The paradox of Open: What can we learn about Open from Apple and Microsoft

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

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. Ian says:

    In an Ecosystem everything has to live together. Taking that fact into the Mobile space the Networks still have to be able to make money. In the present situation they pay for the handset up front and hope to recover the cost from the use of teh device. In a world where over 80% of the revenue comes from Voice this was simple. In a new world it might not be so.
    As a developer of an appication you have to understand that you need to pay in some form for the investment made by others. You need to be able to share revenue with the hardware developers and the network owners and maybe the content developers.
    My take away from Open Mobile was that everyone was saying that the iPhone is not the answer as we are not making any money from the platform.

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail.
    It’s not a matter of “open source”, but a matter of a workable and vibrant ecosystem.
    Tsahi

  3. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Hello Tsahi Thanks for your kind words. Yes, that was my impression as well kind rgds Ajit

  4. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Ian, good to see you. Pity we could not meet. I did not see you on the second day? I missed your session as well. lets touch base next time kind rgds Ajit

  5. Terence Eden says:

    HI,
    Some interesting points.
    I fail to see how iPhone is in any way open. The most generous thing that could be said is that their SDK is pretty nice and allows access to most of the phone’s features.
    LiMo have a truly open platform which has sold more phones than Apple – but they haven’t done much to promote themselves (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LiMo_Foundation)
    As ever, marketing wins out over fact.
    While Apple’s ecosystem is good – it’s not very open. Look at the trouble people have getting apps approved. At least with Android, S60, J2ME, etc., anyone can write an app, host it anywhere, charge whatever they want for it.
    The Apps & Games market has been doing incredibly well on an open platform & open ecosystem (J2ME). Apple have democratised the selling process to smaller developers and made lots of column inches about how many apps people have downloaded – but they’re still only a drop in the ocean.
    As for Microsoft? The day they make something completely open will be the day they make bank vaults.
    T
    (NB: I work for Vodafone, but I don’t speak for them. I wasn’t involved in the Open Mobile event.)

  6. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Hello Terence, thanks for your comments. I meant to say that Apple is a closed platform. So, we agree there. Re Java etc (ie ecosystem preceding it) – I dont think it was commercially viable(with the exception Japan). So, what I am saying is – the (commercially viable) open ecosystem for third parties is critical kind rgds Ajit