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Platform Vendors

"A good platform always has opportunities for applications that aren’t just gap-fillers. These are the kind of application that the vendor is unlikely ever to consider a core feature, usually because it’s vertical — it’s not something everyone is going to want. There is exactly zero chance that Apple is ever going to add a feature to the iPhone for dentists. Zero."

Note - This only applies to Apple. If you're Microsoft, and you add a feature that "everyone is going to want", you get burned for it.

Who wants a computer that can't surf the web these days? Who wants a computer that can't play multimedia (music, videos, dvds, etc)? Yet putting both of those core components of the modern computer experience into their OS gets MS nothing but flack. No problem when Apple includes Safari or iTunes/QuickTime.

Another subject this brings up is (imho) Apple's strategic omission of core features. MMS/Picture messages have been on every cheap P.O.S. phone for YEARS. Does the shiny new iPhone come with it? No - it takes them years. Then when they "unveil" this feature that was a no brainer and should have been there, their fanbase celebrates a new innovation that Steve has brought them, and pull out their wallets.

To quote the beginning of Joel's post (Winer's comment), “Sometimes developers choose a niche that’s either directly in the path of the vendor, or even worse, on the roadmap of the vendor. In those cases, they don’t really deserve our sympathy.”

I must disagree. We should be thankful for those people. When a company like Apple makes a product with a glaring omission, users are absolutely screwed. If the product is from an ISV who depends on their users being satisfied, there's high probability that complaints will be answered swiftly - otherwise the customers may look elsewhere. When it's Apple's MegaProduct, there is no such guarantee. Apple knows people will buy it, and if you are upset that it's missing MMS, or "feature X", then tough s**t. Thankfully there are developers out there, that, being developers, just can't stand to see cut and paste missing, and set out to make it so. I'd say this sort of forces the issue, and makes Apple look that much lamer for not doing it themselves. Do those developers become rich? No. But I'd say they did many of us a service, and I'm glad they're there toiling away.

I'm sum by saying this - platform vendors frequently don't "get it right." This is why many people clamor for open platforms. When that happens, the community at large can solve the problem themselves. If the original platform developer wants to embrace this, all the better. Without open platforms, we're at the mercy of capitalism's giant companies, that put up layers upon layers of insulation between them, and their users. Go ahead, call up Apple/Microsoft/Comcast/AT&T and tell them why you're unhappy with something. I'm sure the minimum wage or outsourced person on the other end of the line will pass it on to management.
T Ferguson Send private email
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
You would have thought that usable source control was on Microsoft's roadmap for Visual Studio, but we have been waiting a long time and a few companies have done well out of the 'niche' of developers that want to track changed files.
Martin Send private email
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I agree, there are many areas where the big vendors either can't or don't get it right.  Every "big vendor" is trying to capture all of the loot in the "enterprise" niche, because that is rapidly becoming the only niche that pays for software, and every time the one size fits all model doesn't work, the big vendors can't dominate.  Look at accounting software, or CRM and CMS; Microsoft and IBM have invested multiple millions in products to do those functions for medium and large businesses, yet their offerings are still playing catch-up.

Individuals and small businesses, who can't afford customized software, will gravitate towards platform vendors because their options are limited (mainly because there isn't much of an incentive for ISV's to develop mission critical software for these markets), but the most rewarding markets are still open to ISV's and will be for a long time.
RGlasel Send private email
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
There are some enterprise areas where not cutting off the platform market is good business.
In Cad and 3DModelling/Visualisation there are a few big companies that encourage the addin/plugin market, mainly because every sale of a plugin is more market share for their platform.
Custom apps aimed at a particular segment don't do as well and by jumping on every plugin and integrating it into your app you become just another one of the narrow segment apps.
Martin Send private email
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Whether or not "gap-filling" is a good idea is completely dependent on the time cost of filling the gap and the market.

If I can spend three weeks of my evenings writing a small app that is then steamrolled out of existence by Apple two years later, it won't be a problem if in those intervening two years I've managed to recoup my investment many times over. Odds are that while I've been enjoying two years of sales, I'm also thinking of other gaps to fill or getting a better idea of *how* people want that gap filled than Apple has.

Basing your livelihood on such a strategy may not be wise, but as a side job, it's a great idea.
farmboy Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I think it's worth pointing out that many of the specific apps cited in the article that Joel linked to, only work on jailbroken phones.  Yes, I wanted tethering too but it's not like the developers went in totally blind to the possibility that Apple upgrades will break their apps.
TheDavid Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
"Another subject this brings up is (imho) Apple's strategic omission of core features. MMS/Picture messages have been on every cheap P.O.S. phone for YEARS. Does the shiny new iPhone come with it? No - it takes them years."

