The Virtuous Cycle of Choice and Momentum

Here we go again.  We’ve been here before.  History always repeats itself.

In the early days of the desktop computer, it was the Wild West.  No computer was dominant because they all simply had not been around long enough.  The movie, “The Pirates of Silicon Valley”, described this era well, and was a time of company after company innovating, stealing features from their competitors that they lacked, and then their competitors innovating and doing the same.  It’s a virtuous cycle that continues to repeat itself even today, resulting in more competition and better technology as a result.  As we move from platform to platform this cycle will continue, over and over again, and consumers will always end up, as a majority, choosing the most popular player that provides “choice”, without regard to any potential benefit the less popular player may give them when it comes to a more close environment at the benefit of a better experience.

Microsoft’s Platform: Choice, at the Sacrifice of Experience

As Microsoft began to gain a handle on the market, taking the software route and letting go of the hardware market, Apple, the other consumer desktop player was trying to control the hardware experience, and Microsoft’s business took off.  Microsoft was unstoppable, momentum pushing them faster and faster to the point of almost Monopoly.  It even got to the point where markets they never even considered competing in, such as the web browser, had no chance because Microsoft had control of the operating system where those markets ran.

Microsoft’s entire platform was about choice. You chose the hardware you ran.  You chose the software you ran on it.  Heck, the hardware was open enough you could also run other operating systems such as Linux on it.  The Microsoft environment promoted this type of mentality, and, like it or not, perhaps was part of the cause and motivation towards the Free Software and Open Source Software movement that is so prevalent today.

Apple’s Platform: Closed, at the Advantage of Experience

During the entire time Microsoft was growing and booming into the company it is today, Apple maintained its consistency.  It wasn’t going to give up the tightly-integrated hardware and software experience at the risk of losing the full experience Apple was known for.  When you bought an Apple product, you knew the software on the product was going to work well with the hardware it was built on.  The software was designed specifically for that hardware.  In return the customer got an experience that made that customer the die-hard Apple fanboy you see today.  They gained a loyal, devout following as a result, “The Cult of Mac”.

The Cycle Continues

So here we are today.  It took an entirely new device to start the cycle over again – a music device, the iPod, which eventually turned into a phone and Apple was able to gain control of the music industry in the process through iTunes (which is, in essence, a cloud based product that downloads files to your computer).  This gave them the advantage they needed to innovate and bring new customers in at a faster rate than ever before.

Soon competitors emerged.  Palm released WebOS.  Google released Android.  Microsoft released the Zune and will soon be releasing Windows Phone 7.  Now we are in an exactly similar battle we saw in the early desktop days, companies fighting on choice.  Companies fighting to gain momentum.  The companies who chose choice gaining the most momentum.  The companies choosing to remain consistent losing that momentum, but maintaining a reliable reputation and great experience.

Are the Fanboys Learning?

There was a large group of people who chose the consistent, closed, better experience without ever having taste of the choice.  This group of people are now tasting that as what used to be neutral ground, Google, has built Android and entered this battle themselves on the premise of choice.  Now these users, who were users of both, are being forced to make a choice, and they’re experiencing something they’ve never experienced before: freedom.

I read fascinating posts like Louis Gray’s and his reasons for switching to Android, yet battling to leave Apple entirely, and I notice a struggle to leave that experience entirely.  He knows the good taste of the experience Apple provides.  At the same time he finally sees the choice the decoupling of software and hardware can provide.  He’s finally seeing the advantages of an Operating System embraced by the masses.  He’s not alone in this struggle.

The “Choosers” Finally Taste Experience

It goes the other way too though.  There are many out there (such as Robert Scoble), myself included somewhat, that finally realized what a beautiful thing Apple was from the iPhone.  We went with the masses over to the device and discovered what a beautiful thing having a nicely coupled experience could be.  We were brought over to Macs and iBooks and MacBooks and iPads, and were brought to wonder what in the world we were missing in our world of “choice” before.

At the same time we’ve seen the “choice” world.  We know what choice means, and we know it means more struggle.  We know it means more configuration and more bugs and more problems with the OS not always working properly with the hardware it was installed on.  We know not all the applications will have the same consistant experience we get with the Apple experience.  We haven’t given it up, but we do know which one we like better.

We’re at an interesting crossroads right now.  Right now I carry at all times in my pockets an iPhone 4 and an Android-based Evo.  My wife runs a Pre, which I also carried on my person for quite awhile.  While, as a developer and blogger, I choose all of them, I always fall back to one.  I always fall back to the one that’s most convenient.  I always fall back to the one where my applications will be most reliable.  I always fall back to the one that works best with the overall experience of technology in my home and in my life.  I fall back to the one whose batteries aren’t dead.  No matter how hard I try, the Apple experience seems to keep winning me over.

