You have to admit that Apple introduced a real game change, and I don’t mean with their products, though it’s fair to say that sequentially the iPod, iPhone and iPad can all be described this way. No, I mean the App Shop, the real power that underlies and enables all these successful products, and even after all this time is the unbeatable foundation that any competitive tablet maker has to take on. Android is the only real challenger right now, especially if HP does pack up and go away, though Microsoft is waiting to unveil its move into the tablet market. But both these challengers recognizably come from the traditional technology go-to-market approach, and Apple is very different with its App Shop as a personal consumer buy.
So is Amazon the real competitor with its new Kindle Fire tablet? Its appeal is to the consumer, the very market that Apple commands, its launch material constantly referenced Apple’s iPad, and it’s cheaper. I suspect that Fire will be the mass employee equivalent of the iPad to the executive manager and that it’s going to be appearing on your site chasing after your connectivity and services shortly. It’s a more powerful beast than it might seem. Sure it’s all about, and subsidized by, getting the consumer directed straight onto Amazon to buy their vast range of products with the same ease as buying books with a Kindle, and seems likely to succeed in this, but take a look at the Silk browser.
Amazon Web Services has taken the role of holding optimized versions of thousands of websites to make them really fast for an Amazon Fire user on their Silk browser. Amazon says these are ‘popular’ websites – well they certainly will be to a Fire user in preference to a site offering the same ‘products’ or ‘services’ which Amazon doesn’t consider popular! In comparison, Apple directs you to ‘products’ and ‘services’ that are in the Apple App Store, same end result in both cases; the device, operating system (even though in Fire it’s a version of Android), and connections all direct you to a ‘favored’ set of sites, or apps.
So, on one hand the market is discussing a shift to ‘ubiquitous’ technology and adopting ‘bring your own’, BYO, to allow people to make use of their favorite devices, and presumably interfaces, while on the other hand the two device platforms that are likely to be most popular will ‘lock down’ choices. Is this good or bad? Apple has successfully introduced a proven sense of ‘reliability’ to the users that there are none of the technology problems that they fear to stop them making widespread use of the many services on offer in the Apple App store, something that the more diverse Android market has yet to achieve. Being a ‘controlled’ environment, it’s safe too, i.e. Apple acts as a central control on apps being submitted for the App Store and ensures no malware and viruses are present, and the model allows developers to build and sell small highly-focused apps in a manner that would be difficult otherwise, thus encouraging new innovative moves.
We can’t be sure yet how the Amazon approach will turn out but it seems to me that it is going to focus on those websites that are selling B2C through Amazon and as such will boost online commerce even further. However, these are visible effects that Apple has produced and Amazon may bring into the market, but the bigger picture for the software industry and CIOs is less clear. Will we see a stronger split between enterprise IT where the application is sold to the enterprise with a corporate business case, and user, meaning employee, use of software and tools shifting at the skilled end to be more like a mechanic, or carpenter, or any number of other skilled craftsman role, where they supply their own tools?
In the enterprise software market, how it is deployed and charged may change towards ‘services’ and ‘as a service’ on consumption but the answer to the who develops, markets, deploys and maintains looks likely to be recognizable around what we know today. On the employee side all those iPads in the executive managers’ hands are already being used for relatively personal focuses to improve their working capabilities and skills in their enterprise roles, a good example of the management mantra of employing intelligent people and encouraging them to be ‘entrepreneurial’.
So is ‘bring your own’ really a move to encourage on the basis that it will allow an increasing number of employees to behave this way for the benefit of the enterprise? Will really innovative and differentiated software that can make a difference in unique, strongly-focused, specialized areas come by this route? And will Amazon Fire bring this to another and larger group of enterprise employees? The introduction of the PC radicalized the design, development and deployment of software in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and there is no reason to think that tablets (and smartphones which are really increasingly smaller versions of tablets) won’t do the same! Indeed, why would they carry on with the current model when the tablet is such a revolution in every other aspect?