TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Competition
Volume Number:10
Issue Number:4
Column Tag:Inside Information

The Competition of The Future

Do you know any dinosaurs headed for extinction?

By Chris Espinosa, Apple Computer, Inc., MacTech Magazine Regular Contributing Author

In the personal computer software industry we’re extremely fortunate to have a couple of natural forces that help keep ahold of our customers. First, there is the normal upgrade cycle, where for a small amount of work we can make an improvement on the products our customers already own, and do a "trade-in" at a very low cost of goods. You can’t do that with refrigerators, for example, because most of the costs are in materials and manufacturing. The revenue stream from upgrade products is what keeps most companies profitable in the software industry.

Second is the "switching costs" that keep customers on that upgrade path. Once you’ve bought a product, learned its interface and features, committed a lot of your data to its file format, and (consciously or unconsciously) designed your everyday habits around it, you’re pretty reluctant to switch to another product, even if it promises to be A Whole Lot Better. It has to be so much better that it overcomes the pain of learning a new feature set and user interface, the time-consuming and inaccurate process of file conversion, and the discomfort of losing old habits and gaining new ones.

In many cases, the switching cost is always higher than the benefit. A modern application has so many features that it’s rare for a different product to completely satisfy its users. Everybody has one crucial feature that they love in one application and won’t give up. It’s hard for a competitor to cover all of the cherished features well enough to really steal customers from an established product.

As long as software remains large and hand-crafted, with each application having its own file format and user interface, the switching costs for users will remain high. That means that you can generally trust that your installed base will be a ready market for your upgrades, and you can focus most of your effort on adding features that please them, get the attention of new computer purchasers, and (maybe) attract some people who already own your competitors’ products.

But OpenDoc and the component software revolution change the technical basis for many of these switching costs. Because the information edited by part editors is stored in the Bento file format, it’ll be easier for one application to read another’s data. Because OpenDoc lets you add part editors to any document, you can keep the user interface and cherished features of the most important data, and integrate them easily into another application. So when someone creates a compound document with your application and a lot of OpenDoc part editors, it’s not that difficult for them to take those parts and move them to another application without a major upheaval in file format, user interface, or features.

It will be a long time before software components become truly interchangeable parts, but just a little interchangeability can make a serious difference in how you develop your products -- and how you keep a hold on your customers.

In development, you should see your application as a whole, not just (to use the cliché) the sum of its parts. For example, consider constructing your graphics-editing application so that the bulk of the work is done in a graphics part editor, but your “container” application adds automation, management, and control. Though people might be tempted to just use your part editor in other applications (as well they could), they’d soon miss the advanced features only available in the container.

Or focus on customizability. One of the tempting things about General Magic’s Magic Cap environment is that it’s terrifically personal, and people will get attached to it: not to the environment itself, but to what they’ve done to it. When users personalize your software to the degree that moving away from it is like moving out of their homes, your chances of keeping them are stronger.

As software becomes interchangeable, the less it will cost to switch. Ultimately we’ll have to deal with the fact that some kinds of software will become commodities, just like clone PC hardware today. And that means that a lot of the things that are important in today’s software business (like upgrades and new features) may become less important, and things that are most important in other industries might become most important in software as well.

Things like great customer service, personal customer support, high quality (the first time, not in the .1 version), and heavy direct marketing. Things like licensing terms that are not only convenient, but understandable (have you even read the license agreement you put on the software you sell?). Things that make YOU different, not just things that make your product different.

For many technologists this will be extremely annoying. At its worst it’s a “marketing-driven” industry. At its best, it’s a great foundation for innovation, though your innovations of two years ago don’t give you a natural customer base for next year. In any case, a lot of the things that we have gotten away with so far must end: bugs and instability, rampant featuritis, and “upgrades” that are bigger and slower than the current version. When your users can take their data and use a different product, they’ll be less tolerant of your mistakes and foibles.

