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November 2007
December 2007

2007-11-14 »

The Phone Wars

Google is the Microsoft to Apple's Apple.

As PC operating systems slowly become irrelevant, the next battle is for portable computing. Apple is lucky enough to get to play in both battles; and where Microsoft was their competitor last time, people are saying Google will be this time. Google is playing exactly the same strategy with phones that Microsoft did with PC's.

But this time it won't work.


Because Microsoft has been playing that strategy expertly for 10 years now and has already lost.

Google's only proposed difference is an uncomfortable combination of open source and advertising (what?). So unless the world has somehow changed in ways nobody has yet explained to me, expertly playing the same strategy in the same market will get Google and friends the same results as it got Microsoft.

Here's the thing. Open source is most successful when the stuff it's replacing is crap. For example: Linux. Embedded Linux. GCC. Emacs. Firefox(1). It's not so successful when the thing it's replacing is good. For example: Everyone else's power management. VMware. Video games. PVR's. MacOS. iPod. MP3 itself. ...and iPhone.

That's the thing everybody seems to be missing. Nobody wants something better than an iPhone. All anybody wants is a bloody phone that makes phone calls (!) and plays music and sends email and browses the web. And Apple was there first, and they're kicking ass.

How do you even imagine a phone that users will like better than the iPhone? Because I simply can't. If you can't either, then I'm sorry, but all the open source and all the third-party developers in the world won't save you. You've already lost.

Now go read Inside the Tornado, the sequel to Crossing the Chasm, for all the gory details of what will happen next.


(1) Mozilla/Firefox is actually my favourite example, because it has such a long history. But briefly, Netscape was better for a long time, then MSIE got better for a while and killed Netscape, which (as Mozilla) sucked even worse for a very long time until Firefox came along and was marginally better than IE, so a marginal number of people have switched to it. (And it's still getting better, unlike IE, so that fraction might increase.) None of that has anything to do with open source, and everything to do with Microsoft throwing away their huge lead.

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