I recently came across an article on Information Week that highlighted some of the challenges Android is currently facing with its app store. Given the criticism Apple has been receiving about the degree of control they exert (both in terms of their technology stack and the standards they apply to 3rd party apps on their app store), it was interesting to see this contrarian view, especially considering that some of the views were at least partly shared by John Battelle, who essentially wrote the book on Google.
In any thriving ecosystem, there are essentially two key constituencies (in addition to the orchestrator), with mutually reinforcing objectives.
Users effectively care for:
Trust/quality: Can I trust the solutions/offerings of the ecosystem?
Cost: Are the solutions cost-effective, given the alternatives?
Choice: Can the ecosystem provide me with solutions for (most of) my needs?
Partners ultimately care for the value they can extract from the ecosystem, which can be further broken into the following:
Scale: Is there a sufficiently large user base for which my offerings will be attractive?
Ease of doing business: Is the underlying platform robust and flexible? Are the terms of participation clear and fair?
It is fairly evident how aligned the interests of both constituencies are. A large, healthy ecosystem attracts more users, which in turn attracts more partners, which in turn attracts more users. While the importance of each criterion may vary for enterprises and consumers, the fundamentals are essentially the same.
The role of the ecosystem orchestrator (whether it is a company like Google, Apple, Microsoft or SAP, or community-based like Java or Mozilla) is then to foster and nurture this ecosystem.
Apple and Google are clearly taking very different approaches on the degree of ‘nurturing’ they feel they need to provide and only time will tell who is right. My thought however is that Google needs to re-think their laissez-faire approach if they want to be a credible competitor in the smartphone business.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.