Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bright, Shiny Objects: Content in a Post-Apple, Post-Microsoft World

A few years ago I blogged about Microsoft's then-CEO Bill Gates' appearance at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, in which his brand was sharing a good deal of the CES limelight with Google and Yahoo. No longer did the Microsoft brand alone command the attention of tech mavens: it was content and content-oriented features that were carrying the day. While Microsoft still enjoys an enviable position in the marketplace, there is no doubt that its ability to project presumed dominance in consumer and enterprise markets faces many challenges.

Ticking the clock ahead to today's world, it would appear that Apple may have had a similar passing of the market mojo moment at this year's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Steve Jobs failed to deliver the event's keynote address, presumably due to health issues, but it may also have been because Apple's usual razzamataz had few blockbuster announcements off of which to leverage. The news from WWDC was about incremental changes, all good, but mostly about trying to deal with the challenges of positioning Apple as a premium brand in a world that is pushing pricing down on many bright, shiny objects.

By contrast, bright, shiny objects were found everywhere at very reasonable prices at the recent Computex Taipei event across the Pacific from WWDC. Computex featured an abundance of netbooks and thin client desktops and tablet panels running many different kinds of operating systems software, including Google's new Android O/S that was seen running alongside smart phone and netbook versions of Microsoft Windows. Windows was the first cross-platform operating system to start driving down the cost of content delivery electronics, and Android is following in its footsteps with an open-source operating system that helps to drive down the price of a smaller, cheaper and more portable generation of electronics significantly.

Apple has always managed to create a unique niche for its products by focusing on highly appealing designs and features. For example, at WWDC announcements included a slot for SD memory cards in some of its lighter new Macbook laptops - perfect for the photo and graphics afficionados who form a strong core of Apple's support. Great stuff, but ultimately still the stuff of niche brands. Call it the BMW approach to content delivery: ultimately, a Macbook or even an iPhone doesn't do much that a Windows or Android-equipped device won't do similarly, but dang, it just makes some folks feel so, well, you know..."in." Some people will always pay a premium price to be a part of that club, whatever is on the inside of it, so Apple-branded devices are not going away any time soon.

From a content industry perspective, though, the Apple wave queued up by the soaring success of the iPhone is about to gain a new sense of perspective over the next several months as netbooks and tougher competition from newer smart phone models begin to elbow into the limelight. The real star of the show is the Web, with cloud computing resources the co-star. Yes, mobile applications are helping to fuel up excitement about smart phones and other devices, but when a device with 1GB of memory can handle virtually any multimedia content display requirements, it's not realistic to think that proprietary hardware or operating systems are going to enable publishers to have technology partners that can help to buffer them against the competitive forces of Web publishing. You can increase storage for downloads to enjoy when you're not Web-enabled, but for most people the content that they want resides in the cloud and appears on whatever standards-compliant device makes it useful. Toss in the increasing availability of wireless broadband Internet connectivity and the "why" of platform-captive content makes less and less sense.

More and more inexpensive appealing devices to deliver content are pouring out of Taipei, China, South Korea and other low-cost producing markets every day, many of them aimed at global markets that have participated only marginally in the Web experience so far. While many premium content producers continue to focus on the upscale content platforms as their salvation, already more than a billion YouTube videos are viewed daily around the world. A premium strategy will work if you can attract people's attention well, but at this point in time there are really not enough fundamental technology differentiators in Apple or any other existing technology platform producer's products to justify a strong reliance on premium platforms as a buffer for intellectual property licensing. In short, the battle between the Web and platforms is over, for now, and you can put the crown securely on the virtual noggin of the Web.

If content producers want premium platform barriers to entry for their products they will have to have technology partners that are investing much, much more heavily in breakthrough innovations that deliver real differentiating value. The iPhone was merely the first in a wave of devices that are providing incremental improvements in performance in what was already a marketplace headed towards commoditization of mobile technology platforms. In the meantime, a floundering world economy is pushing more people towards cost-effective content technology solutions. Dear publishers, say goodbye to your love affair with the iPhone - before it's too late. Learn to love netbooks, a galaxy of smart phones and any other device that can get you people who whant your content on the line, and then prove your value from there.
Post a Comment