@andrewchen

Get the newsletter · 2018 essays (PDF) · Featured · Recent

War of the platforms: Facebook, Apple, Android, Twitter.

For the first time in decades, the choice of what platform to build for is not obvious.

Back in the 80s and 90s, it was obvious: Build on Microsoft. Then from 2000 to 2008, the closest thing to a platform was Google, where developers would work with SEO and SEM tactics to get traffic. Then all of a sudden, the Facebook platform got big- really big. Then came mobile.

The last time this happened was in early 1980s
All of a sudden, you can actually pick and choose what platform to actually build upon. Weird. This is a historic event – the last time there were this many choices, we were choosing between Windows, OS/2, or the original Mac.

For those with deep pockets, of course you can build on all of them – yet if you’re an early startup, you really have to double down on one and go multi-platform as you pick up traction.

Evaluating platforms
To evalute which platform is best, here are some thoughts:

  • Which offers access to the most relevant users?
  • Which one is the most stable?
  • Which platform is most unlikely to build a competing app and try to replace yours?

Apple
Ultimately, I think distribution is where platforms really help. As Apple’s demonstrated, you can make developers learn a whole new programming language, a new technology stack, if you can give them access to millions of users. Contrast that to many generates of Google and Yahoo APIs which allowed for data access, but not distribution – much less useful. The biggest problem with Apple is that their leaderboard system is rapidly filling up with winners and it’s harder to break in.

Facebook
Facebook is much more of a free-for-all, and new apps can break in, but they are pretty unstable and are constantly changing their platform. The plus side is that their constant changes introduce new windows of opportunity for an adventurous developer to jump in.

Twitter
Twitter as a consumer product is so simple, there aren’t many marketing channels to even take advantage of. They don’t have an app store, they don’t have an apps page, and it’s hard to discover. Right now, as a platform Twitter’s not that great.

Android
Android seems like a potentially great platform to develop for, but there’s so much opportunity in the iOS world that most developers have overlooked it. Perhaps it’ll turn into the contrarian bet and we’ll see some Android-first apps succeed. Of course, the fragmentation is a real problem, and there hasn’t been an existence proof of an Android-first app that’s had the same level of traction as, say, Rovio or Instagram.

More platforms upcoming?
Let’s also not count out Windows Mobile, or maybe even a resurgence in native applications as Microsoft and Apple build out their desktop app stores. There’s also interesting emerging companies like Pinterest or Dropbox, which may not be in the 100s of millions of users, but may quickly get there.

I predict that marketing channels will loosen up in the short-term
Lots of interesting choices here – there’s a ton of opportunity and I think we’ll see that the competition between platforms will lead to a loosening of distribution channels. Facebook will hopefully open up a bit more, and provide a bunch more traffic, rather than see all their social gaming developers sucked into mobile, for instance. Will be great to see.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.