The original iPhones (the 1G and 2G models) simply didn't have the proper antennae.  The antennae were left off in order to preserve battery life.  Steve Jobs gambled, incorrectly as it turns out, that emailing photos would be more popular and cheaper then sending them via MMS.  He didn't realize just how few people really wanted to check their mailboxes.

When those phones were released, AT&T flagged each account associated with a phone, as incapable of receiving MMS messages.

It has been speculated that when the 3G phones came out last year, they had the correct antennae but didn't have the proper software as iPhone OS 2.0 was still assuming a lack of antennae.  All iPhone accounts subsequently retained the no-MMS flag.  (Notice that I'm not referring to the recently announced 3GS.)

The iPhone 3.0 software enables those antennae and makes it possible to receive MMS messages.  Developers with the beta SDK are reporting that there's nothing there to imply that the iPhone 3G won't be able to receive MMS messages.

The three month delay between the release of iPhone 3.0 and MMS capabilities in September, is strictly due to AT&T having to go back and remove the no-MMS flag from the appropriate accounts.

If you check the blogsphere, you'll notice that many of the complaints aren't directed towards Apple.  They're directed towards AT&T for both a) the subsidized pricing scheme and b) AT&T's inability to keep up with Apple's technological advances, including the slow rollout of 3G network base stations.

In fact, AT&T is currently facing a class action suit over failing to deliver on promised cellular speeds outside of major metropolitan areas such as NYC and SF.

If you also watch the WWDC conference video, you'll also see that Apple mentions twice that if you download the iPhone 3.0 operating system and have either the 3G or 3GS phone, you'll be able to start using the new features right away, overseas.  Furthermore, they list something like 20 different cell phone vendors that will support it, including T-Mobile and O2.  AT&T is the only vendor that was left off the list.

A lot of industry analysts are speculating that this may be the nail in the coffin for AT&T's exclusive rights to the iPhone in America.

In general, I agree with the whole vendor piggybacking argument Joel puts forth, but this whole side topic about Apple's strategic omission of core features (as reflected in the quote) is...  misplaced.  The only thing Jobs got wrong was the email replacing MMS gamble, and five years from now, it's possible that he'll be right after all, considering just how expensive SMS and MMS messages are.
TheDavid Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Although the new firmware will add some new features to the older phones, in the "15 apps" article, some of those apps require actually purchasing the 3G-S.  Since many of us plan to hang on to our now-older (and non-jailbroken) models, most of those apps still have a market.

Nitpick @ TheDavid:  There was an original (first generation, 2007) iPhone model and then a (second-generation, 2008) iphone called the iPhone 3G (referring to the 3G telecom standard) .  There was never a 1G or 2G before the 3G.
SM Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Re: iPhone 2G.

SM is partially correct.  As far as Apple is concerned, there is no iPhone 2G.  You will never find any mention of it in official press releases.  And there's no significant hardware difference between the original 8GB model and the original 16GB model (other than for the memory, of course).

The 2G moniker is an unofficial backronym that was intended to be a pun on the fact that the G in the iPhone 3G refers to the 3rd Generation.  Extending the joke, the 1G refers to the 8GB model and the 2G refers to the 16GB model.

And of course, some of us were expecting the next phone to be the 4G, reflecting both the 4th generation plus the new 4G cellular technology being developed.
TheDavid Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Err...  to clarify...

The real meaning of the G in 3G is the telecom technology as SM pointed out.  The public however thought that meant third generation iPhone, not third generation telecom.
TheDavid Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
"Yet putting both of those core components of the modern computer experience into their OS gets MS nothing but flack."

Those are applications that are included in the default distribution. Where MS got in trouble was intentionally bundling things in a way that made it impossible to remove those apps, when they were originall written as standalone.
Drew Kime Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
@TheDavid - Like many things in tech, there are frequently complicated backstories. But in the end, I as "Joe Consumer" don't give a rat's *** why - the iPhone has been MMS incapable for 2+ years. Customers never care why something is the way it is. This is almost a leaky abstraction issue. Put it this way - "My RAZR lets me send pictures to my friends. Does the iPhone?" - "No, but it's complicated because...blah blah doesn't matter."

And of course emailing pics isn't popular. That assumes a uniform Apple world where everyone has an iPhone. There are millions of people without iPhones, that can exchange pics. Being email only cuts out a large audience.

