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Making The Case For Four (Enterprise) Mobility Ecosystems

As you may have seen yesterday, RIM posted some pretty disappointing earnings for the second quarter.  As expected, the stock tanked in after hours trading, and is down ~20% today.  The situation is anything but rosy for our good friends in Waterloo.  And those very highly paid vultures better known as financial analysts continue their downgrades and other views, including one today spelling the “steam rolling” of RIM at the hands of our Cupertino friends.

There are obviously a lot of major issues going on at RIM these days.  There’s no need to beat a dead horse (referring to the reasons…not the company) regarding what needs to be done.  We’ve all said it.  Build a shiny new OS (hopefully one that does NOT ape iOS), build out your developer ecosystem and provide both hardware and software updates with much greater speed.

While many pundits have looked into their crystal balls and see only three ecosystems, others, including BGR blogger Zach Epstein, continue to keep the faith.  I’m not hear today to predict anything.  I’ve said a thousand times before that these are unbelievable times.  Three operating systems have been put out of commission this year alone.  There’s no question that seven major mobile operating systems was “too much.”  The (multi) billion dollar question is how many are enough?

I violently disagree with the pundits who believe it’s going to ultimately be an iOS and Android world.  Firstly, Microsoft will fight until its last dying breath to be a leading player whenever there’s an operating system battle taking place….and with $51 Billion in cash in the bank (almost as much as Apple and Google [post Motorola acquisition] combined), they’re not going away any time soon.   Second, I actually believe it would be detrimental to (enterprise) mobility if it were three players.  Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM each bring their share of innovation to the table.  Granted, RIM has not brought much to the table recently, but let’s not forget who basically invented the smartphone. The four remaining players need to exist so they can beat each other up indefinitely.  Why?  Because we, the USERS, will benefit the most.  We’ll get better hardware, software and ecosystems much faster than if we only have two players.

Look at the desktop OS war.  Up until this week’s Build event, when was the last time there real innovation in the desktop operating system space?  When was the last time there was real innovation in productivity suites (please don’t say the Ribbon in Office 2007)? Now look at the browser wars.  Only once Firefox emerged, as well as Chrome and Opera, did Microsoft wake up and start investing once again in browser innovations.  Who wins that battle?

We do.  We got the Cloud and HTML5 apps thanks to them beating each other senseless on JavaScripting benchmarks.

Let’s get out of the tech space and look at the automotive industry.  How many auto manufacturers compete for your money every year? Even in any particular segment there are 4 or 5 major players.   Let’s not forget the implosion of the US auto industry just a couple of years ago.  After being just steps away from falling off the precipice, US automakers (including Ford that received zero bail-out money) are delivering today very highly competitive products.  That herculean turnaround happened in 2.5 years.

So let me ask my question again.  Why can’t the market sustain four major ecosystems?

11 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2011 at 15:50 | Permalink

    No! I’ll resist expounding with my market theories (technology market), but I’ll point you to one very, very forbidding number – RIM’s cash position. So the better question might be: “Can all the four players survive this market?”. It don’t look pretty, and this may explain why only a limited number of ecosystems will eventually survive.

    Side thought – I like the auto industry analogy (been stewing on that one). But cars aren’t really platforms. They are themselves vertically integrated products. In high tech, platforms allow people to develop and market layers of technologies on top (applications) and below (hardware, components etc). That big ecosystem needs to converge to as few intersection points as possible, and “intersection point” = platform.

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    • Posted September 16, 2011 at 15:54 | Permalink

      I will absolutely have to respectfully disagree Nick. Engines are shared across cars…and car companies. Transmissions are provided third party manufacturers…and the actual platform itself can be used on many different cars. (e.g.: Jeep Grand Cherokee is a Mercedes M Class chassis) There is also a huge aftermark for cars based upon the platforms…and there, there are many. So there, we have multiple ecosystems across multiple brands….almost sounds like Android!!! ;-)

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  2. Posted September 16, 2011 at 16:05 | Permalink

    They tend to be shared within an auto company (across its brands). Occasionally you’ll see components like engines sourced across company lines, but car components don’t count as platforms. Rephrased as question – is there any car component that has as many technologies and companies relying on it than Microsoft has for Windows? Windows is a platform.

