Apple vs. Microsoft: Platforms vs. Apps

Robert Scoble makes the case that Microsoft has to develop platforms in order to compete with the threat of Apple and it’s array of fab apps [not least the rise and rise of iTunes].

…look at the SmartPhone I own. It’s not the prettiest one out there. It’s not the geekiest one. It isn’t the one with the most features. But it’s only been out a few months and already the phone is seeing a new app released every few days. Heck, the other day iPodderSP was released for it.

Why is that?

Because on all of our platforms except for the Xbox there’s a little piece of software called .NET. That lets programmers who’ve been writing Visual Basic code for the past decade (there’s millions of them) to also write apps for the Media Center, the Tablet PC, and the SmartPhone.

Now, a platform takes longer to evangelize. Why? Cause it’s not as cool up front. But let’s say that every app released has 500 users. Well, eventually that adds up to real numbers.

It’s the long tail approach. Build a platform that developers can play on and you’ll eventually win.

Matt Webb analyses the Apple Keynote and makes a damn good argument for why Apple needs to be open and extensible in developing Pages, their cut down DTP software:  they need to develop platforms not apps for the same reason that Microsoft do…


There are three parts of Microsoft: Windows, Office, WMA+DRM. Microsoft are positioning to have their DRM and media format become the ethernet of the next 30 years, every "packet" of audio or video will be stamped by that technology. Office, the power is not in what you do with it, but in its potential as a development platform: You can have a plugin that fires events when you change styles, constrains how you use the app, validates data, adds extra functionality… Office is the Office OS. This is massively important. Given those first two, I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft turned round tomorrow and published the entire Windows API and let people clone the entire thing. It would take the wind out of the sales of anti-trust efforts, and turn the OS into a commodity that’d leave the way completely open for the real money-spinners. So: Pages has got to be not just a DTP app, but a platform, and that’s why the script interface has got to be great, Cocoa has to encourage plugins, the document model has to have events attached to it, and the format has to be extensible, tried and tested. Ditto iCal and Mail. (I’m also pleased Apple feel able to release a DTP/word processing app without matching the niches of traditional apps. What next? A spreadsheet/XML/database/data entry app? A photo editing/vector drawing/Flash anim type app? The traditional silos are breaking down.)

Having multi-functional apps also makes sense to the user – though I’m sure old school business heads see sense in keeping these as seperate products.   

So platforms are where the real battles will occur.  The next question is how to win over the hearts and minds of the developers amongst the long tail and push the skunkworks revolution….

PS Matt’s book Mind Hacks is a fascinating read.