As far as "omission" goes, there are many examples - frequently with things like ports and such. And then there's the unibutton mouse for EONs. Sorry, computers are a little more complicated than toaster. People wanted right click. Took forever before they sold the mighty mouse.

As for whoever said the problem was not Microsoft including a browser/media player, but that you couldn't uninstall it. Boohoo - you have a few megs devoted to a web browser you don't use on your cavernous modern hard drive. I suspect the only people that really care are companies that will take any stab at the giant they can get, and the Slashdot basement dwelling crowd that run linux anyway but like to b**** about it. I really doubt any consumers care. I bet a lot of them would care if they couldn't get on the web with their new windows install though, or had to purchase a DVD playing program separately.
T Ferguson Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I think we're dancing around the subject.  The elephant in the room that Joel is referring to, is that when you develop a product that extend someone else's product, you can't really complain when that company implements the feature themselves.  In this case, all the companies that made jailbroken applications are suddenly out of business now that you can get those applications "for free" from Apple.  (I'm using a very loose definition of "for free" here because I don't want to get sidetracked.)

I sense that what Mr. Ferguson is trying to say is that Apple should have provided this missing functionality in the first place, and subsequently, there would be no need for third party fenders to attempt to fill in the gaps.  (And furthermore, it's also hypocritical of us to attack Microsoft for indeed trying to provide all that missing functionality out of the box.  Just because Microsoft includes a web browser doesn't mean we have to use it.)

If I understood that argument correctly, then quite frankly, my original response was...  irrelevant.

John Gruber pointed out on the Daring Fireball web site that one of the reasons why Apple seems to generate so much excitement is that Apple is not interested in solving today's problems.  Apple is trying to solve tomorrow's problems such that when that day comes, our "user experience" is smooth and painless.  For example, one reason iTunes took off but competing services like Napster and Rhapsody struggled, is because Steve Jobs (and others) guessed that people would want a future where they can simply buy a song for 99 cents and play it with a minimum of fuss.

Steve Jobs (and others) made similar guesses as to what features they thought people would appreciate the most in the iPhone tomorrow.  MMS is one of the guesses where they were just simply flat out wrong.  As I said, they guessed people would tire of paying per text message and would prefer to use email once the bandwidth arrived.  So they never included support for MMS and instead focused on improving the email feature.  (I personally wish they'd chosen the other option because as Ferguson pointed out, every other fricking cell phone has MMS and that's pretty much the bar these days.)

With respect to the original subject, they're going back and fixing that mistake.  And the lesson, I'm guessing is that if you make a product that fixes a mistake, and the original vendor make a product that also fixes the same mistake, how much business do you think you'll get?

To paraphrase Joel, you don't really want to be in the business of fixing other companies mistakes.  You want to be in the business of growing the entire pie.
TheDavid Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
"Just because Microsoft includes a web browser doesn't mean we have to use it."

I know how to not use it. The point is this issue went to court and they lost. And the reason was that they made it so yes, you *did* have to use their browser if you went on the web.
Drew Kime Send private email
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I must have never run the version of Windows that automatically started up Internet Explorer when you ran Firefox or Opera (or lynx if you're a masochist.)

I do remember having to run Trumpet Winsock to get on the web. Ahh, the good old days.
T Ferguson Send private email
Friday, June 12, 2009
The issue wasn't that you couldn't run other browsers, I ran Netscape 4.x, but there was no way to remove Internet Explorer from your system, and Explorer (the file system utility) wouldn't work without it.  Explorer still uses DLLs from IE, but you can make it so IE is "removed" and never gets launched.  In order to tie this to the topic at hand, the court decisions penalized Microsoft for anti-competitive behaviour, but didn't do much to limit the platform vendor from co-opting utilities that had previously been the domain of ISVs.

As long as the platform vendor's co-opted applications don't prevent users from using other applications with similar functionality, I don't see a problem with it, at least from the user's standpoint.  As an ISV, it may be difficult to compete with the legal and marketing resources of the platform vendor (and their intimate knowledge of the API), but a well-designed independent application still has a chance to be profitable, assuming it provides real and substantial value to users.  As long as the Microsofts, Apples, IBMs and Oracles of the world are trying to be everything to everyone, opportunities will exist for lean and agile ISVs.
RGlasel Send private email
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The problem is that software does not break down. Eventually the big players can become nearly everything to nearly everyone. Programmers will either work for them or develop plug-ins for their software. Programmer is not a profession in Star Trek, then again, neither is movie star.
Paul McCarthy Send private email
Saturday, June 13, 2009

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