“It’s Innovation, not Open Source. . .”
I just finished reading Gregg Keizer’s Computer World article, “Adobe escalates feud with Apple over Flash.” In his article, Keizer outlines some new developments in the ongoing Next Tech War. Specifically, Keizer links to a post on Adobe’s website titled, “Freedom of Choice,” which offers a letter from Adobe’s Co-founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock. In that letter, Geschke and Warnock attempt to frame the feud with Apple as Open Systems vs. Closed Systems. They brand Apple’s position as closed market, stating:
“We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the web — the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time.”
Keizer’s article goes on to quote Michael Gartenberg, a blogger, tech journalist, sometimes evangelist, and an analyst with the Altimeter Group, as some kind of authoritative rebuttal, a voice of the “mass market” if you will, to Adobe’s position.
“All the talk of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ doesn’t matter,” Gartenberg’s quote reads. He then adds, ‘That might be of interest in the coffeehouses of Silicon Valley, but we’ve moved beyond the point where the tech-savvy insiders make market decisions. The mass market makes the decisions.’”
Really? Well, recall, Mr. Gartenberg, that the discussion is not about tech-savvy consumers, but is, instead, about a developer community estimated to number in the range of 3 million (according to Adobe’s website). So, no tech-savvy consumers here, but Gartenberg is right about one thing, the Jobs/Adobe battle is not about Open Vs. Closed systems; nor is this latest skirmish a reason to elevate the mass market as the only measure of marketplace value, which is what Gartenberg appears to be saying. Look, I hold the mass market in the greatest respect, but if mass market product demand is the only measure of value inherent in a technology company’s product offerings, any company with a product that fails to gain mass market success might as well close its doors. After all, the mass market doesn’t want it. Moreover, employing Gartenberg’s reasoning means that a nice little sliver of mass market demand gives a company, any company (think Facebook), a mass market-driven reason to push its weight around. Well, let’s hope not. “The mass market makes the decisions,” sounds lovely in theory, but in this, and many other instances, it is so far out of context as a rebuttal for Apple’s flame war against Adobe developers, that it forces us to the question:
Is Steve Jobs Failing Apple?
The question is provocative. It is also fair. In waging this pointless war against Adobe, Apple effectively dismisses the needs and concerns of Flash developers, relegating them to nothing more than “tech-savvy” with a disdainful sniff. It doesn’t seem to matter to Jobs that his edicts affect a large number of developers. It doesn’t seem to matter that many corporations and smaller companies use Flash as a development tool, and that they have been requesting some sort of compromise for years.
What Gartenberg and Jobs refuse to acknowledge is that, like any other market, the tech market possesses an eco-system (see right). This eco-system has been transformed over the past five years, offering a broader range of value, value derived from diversity of the producers. Tool sets can be open or closed. Platforms can be managed or completely open, but in this new system, we will call it the interactive marketplace, developers are so much more than tech-savvy consumers, they are value producers. And no matter what their stripe (Flash, Silverlight, etc.) developers provide value-add to operating platforms, helping to create products that are desirable to the “mass market.” This structure, inherent in and highly valued by what is essentially a new tech industry, is unlikely to change in the near future.
Jobs may be brilliant, and his product may be cool, but neither he, nor his company is capable of producing the requisite number of applications to make his development platform the best source for mobile entertainment, news, and whatever else the “mass market” wants from its mobile devices. He could hire every available programmer from here to Timbuktu and still not meet all the “mass market” demand for apps.
Surely Jobs understands that Apps Developers drive the mass market to the iPhone/iPad. Without their support, and the support of corporations that use Adobe products, Steve Jobs and his products run the risk of being “also ran cool,” kind of like the Apple Newton. Of course, all of this is just a rehash of what has been said before. Plus, it’s not really the point of what Steve Jobs appears to be doing with his tormenting of Adobe.
A Little Bit of Perspective
In my original post on this new Tech War, I said that this was a war over “Applications Development Platforms.” So, despite Geschke and Warnock’s attempt to frame Apple’s tactics as the actions of an evil empire, and despite Gartenberg’s focus on mass market as some type of all encompassing measure of value, none of these factors are really at play. What is at play is Jobs’ attempt to force-shift the entire applications market onto the Apple Development Platform. This seems to be nothing more than a transparent attempt to dominate in the Applications Development market.
