The Ecosystem War

Source http://www.geo.wvu.edu/~bmcneil/

The Ecosystem War. A phrase used a lot on this site and quite a bit in my conversations regarding the current state of technology and it’s future. Well it’s about time that I explained what it means.

Ecology (Ecosystem) – (Oxford Dictionaries)

  • (in general use) a complex network or interconnected system:
    Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

This definition gives a very simple explanation of the complicated entity that is the technology ecosystem. Many a time have gone where I’ve prattled on about this and the war that is going on but the time has come for a full and clear explanation of what it is, why it matters and importantly, how it may be won.

In my explanation of my point of view on technology (here) I outlined how I am integrated in to the Apple ecosystem as it is the one that works best for me.

In the consumer technology world there are ecosystems. These are based in both software and hardware. The structure for a modern ecosystem is commonly set out like this:

  1. Primary Device – Typically a Communicator (smartphone)
  2. Secondary Device – Typically a Tablet or convertible laptop
  3. Classic Device – The old trusty personal computer (be it desktop or laptop)
  • These are all bound by software in a functioning ecosystem.

For instance;

  1. iPhone
  2. iPad
  3. MacBook Pro
  • Bound by iCloud, OS X & iOS

So when we look at the ecosystem, it becomes clear that integration is key. Even Samsung’s chief strategy guy in silicone valley uses Apple’s gear at home because of how well put together the ecosystem is. ‘it’s sticky’ (read on).  As I’ve mentioned before, Apple’s is the only complete ecosystem. There are a couple that come close with their systems and how they have developed. Google for instance have the bounding software covered. The online services from Google can be accessed across platforms and help define the experience. In the last year Google have entered in to the market with their own tablets and are doing well with them. The communicators have been about since the first days of Android. Google keep all of this together with their online experience on the existing desktops and laptops we use.

Microsoft tried to do this and keep tripping themselves up. They are masters of creating the programs the world runs on, but the convergence of the systems between devices, they have constantly failed.

So now that you have a better idea of what the ecosystem is and who the players are, we can start to answer the questions from the beginning of the post.

Why does it matter?

Well these ecosystems are the ways that companies make their money. We buy in and they have to keep us. To get us tangled to the point that it becomes to hard to leave. These are our Crystal prisons. Gloriously appointed jails.

These ecosystems are not only how we access our digital world, but also how we secure it. Every time you add data to your ecosystem you are entrusting the people who created it to look after your privacy and security. Trust is a lifetime earned and lost in a second. Something that every ecosystem proprietor knows, that’s why their systems are so well protected and any incursion is met with shock from users and rapid response from the company.

All of this matters because as the way we communicate and share evolves, it will be faster. This is historically accurate, word of mouth evolved in to written word, leading to books and letters. Everything got a boost at the beginning of the information age where messages could be delivered mere seconds after they were sent. When it became the same for retrieving information as well as sending information, the door was opened to the era we are now in. It has never easier for a user to share and communicate, but it will get even easier. As systems converge, they will evolve and simplify (on the surface, the technology below will be even more complex). These are the ecosystems of hardware and software working perfectly in sync and the company that get’s it right will make the most money and lead the way.

How does anyone win the war?

The anser to this question is startlingly simple. Become so vital that users can’t live without you. Well, more correctly, this is the objective. The answer is far more complex. As I have stated, all the main players have started in this process and Apple have a head start. They are the masters of vertical integration. From the system on a chip that runs the device in your hand to the software experience you have online with it. They have all bases covered.

Apple used to suck at the internet. They really did. iTools, MobileMe, every time they tried, they failed, somewhat spectacularly. First mistake was to try and get people to pay for services that others were offering for free. Even when you paid for these services, you didn’t for long as they were that bad. iCloud is a step in the right direction but in no means perfect or complete. The ability to access all of your files and information across all of your devices is happening but is far from fluid and perfect.

When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all. (God Entity – Futurama, Godfellas 2002)

That is how these ecosystems need to work. When you re-watch videos of Steve Jobs presenting, you’ll note the use of words like ‘Magical’ when talking about how devices work. That is how the vast majority of people see ecosystems. Little boxes filled with witchcraft. That’s easier to understand than the complexities of a computer mainframe system.

So the winner is the one that seems to do the least.

Microsoft create a state of despair in me at the moment. They could have won this if they had focused on it, but instead you have a large company of people, resting on laurels and infighting. Just think, Apple are trying to get in to the living room, but Microsoft have been there for over a decade with the Xbox. That one project has been the device that has lead the way in the development of their most innovative products. Windows 8 wasn’t just designed with touch in mind. It was designed with Kinect in mind! Seamless, gesture based computing that millions have been getting used to and enjoying for the last few years. So what does Microsoft do? They press on with an also-ran tablet strategy with confused branding and crippled software. As a person that genuinely cares about technology, this is what create the despair for this once fantastic company.

Wrap up

There you have it. What is the ecosystem war? It’s the battle to become as vital to you as air. Who will win? I have no idea. This war will go on for many years, if not decades (thank you financial apocalypse of 07/08). Remember though, for all today’s battle is for new users, tomorrow’s battle will be how to get them to move from one ecosystem to another.

This post was written by Mark Thomson on Friday, January 4th, 2013

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