January 13th, 2007

Platforms Vs. Experiences


Dave Winer and many others don’t like that Apple’s iPhone is a closed device, which doesn’t allow you to change the software or use other software. While I can appreciate how frustrating it must be for people like Dave with the skill and desire to customize their tech products to better suit their needs, they are a tiny minority. The reality is that Apple is not in the business of creating platforms — they are are in the business of creating experiences. The iPod was so wildly successful because it was — from the perspective of millions of people — a great experience, and the iPhone promises to be as well.

One-size-fits all is tough proposition, because one size will never fit all — but Apple has a talent for fitting MORE people EXTREMELY well than almost any other tech company. I’d much prefer Apple focus on creating great experiences than on supporting a developer community who might pull them in a thousand different directions.

Perhaps Dave would be willing to demonstrate the benefit of open platforms by letting me post on Scripting News — but that would surely kill the experience of Scripting News, wouldn’t it? (Or how about you, Mathew, can I change the layout of your blog to better suit my needs?)

I could also rewrite the end of Casablanca, or take a pant brush to a Monet canvas, or remix a Jimi Hendrix recording, or…if you don’t like any of those, there are lots of other choices. Apple is not restricting anybody’s choice — if you don’t like the experiences they create, there are plenty of other tech companies out there.


There seem to be two arguments against Apple here:

1. Locking out developers is bad for business

Yeah, that lock-in approach to iPod has sure been bad for business.

Apple Stock Chart

And how about Google, that other paragon of openness?

Google Stock Chart.jpg

2. Steve Jobs is an egotistical control freak, which offends our sensibilities

Yeah, well, get over it.

Comments (46 Responses so far)

  1. developers, etc. Poeple have taken various positions on the matter. Dave Winer has taken the stance that Apple is wrong to take this route with the iPhone platform. Mathew Ingram has come out in support if this as well. Myself, I tend to agree with Scott Karp who argues that Apple is best at creating great experiences and the outside development should really not matter that much. Over the last few years I have become a huge fan of Apple, the company and their products. Like Scott says, Apple is great at

  2. Platforms Vs. Experiences

  3. AppleのiPhoneに対する言い得て妙なセリフを見つけました。 Platforms Vs. Experiences » Publishing 2.0 “Dave Winer and many others don’t like that Apple’s iPhone is a closed device, which doesn’t allow you to change the software or use other software. While I can appreciate how frustrating it must be for people like Dave with the skill and

  4. Platforms Vs. Experiences

  5. Aanbevolen leesvoer Platforms Vs. Experiences » Publishing 2.0WoW reaches 8 million subscribersV-tail: Where Virtual Words Meet E-CommerceThe Semantic Web: What will the Business Model Be?Fall Out Boy and Proof of the Tipping PointVoorspellingen van John Battelle

  6. serendipity is found on Techmeme and Digg, Personally Relevant news is found… well… in Touchstone. Findory did not fail because it was anti-social – it failed because it had some major gaps (a topic for another post). Second Scott talks about the iPhone as a platform issue. My post on the iPhone issue expressed my feelings that PDA style phones are platforms and that Apple is missing the point by trying to build an expensive CE device instead of a rich mobile platform. Scott believes that Apple bets on user experience

  7. Update: if you want more dispelling of myths associated with the iPhone, Roughly Drafted does an excellent job of it, including the myth that the lack of third-party apps will doom the platform. Further, Scott Karp accurately notes that Apple is in the business of selling experiences, not platforms, and that has been the essence of its success, not third-part applications. Technorati Tags: Apple, , iPhone, Mac OS X, Third-party software, Marketing

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  12. I found it even more interesting that Apple seems to be following all the rules — creating great stuff that people find worthy of remark — and yet Dave doesn’t think we should be talking about it (unless we’re being critical, of course).


  13. As a matter of fact, you can change the look of my blog, Scott. On the left-hand side of the blog, down near the bottom, is a list of themes — just click on any of them and you’ll get the same great Ingram content in a different package. There’s even a Mac-looking one :-)

    And I do get the point about how Apple focuses on closed systems because it allows them to control the experience as much as possible. But as I said before, I don’t think it has to be a binary thing — all control, or none. I just wish Steve would loosen up a bit.

  14. Oh, come on, Mathew, I don’t just want to change the look, I want to move everything around, maybe move it to a different blogging platform :)

  15. Well said. I have a Windows-Mobile-loving friend who doesn’t seem to get this either. To him, if he can’t write an app to get the phone to control his home automation system, it’s a “piece of crap”. It is so important to separate your own needs from the needs of the average consumer when analyzing the crapitude of any product.

