By Alok Saboo on July 28th, 2009
By now, I am sure, you would have heard of the latest storm in the telephony world. Apple rejected the official Google Voice iPhone application from the App store and also removed other Google Voice iPhone apps from the app store. The entire world is crying foul and decrying Apple for stifling innovation. As an iPhone owner, my first reaction was not too different. How could Apple dictate what software do we run on our phones?
But on little deliberation, I realized that this move is a blessing in disguise for the entire industry. My argument follows…
Apple is clearly the dominant (or at least the most influential) player in the smart phone segment. While Android, Blackberry, Nokia, and Palm have tried to stop Apple’s hegemony, they have only had limited success so far. Two reasons that come to mind for this dominance: 1) Wonderful piece of hardware, and 2) Extensibility provided by the 3rd party apps.
In the hardware department, others are slowly catching up or even beating Apple. Toshiba TG01’s 1Ghz snapdragon processor already trumps the 600Mhz iPhone processor. Palm Pre is already talked about as a worthy competitor to the venerable iPhone.
But with the current move, Apple has antagonized two of its most crucial stakeholders: customers (and often Apple evangelists) and developers. Apple offers a great platform for the developers, but Apple also needs them equally badly. The third party apps on the App Store is a huge competitive advantage and creates a huge entry barrier for other players. But we must note that out of the over 50,000 apps there are a handful of apps that users care. Most of the apps on the App store are nothing short of useless. It is not surprising that less than 20% of users even return to run a free application after it is downloaded. Apple needs big developers to create compelling apps for the App store.
By antagonizing developers and forcing them to work on other platforms, Apple is voluntarily handing over its competitive advantage. Other platforms need only a sizable useful apps to get the customer excited. And once Android or Pre or any other platform has a sizable number of users, developers will jump the boat and nullify Apple’s advantage.
Google Voice is one great example. It is one great thing that has happened to telephony in recent times and lot of users would love to use Google Voice on their phones to save cell phone minutes or send free SMS. By dictating what apps can be run on the hardware, Apple has pissed several users. A quick check on Twitter reveals that may have already moved to Android and many are in planning the move.
This is a great news for other smart phone makers. It gives them more than a fighting chance and an opportunity to win customers and developers. Nobody likes monopoly and definitely not when the monopoly power is abused like this. I sincerely hope that the other manufacturers are able to seize the opportunity and offer compelling value propositions so that in the times to come, we can have a more level playing field.
If nothing else, this could turn the public opinion against Apple and force it to listen to consumers rather than forcing its diktat on them. Lets hope it all ends well for “us”, the consumers!!
Please share your opinion and let the world know what you think about this…