Perhaps this will never happen. It’s possible that interchangeable software parts are still a long way away. If so, we can probably get away with proprietary data formats, buggy code, and feature bloat for a few more happy years, dragging our poor customers with us. But even if the component revolution doesn’t happen on schedule, it might be a good idea to clean up our act anyway: remember that phones, TVs, and video games are creeping up on our personal computer industry just like we crept up on minicomputers ten years ago. If we don’t pay attention to what people really want, we could be the next dinosaurs.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Fantastical 2.5.13 - Create calendar eve...
Fantastical is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 11.05 - File, pho...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
SpamSieve 2.9.38 - Robust spam filter fo...
SpamSieve is a robust spam filter for major email clients that uses powerful Bayesian spam filtering. SpamSieve understands what your spam looks like in order to block it all, but also learns what... Read more
TeamViewer 15.0.8397 - Establish remote...
TeamViewer gives you remote control of any computer or Mac over the Internet within seconds or can be used for online meetings. Find out why more than 200 million users trust TeamViewer! Free for non... Read more
SteerMouse 5.4.3 - Powerful third-party...
SteerMouse is an advanced driver for USB and Bluetooth mice. SteerMouse can assign various functions to buttons that Apple's software does not allow, including double-clicks, modifier clicks,... Read more
Toast Titanium 18.2.1 - The ultimate med...
Roxio Toast Titanium, the leading DVD burner for Mac, makes burning even better, adding Roxio Secure Burn to protect your files on disc and USB in Mac- or Windows-compatible formats. Get more style... Read more
HoudahSpot 5.0.11 - Advanced file-search...
HoudahSpot is a versatile desktop search tool. Use HoudahSpot to locate hard-to-find files and keep frequently used files within reach. HoudahSpot will immediately feel familiar. It works just the... Read more
ClipGrab 3.8.6 - Download videos from Yo...
ClipGrab is a free downloader and converter for YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and many other online video sites. It converts downloaded videos to MPEG4, MP3 or other formats in just one easy step Version... Read more
ExpanDrive 7.4.0 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2020 20.0 - Build w...
Dreamweaver CC 2020 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $20.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Dreamweaver customer). Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2020 allows you to... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

