October 15, 2012
CEOs should be aware of an approaching tech war — because its outcome is going to change their customers.
As the Web becomes the AM radio of digital, the mobile App Internet will rise. This market will be dominated by two or three ecosystems — semi-closed worlds built on a closely fitting set of apps, phones, tablets, computers, operating systems, and partners. An ecosystem owner will possess extraordinary market power — able to dictate terms to content providers, customers, and application developers. It doesn't matter what you sell — insurance, pills, cars, energy, bonds — you'll be reaching many of your customers through these ecosystems in the future.
Who wins? Apple leads — many already happily live in the iOS ecosystem. While the company's footprint evolved haphazardly (whoever thought iTunes would become a trillion dollar commerce hub?), Apple's current level of integration makes it the gold standard.
Google is busily copying the Apple playbook with the Android ecosystem. That's why Google bought Motorola.
Then you have three contenders — Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook. Amazon already has a strong position in tablets (via Kindle/Fire/Silk), but it has a fuzzy app strategy and no phone. Microsoft will build its own phones and laptop computers (to accompany its tablets), and an app strategy will emerge with Windows 8. But the company spent 10 years incompetently thrashing in the mobile space — not an encouraging pedigree. Facebook is way out of the game — too Web-centric and lacking any devices. But it will have to take action because fantastic post-social (POSO) alternatives to Facebook will blossom in the new ecosystems.
In the war, two factors are critical: apps and payments. Apps beget apps — they are the gasoline that powers an ecosystem. Advantage Apple (700,000 apps) and Google (675,000 apps). Payments are just as important — having a built-in system so users can easily and quickly pay for ecosystem services. Advantage Apple (435 million credit cards) and Amazon (152 million credit cards). Google and Facebook have negligible payment profiles — Microsoft has approximately 40 million credit cards via Xbox.
So it's obvious what you do if you're a CEO: You push your techies to support the Apple ecosystem — now. Next, you get ready to support a second ecosystem — most likely Google. Then, you wait — for 12 to 18 months — to see if a third ecosystem from Microsoft, Facebook, or Amazon can get traction. Your goal? To lead your category (be it insurance, specialty retail, banking) in the top two mobile ecosystems.