A preview of ICT in 2010: Platform

Content resides in ecosystems enabled by platforms.  Recent platform wars you may have read about include HD DVD vs. Blu-ray and PC vs. Mac.  The mobile space is also in the middle of a platform war.

If we consider video in North America for a moment, more than 40% of the videos watched online is found and delivered through YouTube, and YouTube videos are 100% Flash-based.  Worldwide, 80% of the online video is Flash-based.  Why is this relevant to mobile computing and entertainment?

Today, there are many mobile computing platforms: BlackBerry, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, WebOS and iPhone.  One of the challenges facing digital content owners and mobile software developer today is the fragmentation across devices, operating systems, and browsers.  Is there a cost-effective way to address this issue?

First, let’s recap what has transpired in 2009.  Handheld devices could finally access and purchase a wide range of mobile software with a more intuitive billing system.  Thus far, the lion’s share of the attention has been on the Apple App Store.  This is made possible by a sustainable and innovative business model to nurture and support the mobile software ecosystem: 130,000 developers, 120,000 applications and 3 billion downloads. With a current install base of 50M iPod touch and iPhones in 2.5 years, Apple’s success in the mobile space is remarkable. It is a sophisticated ecosystem involving carrier operators, content providers, and handset manufacturers.  To put this into perspective, RIM just sold its 50Mth Blackberry in early 2009.  How long would it take to grow that user base by 20 times?

There are several alternatives in this space including Toronto-based, SocialDeck, which received validation from the BlackBerry Partners Fund.  However, one of the incumbent players to watch in 2010 is Adobe Flash Mobile.  There are now more than 1 billion handhelds worldwide with Flash installed.  The install base has grown by more than 45% over 2008.  Yet, this is just one component of the Open Screen Project.  Although not all one billion devices are based on touch-screens, which has overcome a number of user interface problems, there is no better platform today in terms of reach and accessibility.  Open source platforms like Android will accelerate its adoption.

Meanwhile, iPhone’s Safari does not support Flash today.  It remains to be seen if Apple would support Flash as competing platforms integrate Flash into their mobile Internet browser for a richer experience.  There will be opportunities for Adobe and entrepreneurs who find a way to offer a seamless, end-to-end, demand-oriented, web-centric experience on the 3-5 inch screens – across various sectors from casual gaming to time-sensitive health-care.  Key drivers for this paradigm shift include higher revenue-sharing per purchase, shorter time-to-market between platforms, and friendlier corporate policies.  As for trade-off, developers would face a fragmented market.