Consider the illustration on the left. It depicts a quadrant of Product Erosion. The top-right quadrant shows that the most significant products and those with the highest degree of differentiation are considered “Innovative Solutions.” Products with the least amount of differentiation and low degrees of significance are considered “Standard” or “Commodity.”
Over time, innovative solutions erode in marketplace value as competitors bring similar products to market. What was an innovation becomes a standard. To gain or maintain market share, incremental differentiation must occur.
The marketplace is and has always been an environment of:
- Commodity or Long-Tail providers
The struggle of any innovator is to keep their products and services in the innovative solution quadrant. Organizations and leaders can do this with “wow” products, or with personality-driven press as they differentiate their products and services. Apple has the wow, but Steve Jobs seems to be employing personality with this irrelevant war and possibly even the lost iPhones. In addition, with the demand that developers only use Apple’s Application Development Platform, he seems a bit behind the times, old school bravado trying to operate in a new and more collaborative value system.
So, back to the question, is Steve Jobs failing Apple by employing such a strategy?
Jobs Isn’t Failing, Only Flailing
The answer is, no. He’s not failing, but in acting like Lord and Commander of the entire development value system, he is flailing. A continued demand that developers choose the Apple Platform to develop products for access to his “mass market,” could result in Apple ending up with delayed product releases as developers move to other platforms where they are free to choose their tools. Developers will then port their programs over to Apple’s Web OS using Objective C code generators.
No Guru is an Island
Jobs has made these mistakes before. He seems to forget that Apple is, and always has been, an innovation company. He understands innovation. He is willing to gamble everything to keep Apple as an innovator in the marketplace. With the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products, the mobile marketplace has been reset. It’s ready to grow again; but Steve Jobs, instead of basking in the glow of the accolades he so richly deserves, is picking fights about a whole lot of nothing. Worse, he’s acting as if the developers who develop for Apple’s mobile applications are employees and not separate entities working within the market standardization and innovation quadrant, just like Apple. He’s acting as though Apple is providing a benefits package and career advancement opportunities. He is acting old tech bully in a collaborative tech value system. In the end, for 2 million Flash developers, and countless other companies and corporations, there’s not enough benefit in the Apple platform to put up with the abuse and the outright disregard for the market’s needs. After all, there’s a whole big world out there. Jobs might be the one who built the thing, but once everyone else catches on, it’s only a matter of time before the innovation becomes standard and the fight for market domination begins in earnest. Technology is not like the Project Runway Slogan: One day you’re in and the next day you’re out! It is a Learning System, where failures can lead to great successes and incremental changes can lead to market domination.
Gartenberg is right. It’s not about Open Vs. Closed Systems; but it’s not about mass market either. And, while Jobs is trying to make it about the Application Development Platform, such a focus may prove to be a dead end. Ultimately, this battle is about innovation, which is what Jobs should be focused on maintaining because innovation is his place in the Tech Eco-system. If Jobs wants mass market domination, he will have to let go of innovation and focus on more mundane things, like product support. Warring with other eco-system dwellers for market domination will only net the inevitability that someone other than Apple will dominate the mobile marketplace. Steve Jobs just doesn’t have the patience for the incremental nature of market domination. In a year or two, when everything has run its course, Steve will be onto the neXT big thing. If given the opportunity, he will, without a doubt, blow our minds again. The iPhone and iPad will be classic, or discontinued completely like so many of Apple’s unsupported products (I still have one of those awesome Mac Cubes, which, while totally cool, was only supported for about six months by Apple). Those of us who are tech-savvy know Steve J obs. We’ve watched him wage these battles time and time again. We have watched his disinterest in domination activities, especially after that next thing comes along. We, the tech-savvy consumers understand. Unless Steve Jobs changes dramatically, he’s going to get that innovation itch. When that happens, his desire for total market domination will be tossed aside. Like a fresh wind blowing away the stale air of technical mundanity, Steve Jobs will rise up, and he will innovate.
So don’t buy into the hype. Instead, focus on Jobs’ next act in disruptive technology. And, if you must have a war, watch what happens as the rest of the market battles it out for their place in the quadrant.
As always, I look forward to hearing what you tech-savvys (and even mass market folks) have to say.