Don't Be a Lemming: You Can be Open and Integrated
"In reality, we think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, “What’s best for the customer – fragmented versus integrated?”
- Steve Jobs, Apple Q4 2010 Earnings Call
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
- Inigo Montaya
First, to appease the many fanboys, colleagues, and friends that may take issue with this post, I have the utmost respect for Apple as a company that walks its talk when it comes to real innovation. According to its fiscal Q4 2010 earnings report that came out yesterday, crossing the $20B revenue threshold for the first time ever, over 60% of its revenue today is coming in from products that didn't even exist 3 years ago. To quote Asymco, the source of this chart below, remember Apple before the iPod? This is an impressive record of product development and innovation leadership. They've also listened to developers and backed off of their 3.1.1 TOS mistake after evaluating for five months, and created the iAds opportunity for developer app monetization. Well done.
But just because you have a product genius for a leader, trying to reframe the open vs closed debate into a fragmentation vs integration debate is "disingenuous," to use Jobs' own words. First, I agree with Eric Nolin's post as he chronicles the overuse of "open" to the point where the buzz threatens to "openwash" everything. Second, by painting Microsoft Windows and Plays for Sure music strategy as proof that "Open doesn't Win," Jobs himself just might be at the pinnacle of personal disingenuity, as pointed out by Kevin Marks. Open. This word does not mean what he thinks it means.
Being open does not make a bad product strategy better. But I reject the false choice that good product strategy needs to be either open or integrated. Parts of the Android, Chrome, #newtwitter, and Facebook OpenGraph strategies show that you can have a balance of both. You will never get a 100% overlap between open and integrated, but you can -- and should -- have elements of both on your product and platform strategies. Too closed or too fragmented doesn't work.
So, if you are truly a fan of Apple, call Steve Jobs on his framing of the open vs closed debate. Don't be a lemming. Any who follow his logic of Open cannot also be Integrated unquestioningly are blindly following a benevolent dictatorship of product vision where you are being offered the integrated experience of those who know better.