User Experience as a Service or a Tale of Three Giants

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The late 70s were the glory days of Apple. The Apple II had set the standard for a new personal computing era. Not for long. With the emergence of Microsoft’s MS-DOS 1.0 and the IBM PC, two diametrically opposed product design and go-to-market strategies collided.

Microsoft’s strategy was to build “The Alliance”. It had partnered with Intel and low cost asian “PC clones” makers to offer a mass market personal computing platform. Apple’s approach was “All-in-One”: a single, vertically integrated, solution that included both the hardware and the software.

The result of this strategic battle is now part of the history of Silicon Valley. The Alliance had quickly captured a massive market share by offering a “good enough” personal computing product. The market share grab, and the extreme “openness” of the platform had captivated the world and brought computing into many schools and homes. The Microsoft/Intel/PC Clone became the go to platform for application developers and users. Apple’s first mover advantage didn’t help and it became a niche company in the personal computing market that served the education and creative design verticals.

Fast forward to 2010 and the same battle is fought again. The Alliance now includes Google’s Android operating system and dozens of asian mobile handset makers. In a repeat of the 80s, it had also captured the vast majority of the market. And Apple, as if it had learned nothing, is sticking to its All-in-One vertically integrated product strategy. Will history repeat itself, with The Alliance defeating the All-in-One by commoditizing the smartphone the way it had commoditized the personal computer?

As I write this blog, the iPhone is rewriting history. 8 years into its launch, the iPhone is resisting the inevitable commoditization of any new technology. Apple commands the vast majority of profit share, and developer mind share, in the smartphone market. The loyalty of its customers and their willingness to pay a premiun for the iPhone despite cheaper alternatives, had defied logic and common wisdom.

How could that be? I believe that answer is that we now live in the “age of user experience”. As we described in a previous blog, the Cloud plays a key role in the age of user experience by encapsulating “products” so customers can experience the “value” rather than the products that go into creating it. Apple is a User-Experience-as-a-Service company that ties together hardware (the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch), software (iOS) and services (iTunes, App Store, Apple Pay) into a unified and optimized user experience. The value of that experience, has remained constant over the years, despite the rapid commoditization of the different components that went into making it.

Google and its partners, however, made a conscious decision to compromise the user experience because of the need to support a large matrix of platforms without optimizing to any specific one. This was the 80s strategy: rapid market share grab with good enough product. While this approach did lead to market share gains, Apple retained its profit share lead, as many customers refused to accept a “good enough” experience and embraced a “premium” one – even at a higher cost. Google’s attempt to respond to this preference was to build a path to a vertically integrated solution with the purchase of Motorola Mobility. This move had ultimately failed because Google had become a prisoner of its own ecosystem, risking The Alliance with a decision to directly compete with its partners.

The demand for a superior user experience has impacted all areas of technology. The so-called “Consumerization of IT” simply suggests that user experience matters everywhere – in both our personal and work lives. We are witnessing a “melt up” of products, software, hardware and all the duct tape holding them together into an experience that is benchmarked against the bar Apple had set with its products. As an industry we will be held accountable for delivering a great experience not just a good enough product.

If you want to create a new user experience for IT security and the business it serves – join our team. If you want to experience what lies beyond “good enough” – join our beta.

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