Having secured my own iPad device the Saturday before Easter, I thought it would be beneficial to attend a gathering at Boston’s Vilna Shul synagogue on April 7th to discuss high tech platforms and applications, and how they are important not only for how information is delivered to the end-user, but also how they have impacted our culture generally. The iPad and its potential for projecting the importance of platforms and applications may be in its infancy, but already has software engineers and designers excited about this new vehicle for displaying their work. I recall Harlan Anderson mentioning in his memoir, Learn, Earn & Return that the PDP-1 computer Digital Equipment Corp. created required the active participation of software designers to maximize the computer’s enormous potential, but that there was much friction between hardware and software engineers. Nowadays, these two camps need each other more than ever, which has necessitated close interaction.
As the introduction on Vilna Shul’s website described the talk, “There was a time when the most complicated platform decision faced by a developer was PC or Mac, and sometimes choosing a flavor of Unix. Now in the age of mobile devices and set-top boxes, a platform is not just a development tool but can serve as a channel for delivering product to the market … The arrival of a new platform, such as the much-anticipated iPad, creates new opportunities, but what factors determine the rate of adoption and the return on investment in building for that platform?”
Serving on the panel to discuss these and other topics were: Ravi Mehta, Vice President, Products, Viximo; Brad Rosen, C.E.O., Drync, and Michael Troiano, President, Holland-Mark Digital. Christopher Herot, Chief Product Officer, VSee Lab moderated and software designer Doug Levin, per usual, ably introduced and coordinated the event.
The first part of the discussion centered on choosing a platform and what makes one better than another. Mike Troiano, who received his MBA from Harvard Business School and who writes a high tech blog called Miketrap, indicated that the platform is the very foundation on which 3rd parties can participate; i.e. consumers. Ravi Mehta, who received his business degree from MIT’s Sloan School, added that the idea of applications is for them to interact with the hardware. The platform traditionally served as more of a “gateway,” but now is a key delivery system for applications. Brad Rosen, also an attendee of Sloan School, whose Drync is an application for wine enthusiasts designed for the iPhone, added that he’s found that the iPhone platform is able to effectively deliver a targeted message or product to a specific audience.
Ravi then mentioned that Facebook has taken the initiative in designing a platform that gives designers free reign in creating applications that seek out target audiences. Mike added that third party applications on Facebook have become a business strategy all their own, and that many in high tech felt this area would be a growth industry – which it has proven to be – and has created boundless opportunities for software developers. Brad added that games in many ways have driven this growth. Additionally, Mike said, there has been mutual benefit (platform/app) in collaboration, as opposed to going it separately (i.e. division of value).
Brad, whose previous experience has been with the iPhone – and who will now be designing for the Android phone, said that with software development for both devices, the “monetizing” model is still fluid, but that the goals of the platform and application designers are closely aligned – even if the model isn’t yet aligned to make the developers money. However, Apple, it was mentioned, seems to be more conscientious than others in that 30% of revenue from apps goes to designers. An interesting fact Brad added was that Apple now allegedly has 700 million credit card numbers on file, which makes the importance of the “micro-transaction” – no matter how small – a lucrative one.
Next question from Chris Herot to the panel involved “When is a platform NOT one.” Mike observed that this is the case when participation in the platform is controlled by a central body – and is not organic in nature. As mentioned previously, Facebook’s success is due in large measure to its spontaneity, which is not controlled by or filtered through corporate or other entities. Ravi suggested that Twitter, though a successful platform encouraging social interaction, does not present as many opportunities for software applications. In relation to the iPhone, Ravi added that people bought it for its “killer” applications; though the whole process through which applications became influential was completely spontaneous. Apple didn’t originally push various applications for the device; but the more they came to dominate the whole mindset of the iPhone, more opportunities presented themselves for the company, and for software engineers. Brad then commented that the quality of an application drives interest, and consequently, monetizing.
Ravi and the rest of the panel then went into how Steve Jobs and his visionary approach to platforms has resulted in an inexorable shift in consumers’ behavior and their very interaction with computers. In relation to this, Chris Herot asked who had recently acquired an iPad, and also asked hypothetically which platform would each of the panelists design for. Brad said he enjoyed developing for the iPhone and Android, though he added that many designers (particularly in the gaming sphere) are leaving the iPhone for the iPad because of the sheer screen size.
In summary, I learned that applications tend to propagate exponentially when their platform is judged to be a successful vehicle for their display and growth. Apple Computer, in designing the iPhone may not have conceived it as the cultural phenomenon it has become in serving as the platform for hundreds of thousands of creative applications, but through the organic interaction between consumers and computer engineers, has become iconic. Where the iPad goes from here is based on that same template, and with a larger screen featuring high definition technology, it’s not inconceivable that this device may be headed toward even greater heights.
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