Turning a Triple Play

The following is a guest post from Trevor Doerksen, CEO of Calgary’s Mobovivo – a digital media company focused on the challenges Broadcast and Media companies face in marketing and delivering premium content to audiences on alternative platforms.

Why has Google announced apps and market places for phones and televisions and not computers?

Google’s apps already run on Android-based mobile phones. Last week Google announced that apps will run on Android-based TVs. Google has a double play.

Apple’s iApps run on iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Yesterday Apple said, according to Engadget that they will be putting the iPhone OS on the next version of Apple TV. The assumption of course is that will allow apps to run on a TV, but that was not confirmed in reports. Apple TV, a set-top box “hobby” for Apple, gives the company an option for a double play that they will likely exercise prior to Google getting their double play.

So, what happened to the personal computer? Google and Apple are both ignoring the mobile-TV-computer triple play. Google has Desktop Gadgets. Apple has the Dashboard Widgets. But these are completely incompatible from Android apps and iApps. And so is all the personal computer software.

There is also no market place for either Gadgets or Widgets. Apple appears to get 2 new widgets added to its widget directory daily. The newest Google Widget according to Google’s Gadget directory was added on Feb. 20, 2010. This is not very compelling for developers. Nearly 300 iApps are approved daily for Apple iTunes. A similar daily amount of apps were released in the Android Market in April, 2010.

What is even stranger than Google and Apple going for a single play and reaching for a double, when they could be trying to turn a triple is that Google’s and Apple’s app marketplaces are not even accessible to users without a phone in Google’s case or iTunes in Apple’s. They don’t even want the lowly personal computer user to know about apps.

Ok, there has to be an explanation. Sure, the mobile phone represents the largest commercialization opportunity in the history of the world. There are nearly more mobile phones in the world than there are people – 4.6 billion at the end of 2009.# There are 1.1 billion TV households globally. There are a similar number of personal computers (PC)# in the world. So it is not the market potential that would have Google and Apple ignoring the computer.

Of course, there are perfectly good technical reasons why an app won’t run on your computer. Lack of touch interfaces, accelerometers and the run-time environment being different, but this is not a very satisfying answer either. And it does not answer why Apple and Google appear to be fragmenting their own ecosystems. Of course, desktop software has been commoditized and open sourced. But still, no triple play.

Apple and Google may be taking a play from the TV and movie industry. They are creating “windows” for software, like studios do for movies – first window is theatrical, second is DVD, third is television and so on. For software, it seems to follow: first window being PC, second mobile and third to be television. However, this is shifting to first window mobile, second television and Apple and Google seem to be telling developers to ignore the personal computer.

Software developers and media companies and enterprises must manage this complexity and shouldn’t expect any help from Google or Apple. They are fragmenting the software and media landscape for their benefit. Managing devices, apps, data, media, and software; syncing these across operating systems, devices, and locations will need to be built into a developer’s strategy. More and more companies are becoming developers and need to create apps for increasing complex or at least numerous environments. For most companies and developers this will become very difficult or impossible.

Take the example of a movie studio, producer or broadcaster that has been doing business for years fragmenting the market place using time-based window releases. For the last several years they have been told that, due to illegal file sharing and consumer demand, this fragmented approach is dead. Now they see the biggest technology companies in the world tell them to give them their content with no release restrictions just to see Google and Apple introduce their own technical release windows to fragment the market place. Oh yeah and remember both these companies are also ad networks, something the TV and movie industry rely on heavily and consider to be part of their own core competency.

There are a lot of companies that can probably achieve their triple play in a browser, but not any that want to make money (a topic for another day). “So, which fragmentation model will produce the most profits,” asks a typical CEO. Given all this complexity being thrust on consumers, the best path to profits are the companies that help manage complexity for their customers and turn a triple play that includes: personal computers, mobile and television. Why Google and Apple are not doing this with software is indeed interesting.