Three Screen Platforms And The App Economy

-Three Screens Image-

Last night I got into a conversation over dinner with one of my friends about the consolidation of platforms, the ubiquity of data, and cross-platform applications. It’s something which I’ve been thinking about increasingly as I want to be able to purchase various digital devices and easily access my own information and applications on those devices without any time consuming configuration process. While we aren’t there yet, we are rapidly watching the technology industry solve many of these problems. Below are some of my observations about the state of the current shift toward a multi-screen, single platform, app economy.

Before highlighting what I believe are the most important characteristics of the new app economy, I want to highlight what I mean by the “multi-screen, single platform, app economy.” For anybody that has following the technology space for the past year, there is a broadly accepted trend toward three screens: personal computer, phone, and television. View AT&T’s statement, Nielsen’s three screen report, or Microsoft’s presentation at CTIA 2009.

With these three monitors being the delivery vehicle for your digital content, users will want to be able to easily consumer their content anywhere, anytime, in a seamless experience, with no configuration necessary. It sounds like a far fetched idea for anybody that has gone through the cumbersome process of setting up a new device right after they purchase it. It’s something we’ve been working toward for years and it will still take a couple years to reach this point, however I think it still can be accomplished.

Apps Must Work Across Platforms

The world of write-once, run anywhere is a theoretical utopia for software developers who have so far found the concept to be great yet unreachable. Clearspring, a D.C. based company, originally attempted to solve the issue of write once, run anywhere on social platforms. While the service worked, it’s not flawless and now the company’s entire platform has been merged into AddThis.

For social applications, OpenSocial was supposed to be a solution to creating ubiquitous social applications which ran across all social platforms. The only problem was that each site had it’s own settings, which forced developers to make small customizations for each platform. As of now, Apple appears to be the closes to having applications easily port from one device to another, with the impending launch of the Apple “iSlate”.

Google is also attempting to accomplish this with their ChromeOS and Android platforms, but because of a poor branding strategy, developers are confused about how easy it will be to make one application run on all Google platforms. Despite the ongoing issues with ease of portability, all successful developers must make their applications accessible on all significant platforms.

Data Is Ubiquitous

Whether it’s my music, movies, or documents, I should be able to access my information wherever I go. While Apple’s iPhone combined with Dropbox already accomplishes this task, network latency still puts a kink in the system. With more bandwidth and storage space on all devices, we won’t need to go through the process of sending files from one device to the other, it will be easily accessed through a centralized data repository.

Apps Can Be Installed On The Go

Apple has already made it possible to install applications on the go, however those applications cannot be easily installed on your desktop or other devices. In the future, you will purchase applications and a license which enables you to reinstall that application on other devices. The result is that application developers need to be able to build on top of any platform in order to provide a platform-independent experience.

Apple is looking to make this possible by using similar platforms on all devices. The iSlate/iTablet (or whatever it’s called) appears to be a basic extension of the iPhone and iPod Touch operating system. Google also claims that they are working on making Android applications accessible on the Chrome OS. The point is that you should be able to use that same applications no matter the device you are on.

Open Protocols And Interoperable Devices

My phone should be able to communicate with your television and vice versa. Currently there are barriers between branded devices. For example, a Windows device cannot easily read information from an Apple device. While there are protocols for sending files over infrared and other channels, reading data from other devices is not always straight forward. While there is already a lot of progress on this front, all devices need to be able to easily share information between them.

Phones Are Fashionable Accessories

Scarves, earrings, watches, bracelets, rings, wallets, and other fashionable accessories have all been usurped by the smart phone. Given that my data is access anywhere on any device, switching out devices becomes a frictionless process, and my device becomes little more than a fashionable accessory. One night you may feel like bringing out a boldly colored device, with less features since you aren’t going to be playing games and listening to music while you’re out at the club with friends.

When you purchase a device, you should also be able to choose the platform you wish to run. Want to run Windows on your new iPhone? While it will never happen, you should be able to. Just as Dell lets consumers choose which operating system they want to run on new computers, all other device manufactures should give the consumers a similar choice.

Service Providers Focus On Services, Product Companies Build Products

There’s this competitive maneuvering among many service providers, primarily phone companies and computer companies, who have created these complex bundling agreements to place software and other services into devices. While the bundling agreements probably won’t disappear anytime soon, each company will become increasingly specialized as there is no more data or device lock-in.

Apple Will Not Be The Single Point Of Innovation

Why do I need to wait for Apple to come up with sexy devices that integrate with my other devices? Is Apple the only innovative company out there? It feels like Apple is setting the pace of innovation but “innovation” is being driven more by shelf-life and less by technology. In order for the three screen app economy to become a reality, other companies will need to be sources of innovation. Yes, plenty of companies are pushing the needle forward but not all innovation will be driven by big companies.

Things Will Get More Complicated Before They Get Easier

There is still a configuration process whenever I purchase a new device. The further we move toward data ubiquity and platform independent devices, the easier things will get. The market is naturally figuring out the answers but the transition is not totally smooth. For now we have to wait for the innovators to figure out the solutions to the current problems. While I can’t tell you what the next devices and platforms will be, there’s no doubt that our information will be accessible anywhere we are on any device we have on any platform we choose.