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  3. Posted September 16, 2011 at 16:33 | Permalink

    No, at least no where near the degree to which true of Windows. Android, yes. iOS – different execution, but yes.

    Whatever the taxonomy on “platforms”, RIM’s cash position is atrocious. Their current cash position gives them no wiggle room – especially if you think there’ll be further decline in Q-over-Q sales. Can’t as easily make acquisitions. Can’t use advanced ordering to gain leverage on parts from suppliers. etc etc

    Worthwhile read on RIM: http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelhumphrey/2011/09/16/goodbye-blackberry-a-reluctant-personal-requiem/?partner=yahootix

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  4. Posted September 17, 2011 at 15:52 | Permalink

    So I went and read the Forbes article and its main focus to me was the tired old Apps argument. So I am curious as to how many 3rd party (and by thrid party i mean apps that are not part of the OS) apps do each of you use on a regular basis? Just Curious as I don’t get the apps argument when all the research I have read is that most users only use 4-5 apps on a regular basis.

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    • Posted September 18, 2011 at 07:42 | Permalink

      I think what you will find is the 10-20 Apps I use are not the same as the ones you find useful.

      Recent analysis of the Android market shows the number of key Apps is 50. These 50 Apps are the key ones users expect to have available.

      I do think a powerful thing Apple tapped into with “Theres an App for that” is people love to sample. How fun was it to download a small App, check it out and if it doesn’t meet your needs you delete it. It has a certain self satisfaction / fulfillment aspect to it (almost like flipping through 300 channels with a remote)

      In the last 3 years I’ve likely downloaded over 2000 Apps across all the platforms I use. On my day to day devices I have less then 20 Apps I use. Due to the sampling I have found the Apps that I consider add value or extend the functionality of my mobile device(s). Anytime I have a new device I want these 20 Apps. This is one of the main things RIM needs to fix, they fixed the hardware, fixed the OS (QNX), can they fix the App issue?

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  5. Posted September 18, 2011 at 07:36 | Permalink

    The ongoing negativity does get tiring as I can’t believe any knows what the mobile landscape will look like in a year or further. Is the “consumerization of IT” really occurring or does the awful economy and tight budgets allowing it to get traction to defer costs? Do Apps really matter or is HTML 5 really going to change.

    I don’t think anyone wants to see Apple controlling mobile Apps and content similar to music. Reality is Apple has made one heck of a delivery system. It will take time and many deals to equal it. RIM is at least similar to Microsoft, Apple and Google in having a global infrastructure. HTC, Samsung just make the device and have to make a living on razor then profit margins selling devices quarter after quarter. This is one of the main reasons no Android model has been a major seller.

    I disagree RIM hasn’t done anything, QNX OS is solid, Blackberry Balance provide unique controls for enterprise to manage BYOT devices. I give RIM until next summer to fix their major issues, OS 7 devices are decent, the same issues for RIM hasn’t yet changed – lack of key Apps, lack of developers. I think the question should be how many “AppStores” can the market sustain? Does every mobile platform need not only it’s own OS but a AppStore, media content etc.

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    • Posted September 19, 2011 at 07:03 | Permalink

      @MobileAdmin – GREAT question regarding the number of App Stores we “need!!!” However, I think we will see MANY private (a.k.a. enterprise) app store solutions…but the question I think you are asking is more geared to how many PUBLIC app stores. I’ll have to ponder that one a little more.

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  6. Posted September 21, 2011 at 12:56 | Permalink

    Market can have 4 or more Mobility ecosystems, its more a question of who is gonna get the major pie of Enterprise Market. A close comparison can be current desktop O\S market. Windows and Linux controls majority of market.Point to note is that both serve differentiated enterprise need.
    I do not think Enterprise Mobility will offer good ROI to more than 2 players in long run. The biggest challenge for four pronged market is limited ecosystem variables for the same target market.

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