I spent two days at the Open Mobile Summit last week where I chaired two sessions. This was an excellent conference – and a great success inspite of the train strike.
There is a paradoxical undercurrent that spanned the conference: A large portion of the conference was spent talking about a closed platform(Apple) and to a lesser degree also Microsoft
Everyone seemed to be saying If ‘Open is good’ – but then how come we all go to ‘Closed’(iPhone?). This curious paradox underpinned the conference – and the answer to me lies in the distinction between a platform and an ecosystem.
I believe that: A ‘closed platform’ works provided you have an ‘Open ecosystem’ BUT an Open platform (open source and / or open standards) without an ecosystem(open or closed) does not work.
To put this in perspective:
a) In this context, ‘Open’ was largely referred to in terms of ‘Open source’ and ‘Open standards’ for example: Android is Open source; Opera follows open standards; Symbian is now open sourced etc etc etc
b) ‘Ecosystem’ is defined in terms of third party developers as in ‘The iPhone has a vibrant ecosystem since third party developers flock to it’
c) By ‘Ecosystem’, We are referring to a business model i.e. the litmus test is: Can third party developers make money?
It seems that finally, everyone within the Telecoms industry agrees that third party developers are essential to a vibrant ecosystem (something that Google, Microsoft and Apple have known for a long time). In a recession, I think a vibrant, open ecosystem which benefits third parties is a good development and should be encouraged
Here are some observations and contradictions in relation to Open:
a) Vodafone talked about their appstore – but not if revenue share is 70/30(They did say it will be broadly consistent with the industry)
b) Brands prefer closed platform(iPhone) but like the relatively open ecosystem(from Daniel Rosen Managing Director of AKQA
c) The Mozilla Fennec mobile browser was deployed on the Windows mobile platform as were some of the initial HTML5 features
d) Google Chrome is not a W3C standard – but architecturally one of the most innovative browsers
e) All agreed that HTML5 is great and is ‘getting there’ – but I believe that an exception is not a standard. At the moment, HTML5 is a loose conformance and an agreement but yet cannot be called a standard
To conclude my view is:
If we define Open in terms of a vibrant commercially viable ecosystem for third party developers(and that definition makes sense since it is pragmatic in a recession), then I believe that: A ‘closed platform’ works provided you have an ‘Open ecosystem’ BUT an Open platform (open source and / or open standards) without an ecosystem(open or closed) does not work.
A viable third party developer ecosystem may be far more important than other forms of ‘Open’ – specifically Open source or Open standards especially in a recession