Developing Droids

Android is the next MS-DOS.

I am not consigning Android to the landfill of technology history.  In fact I am predicting that Android may well become the de facto personal computing architecture of the (near) future.  My prognostication are not divine nor demented, nor are they a technologist’s religious rhetorical report.  This is pure marketing led by the second most important part of the marketing mix:  the people that provide product.

In this case, programmers.

Repeating myself — as I am too fond of doing — people buy operating systems to run applications.  Applications achieve things and the OS exists for no other reason than to facilitate applications.  Thus platform wars are won by having a large set of applications that work well together (or at least don’t drop-kick one another into inoperability) and thus increase the likelihood that any end user will find the solution/application for which he/she/it is looking.

Microsoft and Oracle knew this.

I maintain that Borland made Bill Gate rich.  In the early days of MS-DOS, there were few applications because compilers cost a couple of thousand dollars … in 1980’s money.  Many compiler vendors changed royalties for whatever you invented, getting money up front and a piece of your future action.  Then along came Borland who put a royalty-free Pascal compile on the market for $49.  Within hours, the MS-DOS market was overrun with applications from full-blown accounting systems to barely passable shareware.  Indeed the problem was not a lack of application, but the burden of shifting through numerous resources to find which app worked well enough (remember, these were the dark days before the web and consumer reviews).

Oracle was the instigator for UNIX.  On its own, UNIX was encouraging developers to build for HP-UX, AIX, Solaris and other mutant variants.  However, Oracle accelerated the process by providing (and encouraging others to provide) a consistent DBMS language and middleware stack.  Proprietary OSs began dying faster than Budweisers at a Raider’s tailgate party.

Now developers are targeting Android.

The numbers are big, and Steve Jobs should be worried.  A full 72% of polled developers think Android is “best positioned to power a large number and variety of connected devices in the future,” though a mere 25% think Apple’s iOS has the same cachet (webOS and BlackBerry OS rack-up a meager 16% each). Worse yet for Apple is that Android’s appeal for coders is growing about 10% a quarter.  Not even Oracle suing Google is deterring developers from writing apps for Android.

He who has the most apps wins.  Thus he who wins the interest of developers wins.  Microsoft proved this.  Oracle proved this.  Now Google is repeating history, with the next and larger wave of personal computing.

That last part should catch the attention of the industry and investors.  One analyst group predicts that over 1,000,000,000 people will have wireless mobile devices within three years (about three United States worth of shaved apes will be madly punching their handsets searching for the closest source for a good latte).  As smartphone technology continues to commoditize, this figure will grow.  Whereas a family of four might get by with one personal computer, they will “need” four smartphones and possibly four pads/tablets.  One person, one-two devices each.

And Android has been anointed by developers as the prime moving target.

The marketing lesson herein is that the application is sacred and drives all other decisions.  It decides who is writing apps, which in turn decides what apps are available to users, which in turn decides which OS they users use.  Start with the buyer’s end goals and expected outcomes when developing your marketing strategy — everything else becomes de facto.  Google knew this when the bought Android, not wanting to be in the OS business but definitely wanting to own the next phases of personal computing — web and mobile.


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