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Beachheads and Obstacles – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Apple and Google

The fact that Amazon held its annual hardware occasion the identical day as the keynote for Facebook’s Oculus Connect convention is nearly definitely a coincidence. It was, although, a cheerful one, a minimum of as far as Stratechery is worried: these two events, wildly disparate when it comes to presentation and content material, have extra in widespread than it might sound.

Revisiting the Smartphone Wars

In 2013, when Stratechery began, the extensively held belief was that the iPhone, revolutionary although it might have been, was in deep trouble in the face of Android’s growing marketshare. Henry Blodget wrote a useful articulation of the bear case on Enterprise Insider:

If smartphones and tablets weren’t a platform — if the only thing that mattered to the value of the product and a buyer’s buy determination was the gadget itself — then Apple’s loss of market share would not make a difference. Apple zealots can be right once they smugly assert that what matters is Apple’s “profit share” not “market share.”

But smartphones and tablets are a platform. Third-party corporations are constructing apps and providers to run on smartphone and tablet platforms. These apps and providers, in turn, are making the platforms extra useful. Shoppers are standardizing their lives around the apps and providers that run on smartphone and tablet platforms. Due to these “community results,” in platform markets, dominant market share is large competitive benefit. In platform markets, as the often-hated however all the time insanely powerful Microsoft demonstrated for decades within the PC market, the vast majority of the facility and income ultimately accrue to the market-share chief.

On this view there’s still a premium market, but solely inside the dominant ecosystem. This, Blodget argued, was Apple’s drawback: soon the corporate would haven’t any market, because Android would have the ecosystem, and by extension all of Apple’s premium clients.

In fact this turned out to be mistaken, for causes I specified by What Clayton Christensen Obtained Mistaken.

  • First, integration offered consumer experience advantages that premium clients valued
  • Second, those premium users have been extra more likely to pay for apps, which elevated the attraction of iOS to builders
  • Third, absolutely the measurement of the smartphone market was so massive that both iOS and Android have been giant sufficient to be engaging to builders

Notice, though, that just because Blodget and company have been incorrect concerning the iPhone’s prospects doesn’t imply they have been improper conceptually: ecosystems do matter. Nevertheless, as an alternative of one ecosystem devouring all the premium versus ubiquity landscape, Apple and Google cut up it up quite neatly:

Amazon and Facebook have been two of the extra outstanding corporations that came upon this reality the exhausting approach.

Cellular Successes and Failures

Apple and Google would be the first corporations individuals consider whenever you ask who gained cellular, but Amazon and Facebook weren’t far behind.

Amazon spent the smartphone period not solely constructing out Amazon.com, but in addition Amazon Net Providers (AWS). AWS was simply as a lot a essential platform for the smartphone revolution as have been iOS and Android: many apps ran on the telephone with knowledge or compute on Amazon’s cloud; cellular also created a vacuum in the enterprise for SaaS corporations desperate to benefit from Microsoft’s want to prop up its personal cellular platforms as an alternative of supporting iOS and Android, and people SaaS corporations have been constructed on AWS.

Smartphones, in the meantime, saved Facebook from itself: as an alternative of a futile try and be a platform inside the browser, cellular made Facebook just an app, and it was the absolute best factor that would have occurred to the corporate. Fb was freed to focus solely on content material its customers needed and promoting to go together with it, producing billions of dollars and a deep moat in concentrating on promoting alongside the best way.

What isn’t clear is that if Amazon’s and Fb’s management teams agree. In any case, both launched smartphones of their own, and each failed spectacularly.

Fb’s try was quite half-assed (to use the technical term). As an alternative of writing their own working system, Facebook House was a launcher that sat on prime of Android; as an alternative of designing their own hardware, the Facebook One was built by HTC. Both selections ended up being good ones as a result of they made failure inexpensive.

Amazon, meanwhile, went all out to construct the Hearth Telephone: a new operating system (based mostly on Android, however incompatible with it), new hardware, together with a sophisticated digital camera system that included 4 front-facing cameras, and a sky-high worth to match. It fared about in addition to the Fb One, which is to say not nicely in any respect.

That, although, is what made final week’s occasions so fascinating: it’s these two failures that seemed to play a much bigger position in what was introduced than did the successes.

Amazon and Facebook’s Bulletins

Start with Amazon: the company announced a full fifteen hardware merchandise. In order: Echo Dot with Clock, a brand new Echo, Echo Studio (an Echo with a high-end speaker system), Echo Present eight (a third-size of the Echo with a display), Echo Glow (a lamp), new Eero routers, Echo Flex (a microphone solely Echo that hangs off an outlet), Ring Retrofit Alarm Package (that allows you to leverage your preinstalled alarm), Ring Stick Up Cam (a smaller Ring digital camera), Ring Indoor Cam (a good smaller Ring digital camera), Amazon Sensible Oven (an oven that integrates with Alexa), Fetch (a pet tracker), Echo Buds (wireless headphones with Alexa), Echo Frames (eyeglasses with Alexa), and Echo Loop (a hoop with Alexa). Whew!

