The power of platforms: a blog around the Google Android platform.
This covers Google engineer, Steve Yegge’s G+ posting of Oct 2011, my personal experience, origins of platforms, use in IT hardware and reflections and my findings on the Android platform performance.
October 2011. a google engineer made an error and inadvertently posted his personal internally directed thoughts publicly on G+, saying ‘nobody at G understood platforms’. Well, apart from sympathising with Steve Yegge over the kicking he must have gotten, it is remarkable that I found nothing in the ensuing comments to his article about platforms. So what is a platform and why is it important?
To bring you up to speed this link is to Steve Yegge on G+ https://plus.google.com/110981030061712822816/about
but his miss-posting was removed but it was saved forever and posted by Mashable for us all.
I am writing this from 3 perspectives; as a platform innovator (outdoor products & packs) myself, a Lancaster University UK lecturer on innovation and recently becoming a hands on investor in a mobile apps business which has sharpened up my interest considerably. I am also writing as a self confessed Google and G+ fan, using Gmail contacts and docs (now G drive) as core of everything I do. However, my knowledge of IT platforms is limited, needs improving so I am hoping this blog will provoke discussion and input from software engineers.
I have used the concept extensively in (Karrimor and OMM) backpack manufacture and have benefited greatly from ‘platform innovation’. My products when presented to retailers at the same time as competitors appeared in the market place 6 months earlier than everyone else, a key strategic advantage yielding a high market share. The production methods were also standardised and platform linked. Communication to consumers was also easier because each platform could be described easily and the variants were capacity, colour pockets. Another more open to all example of this would be BMW autos. As consumers we can understand quickly the differences between series 3, 5 and 7 in terms of price, engine power, seats and after that there is an almost unlimited amount of small variants that can be specified to ensure you get what you need, all from the same platform. Each of these platforms needs a different production line but BMW is now working on a new concept that will enable every line to make all products, the ultimate perhaps in flexibility. (car buffs, please excuse the simplification for speed and clarity)
The origins of platform innovation?
It has its origins following the demise of the Ford model ‘T’ in the late 1920’s. Its total inflexibility of design was overtaken by the 6 different brands owned by GM who needed to prevent each of them competing with each other. So GM focused each brand on a different end user and price level, hence a ‘price and performance for all pockets’. It took Ford several years to recover in the late 20’s having been totally dominant not only because of the inflexibility but they had no outside suppliers creating improved components, Ford making everything 100%. Since then flexibility has been increasingly important and GM used the innovative capability of their suppliers to make incremental improvements, the top of range model usually got the key new cutting edge features which then cascaded down into lower priced models as volume engineered component prices lower. The annual update was also an important marketing innovation in the marketplace. Back then platforms were chassis but these werent yet platforms as we know them today.
Everything continued fine through into the early 80’s (except the increasing consumer disaffection with the unreliability of cars and other consumer goods) until the Japanese revolution in making reliable products and ability to bring new products to market faster. This revolution by Toyota, Sony and other Japanese companies became clearer only in the late 80’s and corporate America was shocked at being knocked off their position as the world’s best in manufacturing. This became known as ‘lean manufacturing’ which was a revolution needing one to throw away all previously held ideas of how manufacturing should take place. Platforms were an important part of the picture.
In 1991 after visiting Toyota’s plant …….
……………………in Santa Clara I went to visit one of my USA suppliers and exchanged notes with a newly appointed executive who had arrived from a Bain a major consulting company; quote “ XYZ Auto Manufacturing Corporation Inc hired us to find the secrets of how the Japanese could bring a car to market in 3 years, when it was taking them 7 years. They simply had a very hard time believing that it was design team methodology linked to lean manufacturing with platforms that did it, and believed it was some new software they needed to get hold of.” Here’s the nub. Toyota had only 3 platforms, whilst many USA Auto corps had 10 or even 12. Additionally the design teams were single product focused whereas the USA/western auto builders split design into external, internal, engine and transmission and so it took a lot more iterations to bring the final design together.
Platforms in IT hardware.
This is not my area of direct expertise but here goes. The idea doesn’t just apply to mechanical things but to electronics as well. Platforms enabled Intel, Microsoft, Cisco (with routers) and HP (with printers) to gain market leadership. In the case of MS and Intel, platform collaboration included agreeing the step change increases in the PC performance (meaning all its components as well) to keep pace with Moore’s law (doubling of transistors on a chip every 18 months). The PC was an open architecture platform ie anyone could set up to make one, even an individual. HP’s printers were a closed platform but similar benefits accrued. The collaboration which existed until a year ago between Microsoft and Intel drove the innovation in the PC market for many years and was referred to as the ‘Wintel’ platform. The definitive book on this ‘Platform leadership’ How Intel, Microsoft and Cisco drive industry innovation. author Annabelle Gawer & Michael Cusumano.How Intel, Microsoft and Cisco Drive Industry Innovation.
Here is a link to a Dr Gawer’s website and some recent articles.
So lets look at Android. I am a G fan, use G stuff almost exclusively and 95% of everything in this list here:- http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/business/products.html whats more we now strongly advise students use G docs for teamworking on our course work. It appears to me that this area of Google apps, including G+, is a platform because of the speed it has moved since Larry Page took over as CEO in April 2011. Actually I noticed the improvements moved up a couple of gears from Nov 2010 and since then Google docs/chrome/apps has moved an amazing distance and further in 18 months than MS does in 3 or 4 years. I was so happy with my Chrome browser/apps and passwords being linked across all devices, until crunch, the Samsung Android tablet didn’t give me that, I felt deprived of my chrome browser! What a let down.
Whether the platform has good linkages (API’s) for new partners coming in to build more sophisticated business apps will be the real test and appeared to be commented on by Yegge. Where Google is headed with Chromebook as an OS, supported by G Drive, is now just about arriving at a credible level and will be really viable for schools who can then do without IT support. Amazing stuff.
However, having just invested in a mobile apps business I found that I wasn’t going to get my own apps I had invested in on my Samsung Galaxy phone or pad for some unknown period; uhhh, I had to buy an iPAD! So I began investigating and found lots of interesting stuff which indicates frankly that Android has been making a mess of things, despite having a huge volume increase in activation which in some countries are exceeding Apple iPHONE/iPAD.
here’s a survey of android programme writers intentions
Comments by Mike King, Appcelerator’s principal mobile strategist (maker of cross-platform programming tools used by 280,000 programmers).“Interest in Android is decreasing,Why?- Fragmentation”, he said: “Our thought is a lot of developers are unhappy with the fragmentation of the platform as well as the fragmentation of the monetization platform. Those things make it very difficult if you’re a developer to make money on Android. It’s the versions of the OS and the devices themselves–screen size, feature sizes, even skins that device manufacturers have put on top of that…It’s a tough line for them to walk. They want to have an open OS, but openness means they’re going to have fragmentation.”
So Larry Page has some heads to bang at their Android 5.0 platform conference in early June. Here is the best article I have found on this whole issue on Digital Trends. Here is Business Week’s take on this.
Microsoft have a major launch Monday 18th, is MS/Nokia coming?