New heroes and balance updates set to ar...
It feels like Hearthstone: Battlegrounds only launched yesterday, and already the auto batter addition to Blizzard's megahit card game is set to receive new heroes and balance updates. [Read more] | Read more »
Pre-register for Hello Kitty AR: Kawaii...
Hello Kitty — the cute cat that launched a multi-billion-pound franchise — has been brought to life… sort of. Sanrio has teamed up with the Bublar Group to create a new mobile game that uses AR tech to turn the real world into Hello Kitty’s... | Read more »
Gorgeous and tranquil puzzler Spring Fal...
One-man indie studio SPARSE//GameDev has now launched its tranquil puzzler, Spring Falls. It's described as "a peaceful puzzle game about water, erosion, and watching things grow". [Read more] | Read more »
Black Desert Mobile gets an official rel...
Pearl Abyss has just announced that its highly-anticipated MMO, Black Desert Mobile, will launch globally for iOS and Android on December 11th. [Read more] | Read more »
Another Eden receives new a episode, cha...
Another Eden, WFS' popular RPG, has received another update that brings new story content to the game alongside a few new heroes to discover. [Read more] | Read more »
Overdox guide - Tips and tricks for begi...
Overdox is a clever battle royale that changes things up by adding MOBA mechanics and melee combat to the mix. This new hybrid game can be quite a bit to take in at first, so we’ve put together a list of tips to help you get a leg up on the... | Read more »
Roterra Extreme - Great Escape is a pers...
Roterra Extreme – Great Escape has been described by developers Dig-It Games as a mini-sequel to their acclaimed title Roterra: Flip the Fairytale. It continues that game's tradition of messing with which way is up, tasking you with solving... | Read more »
Hearthstone: Battlegrounds open beta lau...
Remember earlier this year when auto battlers were the latest hotness? We had Auto Chess, DOTA Underlords, Chess Rush, and more all gunning for our attention. They all had their own reasons to play, but, at least from where I'm standing, most... | Read more »
The House of Da Vinci 2 gets a new gamep...
The House of Da Vinci launched all the way back in 2017. Now, developer Blue Brain Games is gearing up to deliver a second dose of The Room-inspired puzzling. Some fresh details have now emerged, alongside the game's first official trailer. [Read... | Read more »
Shoot 'em up action awaits in Battl...
BattleBrew Productions has just introduced another entry into its award winning, barrelpunk inspired, BattleSky Brigade series. Whilst its previous title BattleSky Brigade TapTap provided fans with idle town building gameplay, this time the... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple continues to offer 2017 13″ Dual-Core n...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ 2.3GHz Dual-Core non-Touch Bar MacBook Pros still available starting at $1019. An standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, outer cases... Read more
Save up to $120 on the new 16″ MacBook Pro at...
Apple’s resellers are starting to receive stock of new 16″ MacBook Pros, and the first set of sales & deals are now available: (1) Amazon 16″ MacBook Pros start on sale for $100-$116 off Apple’s... Read more
Apple Watch Series 3 models on sale at Amazon...
Amazon has Apple Watch Series 3 GPS models on sale for $30 off MSRP, starting at only $169. There prices are the lowest we’ve ever seen for these models from any Apple reseller. Choose Amazon as the... Read more
The ‘Mac Potpourri’ Mailbag: Edition #1- Info...
COMMENTARY: 11.20.19- Welcome to the inaugural edition of the “Mac Potpourri” Mailbag where we take a look at correspondence received from readers of this column from all over the world who write in... Read more
13″ 2.4GHz MacBook Pros available for up to $...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2019 13″ 2.4GHz 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros available starting at $1529 and up to $300 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is... Read more
New at T-Mobile: Switch to T-Mobile, and get...
T-Mobile is offering a free 64GB iPhone 8 for new customers who switch to T-Mobile and open a new line of service. Eligible trade-in required, and discount applied over a 24 month period. The fine... Read more
Xfinity Mobile’s Black Friday Apple savings:...
Take $250 off the purchase of any iPhone at Xfinity Mobile with a new line activation, and transfer of phone number to Xfinity Mobile, through December 8, 2019. This includes Apple’s new iPhone 11... Read more
2019 13″ 1.4GHz MacBook Pros available starti...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2019 13″ 1.4GHz 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros available starting at $1099 and up to $230 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is... Read more
Save up to $350 on a 21″ or 27″ iMac with the...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2019 21″ & 27″ iMacs available starting at $929 and up to $350 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, shipping is free, and each iMac... Read more
Early Holiday 2019 Sale: B&H again offers...
B&H Photo has 10.2″ iPads on sale again for $30 off Apple’s MSRP, starting at $299, as part of their early Holiday 2019 sale. Overnight shipping is free to many addresses in the US: – 10.2″ 32GB... Read more

Jobs Board

Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**745516BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store NUmber or Department:** 001101-Manhattan-Store **Job Read more
Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**746655BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Sales **Store NUmber or Department:** 002518-Atlantic Center-Store **Job Description:** Read more
*Apple* Mobility Pro - Best Buy (United Stat...
**747089BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobility Pro **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store NUmber or Department:** 000377-Prescott AZ-Store **Job Description:** At Read more
*Apple* Health Benefit Specialist - Call Cen...
Description ** Apple Health Benefit Specialist - Call Center (MAS 3/MACSC)** **Olympia, WA Multiple Positions** *The ideal candidate for this position will have Read more
Hair Stylist - *Apple* Blossom Mall - JCPen...
Hair Stylist - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States- Apple Blossom Mall 1850 Apple Blossom Dr Job ID:1065040Salon Professionals Job Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.