Open Source Won the War – Did Apple Miss a Memo?
When I was a kid, there was one morning in my house that held all the anticipation of Christmas but was on a school day. Once a year my parents would go to my brother’s yearly school fund raiser silent auction. They would return well past my bedtime and I would wake early in the morning in anticipation of what great item they had brought home for me or the family. Often it was a giant stuffed animal or a big box of chocolates, but there is one year that I will never forget. I woke to my mom telling me they had brought home a video player. I was so excited as this was the latest and greatest technology of the time and I couldn’t wait to have friends over to watch movies at home rather than the theater. This euphoria wore off rather quickly though when my mom showed me the big Sony Betamax box sitting in the kitchen. At this point it was already well known that Betamax had lost the consumer video wars to the open VHS platform and I was now sure to be the laughing stock of all my friends. I recovered from that day (eventually got a VHS), but the lesson of open platforms never left me.
While Apple has long outlived the feared Betamax analogy, I can’t help but continue to wonder if their rises and falls could be shored up by creating open platforms and allowing their software to spread. A recent article in eWeek shows that Apple’s proprietary nature is already setting it back:
Google Android OS captured 56.1 percent of the global smartphone market in the first quarter of 2012, up from 36.4 percent in the first quarter of 2011. It was followed by Apple’s proprietary iOS platform with a 23 percent share, the open-source Symbian OS from Nokia at 8.6 percent and the proprietary BlackBerry OS from Research In Motion at 6.9 percent.
Android’s quick rise to dominance can be clearly traced to it being an open source platform that allows the community to develop and contribute to its success with the OS being portable to a wide range of devices. This is in contrast to Apple who controls the ecosystem of the device (i-based), the OS (official iOS version from Apple) and the development platform (Objective-C for native). It’s a bit funny when you think about how Apple first introduced the Macintosh at the Super Bowl in 1984 by mocking the Orwellian nature of PCs of the time only to require full control over almost every aspect of development and distribution when it comes to their own devices. This control has turned off many developers as they look for a community they can contribute to and grow.
However, it’s not all wine and roses for the Android world. Allowing for open source has led to fragmentation in the Android market. OpenSignalMaps just conducted a study related to Android and they “spotted 3997 distinct devices.” This means that developers have to take into consideration an ever expanding range of device profiles when developing their software. To add to this, developers also have to look at what versions of the available operating systems they are going to support and develop based on those needs as well.
Though there are drawbacks, it’s my opinion that open source will continue to be the route to go for broad and future market adoption of platforms and software. As we move to the next phase of mobility, look for more and more companies focusing on open source as the consumer and developer power grows in their ability to dictate what’s to come next rather than waiting for the next big thing. A key player to watch in this space is the reemerging Open webOS and Enyo 2.0 development platform. The Open webOS platform is browser based for rendering on any device while the Enyo 2.0 dev platform is HTML5 based allowing for the same. The teams behind this operating system and dev platform have truly embraced open source and are giving the community full capabilities to add to the product. Derek Kessler talks about the community collaboration in his article “Enyo 2.0 beta 3 release brings sliders, progress bars, HTML content” on webOS Nation:
Speaking of open source, the Enyo team has noted that a number of the core improvements and bug fixes included in beta 3 were “pulled from the community,” meaning that even at this early stage HP is actively including work from outsiders in the improvement of Open webOS and Enyo.
This level of community involvement is at the heart of the Consumerization of IT and represents the next generation of DEAP* thinking. Apple are you listening?
*DEAP – Device Enterprise Application Platform