A Spoonful of Win sees itself as a resounding advertisement for the worth of platforms. We reside on one and are clearly the best thing about it*. Yet in Silicon Valley and the world of tech startups more generally, there seems to be a curious shift. No longer is all the hype about new products. Instead a lot of it is about new platforms, how people are making money off them, which ones are dying and which are #winning.
So we hear all about why Nokia is deserting one platform with a massive installed user base (Symbian) for another with no user base at all (Windows Phone), how Apple is evil but going to get rich, and what our overlords at Facebook are planning. All while Android continues to churn out beta updates that no one except Google employees see and Twitter continues to save Egypt and save Charlie Sheen all in a days work.
Naturally therefore this blog needs to say something too. To talk about platforms and in doing so push the boundaries of human knowledge.
The world is currently in love with what are known as two sided platforms. These are places where two different groups of users interact, gaining network benefits from each other’s presence. Think credit cards (Visa gives you the platform, merchants and consumers provide the two client groups). Or a magazine with advertisers and readers. And of course, Facebook is a cool new two sided platform with developers and users joining hands to make them rich.
Two sided platforms differ from the more boring and conventional one sided platform, such as a telephone company providing landlines. And two seems to be the most sides a platform ever has – which if you think about it is kind of necessary for the metaphor to survive.
Until now the world has always thought that Apple was in the business of two sided platforms – the iPhone after all relies on developers making apps and folks like us buying them. So does the iPad. Evidently we were wrong. The coolest new selling point of the new iPad seems to be not the hardware, nor the software but instead an accessory: The Smart Cover. Back of the envelope calculations seems to suggest that Apple could pull in about a billion dollars from the sale of this single hardware accessory. That’s not counting all the millions independent accessory manufacturers have made and continue to make.
With numbers that large it seems pretty clear that if you’re sufficiently stylish (and Apple certainly is) and sufficiently smart, you can pull of a 3 sided platform. Hardware accessories (covers, touch-screen protectors, wireless speakers, cables and adaptors) make one side. Software developers make a second. Consumers make a third.
And the third side doesn’t just happen. It requires Apple to consistently update products, change physical dimensions, use non-standard connectors and make devices fragile enough to require additions. And make them look good with a cohesive design aesthetic.
So the question and our challenge to readers then becomes – does someone do better than 3?
*There are those who have pointed out to us that our new tone of intense narcissism and self delusion is simply the celebrity approved approach to plummeting public interest. We can only thank them for the implied compliments.