    That said, I’d bet a large chunk of change that various aspects of the phone will be opened up as the phone’s environment matures. When this thing is first released, Apple and Cingular are going to be dealing with enough issues and firmware/OS updates already, without the worry of 3rd party stuff screwing things up. Let them get the basics stable first. Afterwards, my bet is that the first thing you’ll see open up are the widgets. This alone would satisfy a lot of developers including myself. Widgets are all JS-based and their security model is well established. If I can write a quick widget to pull X data from Y site and display in Z manner, that’s all the openness I need.

  16. [...] Oh, and Scott, by the way, all my clients are welcome to post to the Work Better Weblog. And if you want to change the layout, feel free to parse the RSS feed into something that works better for you. January 13, 2007 at 11:28 pm by Garrick Van Buren Tags: Apple [...]

  17. There is no doubt that the default/ out of the box experience for consumer devices needs to wow and excite users as many of Apple products do. However, to discount the needs of other users (i.e. the term “long tail”) with niche needs and/or interests by closing the iPhone does not make for good business. Unlike the iPod which plays a fairly narrow role in our everyday life a communication device such as the iPhone plays a absolutely central role in our life and there are thousands of scenarios that are simply unmet by the out of the box experience. The $499 price point essentially constrains their market to the high-end user and many of these high-end users are business folks who simply will not go for this product as-is. My sense is that until Apple brings the price point down and opens it up the iPhone will have a tough going.

  18. The Apple iPhone is a phone that looks cool when I get a girls number at a club. That’s good enough for most people to buy it – it fact, the fashion factor surrounding phones is probably a more important factor than the capability of the phone.

    In the web2.0 world, online services that have the most features never win – it’s the sites with the best user experience that win every time.

    I know how to customise my phone, but I rarely do use it outside the core functions of calling, texting and the occasional picture (although I’ve recently picked up e-mail and feed reading). I’m a minority because I know how – imagine the majority who don’t? My mum doesn’t even know how to send a text message.

  19. Or how about you, Mathew, can I change the layout of your blog to better suit my needs?

    Since Mathew is publishing using xhtml-code you could transform that code to any other code out there. Using Firefox and the extension greasemonkey you can rearrange/modify the content to suit exactly your needs regardless of what themes Mathew provides himself. The ones doing this might not (only) be the extreme tech-geeks like me but rather a visually impared person who needs to boost text size to be able to read. With the Apple way of doing business you would use flash as a publishing tool in order to control the end user experience exactly and guarantee you get the “Apple experience”.

  20. Please excuse the self-promotion but I wrote a whole article about this back in October:

    Joined-up experiences

    It was stimulated by Zune, obviously. Microsoft is trying to do both platforms (Windows for games; Plays For Sure) and experiences (Xbox, Zune), so it provides an interesting case study.

  21. You talk as if Apple provides a completely closed platform on it’s computers and on the iPod. It doesn’t. There are loads of 3rd-party developers for OS X, as there were for OS 9 before it. These people add immeasurably to the end-user experience — they add to the platform. Even the iPod, which is certainly “more closed” than OS X as a platform, has developed user enhancements via 3rd-party developers that have added to it. My understanding about the iPhone is that it will be even more closed, thus choking off the possibilities that have helped make OS X and the iPod a success. I think this is more apparent with Apple TV, which looks like a weak, limited offering. At least the iPhone is pretty, which is about the only thing a lot of people care about (especially Apple fanboys).

  22. Out of all the zillios of posts I’ve read on the iPhone this week, your comments are probably the most apposite and succinct of the whole lot of them.

    The millions of people who buy and will buy the ipod and iphone are unconcerned about the grizzled comments of the comparative minority who carp about Apple on the web, more often than not through ulterior motives, mainly to do with them having invested multidollars in Windows-related hardware and products.

  23. [...] Platforms Vs. Experiences » Publishing 2.0 [...]

  24. I think you’ve nailed it, Scott.

    But can this topic now be over? :) We’ve been having this discussion since – oh, 1984 or so.

  25. Rob, the topic itself is just like Apple design – a classic.

    Michael M., it’s not an issue of whether third party developers COULD make improvements, it’s an issue of whether Apple wants to devote resources to facilitating that dynamic — supporting developers requires resources and attention, you don’t just set it to autopilot. It’s a strategic tradeoff — if Apple wants to focus energy on optimizing the user experience themselves, that’s their choice, and they will either succeed or fail. But developers shouldn’t take it personally.

  26. So would we be better off if all Macs were closed off so we could only use software from Apple? No– it’s a ridiculous argument. Apple, as clever as they are, can’t envision everything we might need or have the resources to execute for those needs. Apple, Microsoft and almost every other tech company try to walk the line of providing the best product while keeping it as closed off as possible to protect their interests. Is it bad for business? Not if you still manage to sell a better product than everyone else. But it’s definitely bad for the consumer. Apple will only open the iPhone up as the market requires them to, and that just sucks for us users, who are stuck with products that are less useful until the rest of the market catches up.

