Where Einstein Meets Edison

Does Your Software Platform Care About You?

Does Your Software Platform Care About You?

Mar 23, 2011

There are several software platforms out there that encourage a whole ecosystem of companies to develop on top of them.  Windows. iOS. Twitter. Salesforce. Oracle … this list goes on.  At the end of the day, they want you to succeed, but they also want to ensure that your success, that your killer app, that your popularity helps their bottom line.  With the exception of most open-source movements, a platform is not created by a company for the good of humanity.

With recent announcements like Twitter’s new restrictions on the use of its API, this forced me to look at the subject.  And I couldn’t think of a better example than Google and the world dominating Android Operating System.

How does Google benefit from the success and popularity of the Android Mobile Operating System?

– They sell ads in various Google apps that are available (they don’t really do it … but it could happen)
– They collect data from users (Google is all about turning data into money. More data = More money)
– Brand benefits (You like “Droid” … then you like Google)
– Strategic Partnerships (Want to work with Android … then you work with Google)

And there is probably a ton of other benefits that come with controlling what is the fastest growing smartphone operating system, but no need to list all of them.  The main thing to note is:

Google doesn’t make money selling Android software or selling Android Phones.

I didn’t really think much about this for a long time.  Google gives away a lot of its products for free.  In some cases I feel it just grows the brand, in other cases it is an opportunity to sell more ads, and in other cases, it’s just a hedge against waiting too long to enter a market.  But with Android, I wonder if things are a little … different.

Android came to Google through acquisition.  They bought the rights to the operating system, the code, and the staff before a product had actually been released.  The original plan of Android was of the classical open source business model.  Give away the software for free and make money in support, add-ons, consulting.  However, this does not seem to be Google’s goal.

The problem this may cause for us Android devotees out there (I am a proud Android phone user and a fan of the operating system) is wondering whether Google has the proper incentives to ensure the best user experience.

Look at iOS.  Apple makes the software and the hardware.  They make money on every device that runs the operating system.  There is clear cut desire to make the best product available.  They control all aspects of the iPhone and are very invested in delivering a good product, since they sell it.

Google gives away Android.  In order to actually release a phone or device with Android on it, you don’t need any permission from Google (as long as you don’t use Google apps).  You can put your own GUI on it, you can brand it with Yahoo or Microsoft service, you can do whatever you want.  Me buying an Android phone may not impact Google’s bottom line at all.

So that brings me back full circle:

What incentives does Google have to ensure a world-class user experience?  What incentive does my favorite search company have to invest money and time into polishing the bugs that may plague the system?  What is the motivation to ensure that developer are able to sell their applications?  What incentive is there to ensure a clean platform that the next great thing can be built upon?


Good will?

So what is my point?  Am I advocating everyone to leave the Android operating system?  Should you run to another OS that more strictly controlled?

Don’t leave Android.  It’s a great operating system with a lot of support from Google and the community.  It’s incredibly powerful, and because of its openness it is allowing better phones to be produced for cheaper.  There is a reason it is currently the best selling smartphone OS.

But be weary.  I do believe we will see Google continue to focus on its own mobile applications and revenue centers (Android Market).  Given the fact that it’s always hard to find good developers and Google has limited resources for their many many things to improve and they will prioritize.  And given that at the end of the day business is business, I do think Google as a company will focus on improvements that help further Google’s reach, brand, and revenue.

While I have used Google and Android as a real life example, this is bigger than one company and one operating system.  There have been several examples in the past that may make you wonder if your platform cares about your business:

–        Microsoft released a free anti-virus, reducing the need for paid off the shelf scanners

–        Twitter denounced twitter client developers, instantly putting an end to several programs

–        Facebook (could) mandate(s) all developers receiving payments, instantly reducing margins by 30%

–        Apple adjusted their iOS in-app purchase policies, instantly destroying business models across the world

Whenever you can, ensure that the goals of your platform’s creators are aligned with yours. Keep up good relations.  

You are married to your platform.  Don’t run scared, but do walk wearily.