That is an strategy that’s the actual opposite of the Hearth Telephone: as an alternative of pouring all of its assets into one high-priced system, Amazon is making nearly each system it might consider, and seeing in the event that they promote. Moreover, they are doing so at costs that significantly undercut the competitors: the Echo Studio is $150 cheaper than a HomePod, the Echo Show eight is $60 cheaper than the Google Nest Hub, and the new Eero is $150 cheaper than the product Eero bought as an unbiased firm. Amazon is clearly pushing for ubiquity; a whale strategy this isn’t.

Fb, meanwhile, effectively consolidated its Oculus product line from three to at least one: the mid-tier Oculus Quest, a standalone digital reality (VR) unit, gained the potential to hook up with a gaming PC with a view to play high-end Oculus Rift games; Oculus Go apps, meanwhile, gained the potential to run on the comparatively higher-specced Oculus Quest. It isn’t clear why either the Go or Rift must be a target for developers or clients going forward.

The broader aim, though, stays the same: Facebook is decided to personal a platform; the lesson the corporate appears to have drawn from its smartphone experience is the significance of doing all of it.

Beachheads and Obstacles

What Amazon and Facebook do have in widespread — and perhaps this is the reason both seem to look back at their very successful smartphone eras with remorse — is that Apple and Google are their largest obstacles to success, and it’s because of their smartphone platforms.

Amazon to its great credit — and perhaps because the company didn’t have a smartphone to rely on — found a beachhead in the residence, the one place where your telephone will not be with you. Now it is making an attempt to not only saturate the home but in addition prolong beyond it, both by means of on-body accessories and in addition an increasing number of offers with automakers.

Fb, in the meantime, is looking for a beachhead of its own in digital actuality. That, the company believes, will give it the monitor to augmented reality, and by extension, usefulness in the actual world.

Facebook and Amazon are building beachheads to take on Apple and Google

Amazon’s challenge is Google: Android telephones are already in all places, and Google is catching up within the house extra shortly and more effectively than Amazon is pushing outdoors of it. Google also has a much stronger position in relation to the kind of Internet providers that provide the tough grist of intelligence of digital assistants: emails, calendars, and maps.

Facebook, in the meantime, is finally challenging Apple: augmented reality goes to start out on the excessive end with an built-in answer, and Apple has significantly extra experience building bodily products for the actual world, and a serious lead in chip design and miniaturization, to not mention shopper belief. Furthermore, whereas there’s obviously technical overlap on the subject of creating virtual reality and augmented actuality headsets, the product expertise is basically distinct.

Classes Discovered

I’ve been fairly skeptical about Fb and Oculus all along, each on the time of purchase and last yr. I’d wish to say I’ve modified my thoughts, however frankly, last week’s keynote made me query whether or not Facebook discovered any classes from cellular in any respect. Zuckerberg stated within the keynote opening:

We experience the world via this feeling of presence and the interactions that we get with other individuals, which is why Facebook’s know-how vision has all the time been about putting individuals on the middle of your computing experience. We’ve principally executed that to date via constructing apps. I don’t assume it’s an accident that lots of the top-used and biggest apps which are out there are social experiences that put individuals on the middle of the experience, as a result of that’s how we process issues.

But there’s only so much you can do with apps, without also shaping and enhancing the underlying platform. I discover it surprising that we’re here in 2019 and our telephones and our computers are still organized around apps and tasks and never people who we are literally current with. I really feel like we will help all of us collectively deliver a singular contribution to this subject by helping to make sure that the subsequent platform modifications this.

Zuckerberg is, in impact, saying that he finds it surprising that Fb Residence didn’t succeed. I feel the explanations have been pretty clear, and a scarcity of distribution or high-end hardware was not the first drawback. The very fact of the matter is that while social connection on our telephones is necessary — perhaps crucial — it isn’t the only job we ask telephones to do. That’s the reason Facebook is an app and not a platform, and that’s okay! Apps, notably those of Facebook’s scale and advertising prowess, are implausible companies. And apps shouldn’t be platforms.

Amazon, however, seems to have discovered the fitting lessons from its cellular failures; what’s notable concerning the company’s strategy to Alexa is that it leverages and learns from the cellular period. Alexa advantages from Amazon’s investments in knowledge centers and networking, interacts with each iOS and Android to the greatest extent attainable, and is roughly inline with Amazon’s general enterprise — making buying issues that rather more handy. Alexa is an working system for the home, and perhaps beyond.

This isn’t a assure of success, in fact. Google is a formidable competitor, with a number of advantages. It is notably onerous to see Alexa gaining traction outdoors the house. The one purpose Amazon has a chance is because constructing on strengths is all the time higher than doing one thing utterly new and totally different from what has made you profitable up to now.