  27. Tim,

    Apple will only open the iPhone up as the market requires them to, and that just sucks for us users, who are stuck with products that are less useful until the rest of the market catches up.

    Apple knows that “us users” are a tiny minority — and they know damn well that they are selling a better product than everyone else. Hard to see how having a better product than what the market had been offering sucks for most users — because it’s not the absolute superlative best that every backseat hacker can imagine it? Please!

    Most users owe Apple a debt of gratitude for leapfrogging the entire market and dragging it along into the future — from a business standpoint, why shouldn’t they squeeze all the advantage they can out of it?

    If another company, say Microsoft, thinks they can out-innovate Apple by openly embracing the developer community, well, they are welcome to try.

  28. [...] Platforms Vs. Experiences » Publishing 2.0 Interesting take…. (tags: platforms apple fordhamclass) [...]

  29. Scott: The path your argument was taking seemed reasonable except for one thing, you *can* customize Dave’s and Matthew’s blogs, either by writing your own application or harnessing one written by others. Dave is not suggesting that he should be able to change the iPhone in a way that affects everybody, just the ability to extend it for himself or any other willing person.

    Apple will not include details like their Javascript engine sucking badly in their marketing material but once someone runs their pocket Safari, they’d like to be able to install a Mac version of Minimo or Opera or whatever.

    Because my Windows-based phone has the ability to run additional applications, it is useful to me. I’ve not written any apps but I’ve certainly bought and installed some.

    It is certainly Apple’s prerogative to keep its system closed. In my view, it is a mistake. They’ll still sell a lot of iPhones but my guess is, they’d sell a lot more with a developer API. Case in point: Every single MB Pro convert from Windows that I know did so for one reason; Because of the existence of Parallels, a third party application which allows folks to run multiple operating systems on the base Mac environment. Developers can drive sales… a lot of them. Steve needs to wake up. Perhaps he’s doing it on purpose and plans to release a next-gen version with developer support so he can sell upgrade licenses. Maybe that’s all it is.

  30. Roll on the LG KE850.

    It was launched before the iPhone and without the hype (just ‘cos Jobs says something’s special it doesn’t mean it is), it has 3G and will probably have a better price too.

  31. Per your and Rob’s exchange above, this topic has been debated since 1984. And, what I think has been proven is that Apple really was AOL before AOL. I.e., so easy to use, no wonder it’s #1. But, when everyone starts to “get” it, they no longer need easy – they need customization. And then Apple loses.

    The music player is a great example – we have two iPods in our house that we’re very happy with. My wife and I use them mostly to play some music and take some photos around. I also use iTunes “shared music” to exchange music with friends / co-workers and I’ve bought a couple of songs from the iTunes store. For the most part, though, the iPod / iTunes experience for us is just listening to MP3s that that have been ripped from CDs and showing off photos that we took. Thus, for us, the iPod is great – does exactly what we need.

    But, my wife and I are not sophisciticated about my digital media yet. Most of my music collection is still on CDs. Most of my photos are on my computer. The moment that I want to create a more customized experience for my family’s digital media, that’s when we’ll start having issues. If I want to create a large library of digital media on some sort of shared storage device, then assign out different rights to that media (X file can only be accessed by Y person / people / devices), have both local and central control of files (in order for me to make changes to my media locally as well as centrally – simlar to how my calendar works with my Treo), the iPod experience seems less ideal.

    I’m not sure anyone has create either an experience or a platform for sophisticated manipulatoin of digital media yet, but this seems precisely that area in which Apple’s closed system falls down. As requirements grow more sophisticated, they grow more complex and customized. We start to need ecosystems of platform and service providers – the idea of the all-in-one environment starts to seem less appealing. This happened with the Mac, it happened with the AOL client. The Mac certainly challenged for PC supremacy, and AOL was a dominant number one for Internet access and usage. It’s all a matter of cycles and timing – when the market’s needs changed, consumers shifted allegances quite quickly. Why would we think history would not repeat itself going forward?

  32. Great post and certainly customer experience is king. But I’m not convinced that a more open version of iPhone and great customer experience are mutually exclusive. Why do you think they are? For example, Apple wouldn’t have to be pulled in a thousand different directions as you described. Developers would write to Apple’s specs – not the other way around. And users that don’t want to use third party apps would stay safely inside the Cingular walled garden, regardless if their were doors or not.

  33. Don’t I change the look of Matt’s blog by reading it my newsreader rather than reading it on his blog? [I just go to his blog so my MyBlogLog picture will show up : ) ] I also pull Dave’s content off his site via RSS and do all sorts of things with it — displaying it on one of bazillion start pages, or presenting it in any graphic form I want. Matt and Dave’s site are open, in this regard.

