The App Dilemma

In the year 2020 there will be 31 billion connected devices and 25 million* applications available for purchase or download. There is no question that apps and the app marketplace is becoming one of the most important trends in the industry.Software drove the initial PC boom of the 80's and 90's and it is again driving the boom of the Smartphone market. During that time period predominantly here on the West Coast we had a thriving retail computer software outlet called Egghead Software. Egghead Software was where you could go to shop for all the latest shrink wrap software. Today the in store experience Egghead Software represented is now found in our current App Store marketplaces. There is however a dilemma with our current App marketplace that didn't exist back then to the extent it does today.The Dilemma

This dilemma is platform fragmentation. When the PC was the hottest piece of hardware on the market Windows was the most dominant platform, for PC's it still is today. There were multiple platforms for PC software but none as dominant as Windows. That is not the case in our mobile device ecosystem and I don't personally believe it will ever be the case with mobile devices. Our mobile platform landscape is fragmented and will remain fragmented. This platform fragmentation will have a much deeper impact on our software landscape then it did in the past with PC's.

The primary reason is because the life of the mobile device is most likely going to be much shorter then the life of the PC. With all the interesting things happening in mobile devices I wonder what the likely hood is that people will switch platforms based on new device and platform innovation every few years. I could see a future where a consumer went with the latest iPhone one year and then switched to the newest Android device the year after or vice-versa. This seems simple enough unless you think about it from the software application standpoint.

If this consumer has purchased say a dozen or so apps for their iPhone, as soon as they switch to Android they will have to re-purchase these applications, assuming they even exist on the other platform. This is the problem device and software fragmentation may cause in the future which is emphasized by the likely hood of consumers switching platforms.

The Solution

It seems the logical answer is simply stay committed to one single platform. This is in essence generally what happens with PC's. It would simply be easier if a consumer stuck with one platform but I am not sure that is what consumers will want to do in the future.

Another possible solution is that the software maker could offer a higher premium for the application in order to secure the purchase of their software for whatever platform they choose. Instead of a multi-user license it is more a multi-platform license. Or perhaps if the consumer did not purchase the multi-platform license the software maker could offer the software at a lower price for the different platform if in fact you have already purchased the software on another platform before. What I like about this solution is the software creator owns the customer and the customer relationship in the long run.

Lastly perhaps where it is all going anyway is cloud based applications where apps may be platform agnostic anyway. This would be a very interesting future with deep industry implications on hardware and operating systems but we will have to save that discussion for a later time.

What do you think? How does this platform fragmentation get solved or does it?