Digital Product Platforms

by Luke Wroblewski May 29, 2009

The World Wide Web has been built on a foundation of rather simple capabilities (page markup, styling, and scripting) determined by what Web browsers can support. Web application developers -desperate to add innovative capabilities to this environment- have pushed the limits of JavaScript, browser plug-ins, and even Web browsers themselves to enable rich activities and interactions online. But new digital product platforms are introducing exciting capabilities that leave the Web browser behind.

Consider some of the capabilities offered to developers on Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android platforms:

  • Precise location information from GPS
  • User orientation from a digital compass
  • Multi-touch input from one or more simultaneous gestures
  • Light/dark environment awareness from ambient light sensors
  • Device positioning from an accelerometer
  • Device closeness to other objects from a proximity sensor
  • Audio input from a microphone (could be thought of as an audio sensor)
  • Image capture/input from a camera (still and soon video)
  • Device connections through Bluetooth
  • FM transmitter (rumored on iPhone)
  • Direct access to local data store
  • RFID reader (patented)
  • Fingerprint Identification as an Input Method (patented)
  • Haptic display technologies which allow the user to "feel" different surfaces as their finger moves across a touchscreen (patented)

That’s a lot of input and output capabilities for developers to build on. No wonder the Apple app store added over 35,000 applications in just ten months.

The iPhone platform also comes with built in monetization capabilities. Developers can charge for their applications and soon (through application-specific micro-payments) for their content and services. It took years for some Web business models to shake out and many services still rely solely on advertising to pay the bills. A platform with monetization embedded from the start avoids a lot of this churn. A combination of new capabilities and revenue opportunities makes new digital product platforms on networked consumer devices enticing. In addition to the Apple App Store, there’s:

  • Small screens: Mobile application platforms from Google (Android Market), Nokia (Ovi Store), Research in Motion (Blackberry App World), Palm (App Catalog), and Microsoft (Skymarket)
  • Wall-sized screens: Yahoo! Connected TV allowing networked “mini-apps” to run on networked televisions from Samsung, Sony, LG, and Vizio
  • Specialized screens: Amazon’s Kindle Store offering blogs and content producers a new platform for distribution and monetization.

In other words: a lot of interesting places (that are not Web browsers) to build networked consumer applications.