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iOS: The runtime system for innovation

This post may ruffle some feathers.

Eddy Cue, Apple senior vice president of internet software and services, helps introduce the new iOS software at the Worldwide Developer's Conference.
Andrew Burton / Getty

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


This post may ruffle some feathers.

As I take as step back from Apple’s WWDC, I think a couple of observations are worth making. First, Apple is continuing its trend toward more openness with its platforms. The argument that Apple is "closed" no longer holds much water. More importantly, a philosophy around this openness is starting to take form. While Apple is continuing to open up elements of the platform, something it has been criticised before about keeping closed, the underlying theme for the way in which the company is becoming more open is through user experience.

Apple, it seems, has observed the hard lessons learned from Microsoft’s platforms and Android, where the extreme degree of openness has an impact on customer experience. That impact can be in security, inconsistency in interfaces or operations, or even just causing fundamental issues of hardware failure.

Apple is striving to strike a balance in how it opens up core parts of the platform experience that it once strictly controlled, and is doing so in a way to ensure that these past lessons of extreme openness that hurt the customer experience are not repeated.

The moves made by Apple convince me that iOS is the primary platform where software and services innovation is going to happen.

The criticism Apple so often faced by those who believed their lack of freedom or choice was inhibited by Apple’s closed platforms was often a critique of things very few people do. Very few users want to root their devices or customize them to no end with third-party options. The criticism that did hold slightly true was the one that stated that such a closed platform fundamentally limited what the consumer could potentially do.

Which is why Apple’s slow walk to open up more parts of the platform — thus giving developers/third parties new levels of opportunity to add value to core experiences once controlled by Apple — is so interesting. It speaks to a level of maturity in the market to be open to such new potential, but also for third parties to now also create fundamentally new experiences in brand-new ways. Which is why the moves made by Apple convince me that iOS is the primary platform where software and services innovation is going to happen.

That statement has been argued before, and is quite difficult to debate, if we are honest. The vast majority of new startups being funded are apps focused on iOS. Companies like Google and Microsoft are continuing to create software experiences that also start on iOS and are sometimes iOS-only. Apple’s customers remain the most valuable group of humans on the planet, which adds to the economic incentives for the focus on iOS and users of the platform.

The vast majority of new startups being funded are apps focused on iOS.

But the big-picture observation is that iOS will be the platform where consumers will get the best of all worlds. The best of Apple, the best of Microsoft, the best of Google, the best of Amazon, the best of the startup and entrepreneurial software community and, slowly but surely, the best of the business world. The best of every company’s software and services efforts will be on iOS. This is not something I can say of any other platform. It is not true of Windows, as much as Microsoft hopes it will be with Windows 10, and it is not true of Android.

Apple’s continued position of iOS as the main platform for innovation is extremely difficult to compete with, but also extremely attractive from a value proposition, as mature market consumers come to understand this reality as it plays out. Furthermore, Apple is starting to take a back seat when it comes to first-party software in many areas. The fact that you can now delete (actually, hide) Apple’s first-party apps in iOS 10 is an admission, in my opinion, that the company is surrendering specific experiences to third parties that will do it better. It’s a compromise to make its hardware and platform the most worthwhile place for software and services innovation.

What is interesting are the areas where Apple is innovating in first-party software. Apps like Photos, iMessage, Home and others are making the most compelling first-party experiences central to Apple’s ecosystem, but letting Microsoft be the best at productivity or Facebook at social media, for example. Balancing this tradeoff is key to having robust software and services companies make your platform the best place for innovation.

If anything, what Apple did with WWDC cements this direction. Android will continue to have the dominant share of platforms but it will not be the platform where the most interesting and innovative software is. Certainly, some apps and experiences will also be on Android but, all told, iOS is where all the best companies and the brightest minds’ efforts in software and services innovation will converge.


Ben Bajarin is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc., an industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Reach him @BenBajarin.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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