Devices and Platforms: Special-Purpose vs. General-Purpose January 8, 2010Posted by David Card in Digital Home & Personal Tech, Media.
Tags: Amazon, Apple, devices, gadgets
Two articles in the Journal today – both CES summings up, on e-books and on Internet TVs – along with that looming product announcement from Cupertino, got me thinking about the pros and cons of general-purpose versus special-purpose devices and platforms. When you’re evaluating the evolution of things like PCs vs. netbooks vs. tablets vs. e-books vs. game consoles vs. TV sets vs. smartphones – you’re all doing that, right? – don’t forget a few planks for your frameworks:
- General-purpose doesn’t always beat special. See consoles vs. PCs for gaming
- “Open” doesn’t always beat closed-loop. Ditto, and TV set-tops and phones, so far
- GP advantages: flexibility, leveraging existing bases of apps or other ecosystem elements
- Special-purpose advantages: optimization
Let’s dwell on that special-purpose device optimization angle for a few bullets:
- User interface/experience: a Tivo is a better video program guide than a PC, but it’s pretty lousy for managing your music collection. And look how well Windows works on phones
- Cost: some things are better off without the Wintel tax, and hardware and software licensing and costs can aim for optimal tradeoffs
- Form-factor: some things need to fit in your pocket; and do you really need an 11″ color screen to read a book?
Does this mean I think e-books will beat tablets or smartphones? Not necessarily. I’ve been a Kindle user for over 18 months, and I’m a huge fan. I occasionally use my iPhone to read Kindle books, but will never default that way. But I doubt $250 e-books are ever going to be mainstream consumer products. And as James McQuivey tweeted earlier, there’s still a lot of innovation coming.
Likewise, Michael Gartenberg correctly tweeted that we should all remember that e-books aren’t just about devices, but their surrounding ecosystems. Regular readers will remember the old “platform” definition.
JupiterResearch defines a “platform” as a set of core technologies and services that other applications and services, from other companies, can use. These core technologies often include application-programming interfaces, file formats, user interface elements, and, these days, syndicated Web services. Google extends the notion of platform to include revenue streams or business models – for example, paid search and keyword-based contextual advertising – that partners can plug into. Platforms spawn economic ecosystems and feedback loops, and are solidified by habitual usage. Successful ecosystems must offer value to all links: user, partner, and platform provider. Paid search epitomizes that kind of win/win/win situation.
What do you think? Am I all wet on the value of specialization?