What makes a platform a success? Why does the iPod continue to be so dominant? Why is the iPad the only tablet that has actually seen significant adoption?

 

As many have done, you could point to Apple’s design ethic and branding, their re-invention and consumer focus, or the fact that their music players have evolved into sophisticated computers in their own right. These observations are all undoubtedly true and no doubt they have contributed to their phenomenal growth over the last few years. However, when looking for the next big thing or the next big player, we should be sure to consider not only the device, or the company behind it, but the ecosystem in which it will live.

Brand loyalty?

There is no doubt that Apple has a devout following of hard core supporters. But with their total dominance of the portable media player market, and to some extent the smartphone market,  they now attract a much wider social demographic. Are these new followers loyal to the brand? Will they keep upgrading to the newest, shiniest model or will they jump ship when something better comes along?

From a personal point of view I find that, while I don’t consider myself loyal to Apple, I increasingly struggle to see myself ‘breaking away’ from my investment in iStuff. Apple have an ecosystem and I, along with millions of others, have begun to put down roots.

For better or worse

Your iPhone lives, with you, in the Apple ecosystem. Your music is transferred via iTunes. Your credit card details and download history are recorded, allowing you to re-download apps and music should they become mistakenly deleted. Your device is backed up and it is easy to transfer and/or upgrade when iPhone N comes along next year. Your music is encoded, by default, in Apples own format. You have an iPod too. This lives happily alongside your iPhone in the same little world. You want to download a TV program or a movie? No problem. iTunes has that sorted. Might as well just use it, you use it for everything else anyway. Then there are all those apps. There are the free ones sure, but some you have paid for.

Apple want you to be tied in. With such an investment it becomes impossible to move to a different platform without losing out in some way. Want to go Android? Do you still want those apps? We’ll looks like you are going to have to buy them again. Still want the same music? Better hope you encoded it in the right format or else you have got a lot of time to put in. Still want to keep that iPod? Hmm, now you need to maintain two music libraries.

Oh, and before we start to decry Apple, lets get real. All of the successful companies have an ecosystem. They all want to tie you in. It just pays to know how…especially if you are considering which ecosystem your app should be a part of.

Digging deeper

Lets take a slightly closer look at the three platforms and ecosystems that, I believe, will be the ones to survive and flourish in the next few years.

iOS

iPod, iPad, iPhone, iTunes, iBooks, Mac, Apple TV – The Apple ecosystem is the largest of the three, spreading itself over a number of hardware devices and software systems. Many people end up owning more than one iDevice. If you want to reach a young audience it is the best choice. An iPhone App will also reach out to the millions of iPod users aged 17 and under or happily communicate with it’s big brother, sitting on an iPad. Scrabble anyone?

Android

Possibly the weakest of the ecosystems but, due to its open source roots, commands a huge market share. There are many many android devices out there but they don’t really play nice together. Expect to see google grow the platform into a much more coherent ecosystem over the next few years. But remember that google doesn’t care if you own an iPhone or an Android phone as long as you continue to use google to search the mobile web while being served up all those lovely ad’s at the same time.

Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7’s ecosystem is young, but it already has strong roots. Office integration and business focused apps, while admittedly fairly poor at present, will become a major selling point. Especially when we start to see the fruits of the Microsoft/Nokia partnership in 2012. Xbox Live integration is also a key asset. Xbox Live is already a thriving ecosystem in its own right and one into which Windows Phone has been successfully planted. With Xbox Live games outselling ‘normal’ games by a factor of ten to one, it will play a significant role in the platforms success.

Conclusion

By considering the ecosystems that are out there, you should be able to make a more informed decision about which platform, or platforms your apps need to target. It pays to look at the kinds of people and complimentary systems that your app will exist alongside. Don’t forget that a mobile app can also end up on a music player, sharing data with your PC or exchanging achievements with a gaming console.

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