“Open or perish.” If you are not “open” (i.e open source) then you just don’t get it, you’re brainwashed and destined for a life of obsolescence (Sigal, 2009). While this may be an appealing logic the reality isn’t so simple, and especially not when we are discussing the future of the mobile net.
Take a look at the oppositional approaches taken by the two companies with (apparently) the greatest product differentiation and the greatest share of the mobile market (Sigal, 2009). Apple and Google.
Apple. Their first platform was open and it became successful because it was open. The company has now created a closed ecosystem with an integrated approach to hardware, software and service. Google is generally perceived to be more open, taking a “looser” approach to systems and services (Reestman, 2009). Both businesses are highly successful with legions of devotees. So which approach is better?
Apple delivers a “superb” user experience with great synergy and seamless integration across its different products, however it is also a bit of a bully. The company holds all the power to choose which services and offerings it anoints as value-adds (as well as which to banish) (Reestman, 2009).
Google is pretty phenomenal in the way it rolls out its product offerings and its openness has allowed many to build on the system. However, some critics note that its products are uninspired and unfocused from a product lifecycle perspective (Reestman, 2009). Although doesn’t open just seem better than closed?
Mark Sigal of GigaOM says, “The reality is that openness is just an attribute – it’s not an outcome, and customers buy outcomes. They want the entire solution and they want it to work predictably. Only a tiny minority actually cares about how or why it works.” (Sigal, 2009) This perspective tends to explain how things are viewed from the end user angle. Only the ‘geeks’ among us tend to consider or wonder how something like an operating system might work. The majority of consumers just want something that works, is easy to use, reliable and solves their problems (Zweier, 2013).
There are a few broad issues with trying to innovate in the “open” Android space. If you develop a great new feature, everybody else gets the code too. The distinguishable becomes indistinguishable. The development of apps is also a bit of a problem for Android users, if you develop hardware with a nice feature android can take advantage of then you will have to wait for an app to support it (which realistically could take a very long time) (Hardy, 2008).
One important benefit of an open system is that it allows for a huge amount of people and companies to collaborate. While this may sometimes be seen as a downfall (companies don’t really want to develop for their competitors) it certainly increases the competition, which is always a bonus for the consumer.
In the end it comes down to the consumer and wether they want comfort, or freedom.