Platforms vs. Developers

In the last few days there have been a large number of posts about two platform companies – Apple and Twitter.  These posts covered a wide range of perspectives (a few of the better ones are linked to below) but fundamentally came down to the tension between a platform (e.g. the iPhone OS or Twitter) vs. third party developers that build applications on top of the platforms.

Several of the Twitter related posts include The Twitter Platform’s Inflection Point, Twitter and third-party Twitter developers, and Developers In Denial: The Seesmic Case Study. Several of the Apple related posts ones include  and Adobe Vs. Apple War Generates Rage, Facebook Group, Why Apple Changed Section 3.3.1, Steve Jobs response on section 3.3.1.  If you missed the leads to the story, Apple made a major change in their TOS and Twitter launched an official Blackberry client and acquired the Tweetie iPhone client, rattling their developer community.  And Twitter Officially Responds To Developers and Tries To Calm Fears.

While there has been an amazing outburst of reaction – including much surprise and criticism – to both of these situations, they should come as no surprise to anyone that has been in the computer business for a long time.  What we are experiencing is the natural evolutionary struggle that exists between a platform and its developers.  In the past few years, both Twitter and Apple have created amazing platforms and build incredible network effects on top of their platforms.  One way they have done this is to embrace developers, who have flocked to these platforms in droves, building a huge variety of awesome, great, good, mediocre, and crummy products on top of the platforms. Some of these products have created meaningful revenue for the developers, others have generated fame, and many have generated a giant time sink of work that hasn’t resulted in much.  This is the nature of being a developer on top of a platform.

True platforms are special things that are rare.  Fortunately, developers have a lot of choices and that is a powerful dynamic that keeps both the platforms and developers evolving.  I think the next few months are going to be pretty exciting ones as the current phase we are in sorts itself out.

  • I think Twitter and Apple present a different variation of the platform story. Apple as a HW and SW developer altogether plays a riskier game trying to control all the pieces of the puzzle while Twitter I think is still on the search for self identity and its own platform boundaries.

    Apple's move to control the development environment for their products is a new level of platform control measure which I am not aware of another past example similar to it. In their move they actually made both developers and other companies who develop convenient development tools to be very upset and these are the people who directly contribute to their future – richness of the app store. I understand it is a general strategic move to rule out Adobe but in this action they have ruled out many many creative flash developers, developers of products like Appcelerator and other Javascript based cross platform IDEs as well as others working towards making life of mobile developers easier. I think that as long Apple keeps their innovation level very high and exciting then they can have this "privilege". Once they will be a little sloppy the market will pay them back by preferring others who are more open.

    Microsoft as their example of a big platform company have never took this drastic measure in the past as much as controlling they can be considered, on the contrary, they created different development environments to suite different app developers needs.

    I wonder whether the software industry will be mature to a point where clear separation and clear boundaries exist between a platform and its applications such as the way it happens in the SW and HW industries. You never worry that NVidia will start developing games exploiting unique features of their video cards they manufacture – it is just a different business.

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  • I think apple is crossing the line and maybe making a huge mistake. I know they want control and want every developer to write in obj c but i think in the end its really going to shut down developers who have to learn yet another language to support another platform. I already know java so instead of writing my app for the iphone first i am working on an android client.

    if i was apple i would want as many apps as possible on my store so I could get a cut of the money regardless of what language they were written in. Gee do I see the whole Mac vs PC debate cropping up again?

    signed mac fanboi…

  • Twitter is trying to find an elusive business model and hoping to find it in the developer ecosystem.

    Apple is trying to avoid, perhaps a little too authoritatively, a problem outlined in this blog post that explains why Android app ecosystem is likely doomed to ultimate failure in its current form.

    "Is Android a Tower of Babel OS?"

  • Imagine that your blog is a platform for conference promotion. Now imagine that I'm a 3rd party conference developer building on top of your platform to talk about Gluecon 😉

  • Apple is trying to avoid, perhaps a little too authoritatively, a problem outlined in this blog post that explains why Android app ecosystem is likely doomed to ultimate failure in its current form.

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