I don’t care if any company has momentum.  I’ve stopped caring about Choice.  In the end it’s about efficiency.  It’s about productivity.  It’s about what makes me the best person I can be and what I can feel most comfortable using with the least amount of effort.  It’s about “choosing” the best experience that I know will continue to be reliable over time, and has a reliable track record in doing so.  For this user, at least so far, I will continue to fall back on experience.

Image courtesy http://appadvice.com/appnn/2009/10/microsofts-apple-impression/

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17 thoughts on “The Virtuous Cycle of Choice and Momentum

  1. We share perspectives on this one, I choose to develop on all via web apps. But while reading, I couldn't help but wonder why battery power trumping being able to install software on my own device or copying files (music/videos) to it. Is it too much to ask for both?

    Why can't we wifi copy apps and music to iOS devices yet, it's silly?

    Why can't I write and app and deploy it to my phone or share it with friends without Apple's permission?

    Would you trade freedom for a slightly better experience (opinions vary)?

    Apple iOS is a gilded cage.
    Disclaimer this is my last month of using an iPhone 3Gs daily (I blog / read by it). The Droid X on Verizon is the ship I'm jumping to and I decided that (android) last year.

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  2. Mark, in a jailbroken state, actually, a lot of that stuff is possible.
    Sure, Apple doesn't provide it out of the box, but it's still possible. At
    the same time most Android devices don't come installed with those features
    by default either – you have to install them, configure them, and know about
    them for them to be useful to you. Even the 4G speeds on my Evo don't come
    turned on by default – you have to know they're there and know where to go
    to turn them on. At least with Apple I know when it does happen, it will
    happen right, and it will come as part of the experience, fully integrated,
    in a very seamless manner that doesn't break the phone in any way (and when
    it does I know they'll fix it quick because it's part of that experience).

    There are many features Android doesn't have that iOS does – does that mean
    Android doesn't have choice? No, it just means they haven't been developed
    or there isn't a significant need or reason to make them yet.

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  3. I don't think that supporting a vast array of hardware causes necessarily a compromise in usability and overall quality. It certainly was a big factor in the past with windows but I don't think it stands today, just look at windows 7(which I've been using since beta1).

    Google recent decision that Gingerbread(3.0) will be standard across all models and that the Android customizations like MotoBlur, SenseUI, Touchwiz and Timescape will be build on top of the platform instead of as forks. This will keep the system modular, more easly updatable and improve all the problems the multiple vendor support causes specially the platform fragmentation.

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  4. Raphael, my Evo won't last past noon with 4G enabled. It's practically
    unusable. Apple wouldn't have allowed one of their devices to be released
    with that poor of battery life. When you control the hardware you always
    have some benefit of quality. It's a fact.

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  5. Sadly I can't unlock at the moment, but there are some smart folks on the case and waiting for the battery patch before they release.

    I wasn't even sure how to open the device after a few weeks of searching a couple months back. There was a straight forward windows and mac hack, but not one for Linux. I think that has been corrected.

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if devices were “open” by default or with a setting

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  6. “I read fascinating posts like Louis Gray’s and his reasons for switching to Android,”

    The “momentum” of the geek herd.

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  7. Good point regarding efficiency and productivity being a strong point, definitely agree on that one. Reminds me of how a stand-alone camera might have better specs than an iPhone, but ultimately I agree with the best-camera-is-the-one-you-have-with-you argument. The iPhone's camera is good enough despite inferior specs because it's the most convenient and therefore productive – it's always with me.

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  8. I agree Jesse. We have to think 5 or 10 years out. Will I be using an iPhone? Maybe. Will it be an Android OS? Maybe. Will it be something I didn't expect. Likely. I choose experience. I care less and less about vendors. The experience is what I'm paying for.

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  9. Oh man! What a great post! Explained well and clear. I frankly don't really care what everyone else is using as long as what I am using works best for me and helps me accomplish what I want to do. Currently android is that vehicle for me.

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  10. I agree Jesse. We have to think 5 or 10 years out. Will I be using an iPhone? Maybe. Will it be an Android OS? Maybe. Will it be something I didn't expect. Likely. I choose experience. I care less and less about vendors. The experience is what I'm paying for.

    Like

  11. Good point regarding efficiency and productivity being a strong point, definitely agree on that one. Reminds me of how a stand-alone camera might have better specs than an iPhone, but ultimately I agree with the best-camera-is-the-one-you-have-with-you argument. The iPhone's camera is good enough despite inferior specs because it's the most convenient and therefore productive – it's always with me.

    Like

  12. “I read fascinating posts like Louis Gray’s and his reasons for switching to Android,”

    The “momentum” of the geek herd.

    Like

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