Why a Third Mobile OS is Doomed to Fail
Last week, Peter Levine of a16z wrote a great blog post, where he explained why he believes that the current mobile ecosystem — a duopoly of iOS and Android — needs a 3rd OS. He argues that this leaves little room for experimentation, and that a 3rd open OS would encourage a more open, democratic environment with more innovation.
Peter raises some good points — differentiation for device manufacturers and OEMs, expanded monetization opportunities for 3rd party app developers, and the potential for closer relationships to develop between this new OS and app developers to create experiences that are currently only available to the owners of the OS and the apps they own. Further examples of the impact on end users include extreme customization capabilities, using services that are geographically unique, and access to a mobile interface that’s specifically built for their mobile experience.
We’ve seen hints of a 3rd OS emerging, and Peter mentions Cyanogen. The open-source mobile OS has backing from Tencent, Microsoft, and is rumored to be talking with other big tech companies — perhaps hinting at what may emerge as an OS that could compete alongside Apple and Google’s offerings.
The idea and potential of a 3rd OS is powerful. Could a 3rd mobile OS exist? How do we get there, how would the existing ecosystem change? What would be the impacts on end-users, developers, advertisers, and everyone else in the complicated web or mobile? Some mobile-focused Quibb members reflected on these questions, and share their opinions.
Adam Miller (Mobile Marketing & User Analytics at RelayRides)
There are a lot of great points that are made for a third mobile operating system, but this is a really thin line to walk. Part of what made Apple and Google the duopoly they are is a unified approach that set standards when mobile was incredibly fragmented, from both a hardware and software perspective. Even during this time, consumers had other options via WebOS, Bada, BlackBerry, Symbian, etc. and they continued to choose these two for a reason.
There is definitely room for a “re-expansion” of the mobile ecosystem with greater personalization and localization. But in order to fully realize new software potential, the hardware should change with it. It’s this unique combination that might allow a third OS to exist. Otherwise, no consumer wants yet another app store. With Android being an open source OS to begin with, Project Ara seems like a promising front runner to realize the much-needed customization. The next wave of mobile needs to focus on customization, not fragmentation.
Nima Gardideh (Product at Taplytics)
If you think about mobile (hardware + software combined) as what it truly is — the first compute device that is truly mass-produced and usable by every person in the world (very comparable to CPG products) — then you can make a few assumptions about where the market could go in the next few years.
Due to the sheer size of the market, it’s rather a surprise that there’s only a handful of players that have reached a noticeable market share (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry (?)). Though, if you breakout Android to its different forks (Google, Kindle/Amazon, Mi, etc.) — then you get a more clear picture of its fragmentation already.
The major issue, which Microsoft hasn’t really been able to solve yet, is the chicken and egg problem with apps on mobile. Developers won’t spend the time (money) on building apps for new platforms without eye balls/users or people willing to spend money on their apps. Android was able to do it by winning the low-end of the market over (people who originally didn’t care about apps) — and due to its eventual market share had developers slowly move to create apps for its platform — and then went more premium as it grew. Windows hasn’t been able to find its niche, even within enterprise.
This isn’t all to say that it’s not possible for a new platform to emerge. But to point out that in order for it to truly be successful (and in a market like this, success means scale from both users and developers) is for the platform to have a truly differentiated experience. Not just on the user experience, but the developer experience as well.
Android was able to slightly use this to its advantage at first, letting developers/OEMs get access to virtually every part of the OS — though Google has since regretted that decision and wants to have more control over its OS.
In a way, we should be striving for a new experience that’s so much better (10X better?) that will open up a sizable niche of the market that will foster innovation.
Slaven Radic (Co-Founder at Tapstream)
As much as I’d love the idea of a 3rd mobile OS, the reality is that the market will make that very difficult. We already have one player with the means and the product to make this a reality: Microsoft. Their mobile OS has matured beyond an experiment and parts of it have even surpassed the market leaders (Cortana is a very capable voice-operated assistant). It truly is a valid alternative OS that you can buy today, backed by a company that’s serious about its success — unlike Samsung’s commitment to Tizen.
Unfortunately, even that wasn’t enough to get market to accept it. Instead of gaining more apps, they’re running into problems where companies like Chase and Bank of America are pulling their apps, as they didn’t think they were used by enough people. It’s hard to see Tizen or Cyanogen overcome those problems.
Don Marti (Member, Technical Committee at Aloodo)
Apple built for users, Google built for carriers — now, won’t somebody please think of the advertisers? Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends” reports consistently show users spending more time on mobile, while ad revenue fails to keep up. The trend is clear when you plot the data over time. On a per user minute basis, mobile ads are worth a quarter of web ads. Even worse, Mitchell Reichgut of the Jun Group points out that mobile is stalled at less than 5% of brand advertising budgets.
The conventional wisdom on how to fix disappointing mobile ad revenue is through cross-device tracking schemes, which just spread the web’s data leakage problem to mobile. But publishers, with growing online skills, are unlikely to keep putting up with data leakage, which has bugged them for a long time.
More user data won’t fix the problem anyway. Bob Hoffman wrote, “The Web is a much better yellow pages and a much worse television.” That goes double for mobile, where complex user-tracking schemes help fulfil a “coffee near me” search, but destroy thesignaling value of brand ads. Information asymmetry between advertiser and user makes a mobile ad less like a valuable print ad and more like email spam or a windshield flyer.
A new mobile platform that protects users from tracking will give brands the power to advertise in a signal-carrying way, and recapture some of the advertising value lost in the move away from print. With the right tracking protection, a third platform won’t just reassure “freaked-out” users — it can start a positive feedback cycle of effective brand ads, better ad-supported content, and more users.