My friend Louis Gray wrote a piece tonight mostly about the new Apple TV, but focusing on how he believes Apple is introducing fragmentation into their ecosystem. Go ahead, give it a read.
I was writing the following as a long comment, and just as I was wrapping up I thought it would serve better as a blog post. Please consider it a counter-point, and you should definitely read Louis’ arguments first. Go ahead, click there, then read all the way through the comments until you get to…
“I’ve yet to see anybody dispute the facts about each device running a different flavor of the OS, which is the crux of the issue.”
The reason nobody’s disputing it is because it’s not actually an issue. Apple does not, for the most part, have fragmentation in their platforms (other than tiny exceptions, which I’m sure someone will point out snarkily in the comments). This is about disparate products, not a fragmented operating system implementation (though I do completely agree that the iTunes experience is woefully out of date within the overall product line Apple sells).
First, all the comparisons about what does/doesn’t play on Apple TV on day 1 of shipping are irrelevant – the wide swath of Americans who will buy the device will pick it up later this year (you know, November-ish), by which time the content library will be different.
Second, it’s not as if there’s any cross-product features, other than the few apps which happen to run both on an iPad and on an iPhone/Touch. When we talk about Android fragmentation it’s because all the products are being labeled as having a common platform, yet there is MASSIVE discrepancy between user interface, app compatibility, features, etc.
Third, Apple isn’t out there marketing “iOS 4 devices” other than when it needs to in re updating iPads/iPhones. And even then, it’s highly product-specific. Android, on the other hand, *is* a promise/value expectation (and I’ll avoid commenting on the quality at this point). When Google touts new Android features and someone with a Droid Eris (my former, sad sad sad phone) hears about them, they have *NO WAY* of knowing they will never ever get them.
Fourth, and last, is about the developers. Ultimately fragmentation is most keenly an issue to them (even more than consumers), as it impacts their livelihood. So if you are developing for Android, yet your app won’t run on the mega-phone Evo, and runs poorly on a Droid X, but is nice on the HTC Incredible (my current, much better, but still lacking phone), how are you supposed to communicate that to consumers, who will inevitably write poor reviews, not trust your brand, and ultimately not spend money with you.
That’s the problem with fragmentation. Now let’s look at developers for iOS – they know exactly (1) how big their market potential is, (2) where the money is flowing, (3) how to build apps within the ecosystem, and (4) with 100% certainty, which devices their apps will run on. A bad user experience is utterly the developers’ faults, not due to some random hardware maker poorly implementing an OS. And if/when Apple TV gets iOS 4 (my prediction is it doesn’t happen until the next version of the device, but I’m getting a lot of these wrong these days, so who knows???), developers will have a clear path to build whatever apps they can, knowing exactly how they will perform.