  34. Rex, I may be able to read Dave Winer’s blog in Google Reader, but I can’t actually hack either the content of Dave’s posts or the Google Reader app — those are utterly controlled experiences. Even in kneeling in front of the altar of openness, there are still immutable objects — for Apple, it happens to be their device OS.

  35. Anyone who has tried to eradicate a cellphone virus will understand one perfectly reasonable defense of the closed platform.

    When I saw that happen to a friend of mine, who endured a US$300 phone bill in a country where that’s a decent month’s income, I was very happy my T-Mobile Sidekick was a closed system.

    I do not think my friend used any third party software other than the virus … and the virus scan program I downloaded for her.

    You know, a widget is just a little web page, and as long as you can bookmark a web page you have virtually all the functionality widgets provide, no? I don’t think it will be hard at all for me to do a widget-style version of amazing.com (my social networking web site) and spread the link around. Maybe I can even get some nice affiliate program action by promoting the iPhone and Cingular in that way.

    So be of good cheer, developers. As long as your work can be bookmarked, and maybe even connected to an icon on the desktop, that’s all you need. The rest of the magic runs through Safari and won’t require any special assistantce from Apple.


  36. [...] For example, look at the discussion occurring regarding the iPhone and the pros/cons of having a closed/locked system vs. an open/adaptable platform. [...]

  37. much better said than me. awesome.

  38. Great post. Great distinction.

    To Arul, if you want to do those things, you can do it on the computer (Mac or PC). The iPod and iPhone and AppleTV are more “consuming” devices than “creating” devices. In other words, they are consumer electronics, or peripherals to the digital hub (Mac or PC). That’s why Apple is making them work with both Mac OS X and Windows PCs. In that way, they’ve already opened up their system – the digital hub isn’t tied to the Mac anymore (altho of course, from Apple’s and many other consumer’s perspective, it will work much better with the Mac).

    Jobs has already intimated that he’s thinking of going down the path of the video game consoles and portables (which are consumer electronics). He said there will be more software but it will come in a controlled fashion. So along those lines, why don’t blogs spend mega-pages bashing Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo about video game consoles, and making them open up the video game consoles to all?

  39. I don’t understand the Google example in this post… I think you’re being sarcastic and I disagree with your sarcasm. Google is shockingly open and absolutely in the business in creating platforms instead of experiences (examples: Maps API, GWT, Book Search, Custom Search Engine in Co-op). I think you have a strong point here with regards to Apple, but your reference to Google contradicts the point you make in this post. Google’s success is intimitely tied with Google’s openness.

  40. Loren Feldman’s take on this is (as usual) hilarious.

  41. [...] Platforms Vs. Experiences » Publishing 2.0 [...]

  42. “Or how about you, Mathew, can I change the layout of your blog to better suit my needs?”

    You must be aware that as more websites move over to XHTML (and I mean actual, valid, XHTML), which is an open standard, you will be able to use other open standards such as XSLT to transform it into any format you want? This is actually one of the most significant benefits of XHTML. And you can already create a user-defined stylesheet in many browsers to alter the appearance of all webpages. Sure, it’s not a task for the technically challenged, but neither is writing a widget for your iPhone.

    I’m not too beat up, since I’m not yet a Mac developer; this just means that I probably won’t consider an iPhone as a future purchase. If I’m going to shell out that sort of money on a piece of kit, I would like to be able to exploit it to the full extent of my (not inconsiderable) technical capabilities. Apple can excise my small market segment if they think it might increase overall sales, though I confess my hope that eventually they will realise that giving the finger to their dedicated developers (who are, after all, acutely aware of the need for good user interfaces) has hurt them somewhat. The Mac is an excellent platform for developers, so they are losing out on a wealth of third party software for their device.

  43. I would also like to mention one other personal reaction to this decision: it has made me a little warier of moving to the Mac as a development platform. Yes, they have excellent tools and appear to value their dev. community a lot (after all, fewer people would buy a Mac if it had a dearth of good software), but this indicates that Jobs, at least, doesn’t really trust or appreciate them. Which isn’t particularly encouraging to aspiring new developers.

  44. [...] to bring together the converged functionality, network access, universal GUI, and media access that defines the next generation of mobile device, functions and [...]

  45. If the fortunes of companies could be determined by two-year snippets you’d have a point.

    Taking the longer view results in statistics like this: PC – 94 percent share, Apple, 6 percent share.

  46. [...] agrees with Dave that Apple is taking the wrong route in trying to lock users in with the iPhone. Scott Karp chimes in that Jobs is more focused on creating a user experience than building a massive ecosystem around [...]

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