobile industry based on open-ness.

The early signs are that thesis is playing out, but that Apple may well be the loser.

First a little clarification.  The open-ness I am talking about here is the ability for end users to get any app they want on their phone, rather than anything to do with open-source code or proprietary software stacks (although the two things are linked).  Historically the operators have insisted on a gating role in deciding which apps get distribution via their portals, which has largely functioned to the detriment of innovation and the customer experience – IMHO.

The exciting thing about these new app stores is that they take away the risk that an operator won’t approve an application, or won’t market it well, making the platform much more attractive to developers, who to a much greater extent become masters of their own destiny.  This is, of course, what worked so well on the PC platform.

So why is Apple a potential loser?

Because, and despite getting off to a great start in part because they are open, they are now leveraging their position in the value chain to become a gate themselves …  and blocking applications that compete with stuff they want to do – e.g. the Podcaster app.  Worse still, Apple hasn’t done a good job of explaining the rules by which it will decide what is allowed and what isn’t.

Winning as an open platform is all about attracting developers and moves like this really won’t help – as evidenced by Alex Sokirynsky, developer of the Podcaster app, switching to the Android platform, (the platform launched last week and the first phone came out yesterday on T-Mobile).

Beyond the technical stuff developers are looking for access to large numbers of users and commercial predictability.  It looks to me like Android is a good bet as the eventual winner on both of these dimensions.