Completely Open vs. Completely Integrated

by Luke Wroblewski August 24, 2009

I read this quote last week and realized it is symptomatic of a common assertion that in technology (and especially the Web) "completely open" is better than "controlled".

"But we’ll all know exactly where Apple stands - jealously guarding control of their users [...] And that’s not what Apple should be about." -TechCrunch

Sorry but Apple makes their entire living by tightly controlling the experience of their customers. It's why everyone praises their designs. From top to bottom, hardware to software -you get an integrated experience. Without this control, Apple could not be what it is today.

Now, I'm as big a fan of the open Web as anyone. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate or understand the value of closed systems. Closed systems enable companies to do seamless integration without putting the burden on their customers. An open system (like Android on smart phones) enables you to do what you like. It's like Linux on the phone -with all that entails.

Most people out there prefer a great experience over complete openness. Market data spells this out: iTunes owns 69% of the digital music market; the iPod has 70% share of the US market as the top-selling MP3 player; the iPhone has 8% of the smartphone market while Android has less than 1%; and more...

It's not just Apple. Facebook is continually charged with being a "walled garden" but their focus on user experience has catapulted them to over 250 million active users. During this growth, Facebook has adjusted the presence of third party applications on the site several times to make sure the experience stays complete. While some developers were upset about these changes (like several are with Apple's App store policies), the overall experience took precedence.

Another example? Hulu. The online video site does not take user submissions and carefully guards its vault of major studio TV shows and movies. Nielsen Ratings rank Hulu as the second most popular video site in the US with 383 million streams and 10 million unique viewers for an average 38.3 streams per viewer.