Think the mobile platform battle is a fight for the device you buy? Think again.

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The mobile space has rapidly expanded (160% over the last year[1]) - with the incredible success of one iPad. This success has also underscored the boom in smart phones entering he market as well as devices that might fit somewhere in-between (a convertible tablet laptop, anyone?). Many think that companies are fighting to get these mobile devices into our hands - while thats true to a certain extent, the real fight for our mobile future will be who controls the platform.

Everything is a platform
One concept that is developing from the emergence of a strong mobile market - is that everything - even the devices themselves, is emerging as a platform. In computer parlance a platform is any sort of framework or architecture that allows software or services to run. Some big examples of how platforms are developing the mobile space include:

1. Twitter API - The Twitter API has enabled huge growth what is called the "Ecosystem". This refers to applications that run on computers, smart phones and other devices enabling access to Twitter (For example: Seesmic for Android).

2. Facebook Connect - A means of connecting to (and interacting with) Facebook from outside the Facebook web page. This enables all sorts of applications such as Friendly on the iPad.

3. Android Market - An entire market, checkout process and software hosting platform for applications written to run on the many devices that support Android software.

Even within platforms such as this - the software itself is often being written as a platform. Look no further Seesmic to see this type of thing. Seesmic is a growing platform for plugins. Also starting to become a major presence is platforms as a means of publishing information.

If content is King, the publisher is his boss 
The content publishing platform is the fight of the future for mobile dominance. Look at how Apple dominated the publishing of music with iTunes. We are often looking at choices between Blackberry/Android/iOS devices, but soon we will be looking at subscription models to get at the content we want to see. Subscriptions will likely be possible to get that daily newspaper, the weekly magazine, that comic that is released every month and might even be the way we'll access music, live shows, and movies in the future. In short, subscriptions on platforms will be the battlegrounds for our eyeballs (and earballs?) - and the fight is starting to take shape.

Over the past little while, three different subscription models have been announced with much talk and interest by publishers and developers alike. The dominant Apple App Store will have a subscription model where Apple earns 30 percent share [2]. Alternatively, Google's new subscription model in the competing Android Market called One Pass will only retain 10 percent of revenue [3]. Even HP is getting into the subscription model game by agreeing to terms with Time Inc. for a subscription service for magazines such as Sport Illustrated, Time and Fortune [5].

With an estimated 90+ percent of the mobile applications market [1] and upwards of 15 million iPads sold last year - Apple's App Store is the dominant platform for applications. To sure, if you plan to start developing on a mobile device, it will either be for the iPhone or iPad (or both). With this dominance, some feel that Apple is just throwing it's weight around, to the detriment of publishers. Controversy ensues: here, here, here, here, herehere, and here .  Others feel that One Pass and the Android market are growing at such a clip (reportedly 861 percent [1]), that it will only be a matter of time before Apple is usurped as the dominate platform.

What about Canada?
With all this, it appears the most uncertain party should be the Canadian companies that control content. Companies such as CTVGlobemeida, Rogers, Torsar Group, and Quebecor all own [6] Canadian media companies that sell subscriptions to Canadians. Would these companies be willing to fork over 30 percent of revenue for Apple's subscription model, or will they opt-out of this entirely? One thing that seems sure, these companies will not be in a position to create new subscription models for the mobile space without a huge pact with Apple or Google. Some would say these companies are showing up late to the game. This is the game that will define these publisher's future too.

Even more than the money that many of today's publishers will have to fork over - battle lines will be drawn over what information publisher will get about their subscribers. Advertising is the lifeblood of most publishers and more and more they are expected to have information about readership, demographics and personal details often only obtained by way of direct subscriptions. As users will move to a paperless reading model with better and better mobile devices - Apple, for example, looks to dominate all personal information and access to the the subscriber's details. Publishers are, rightly so, worried about this coming dominance. Even Steve Jobs has started to interact with others saying by email that "We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps" when a recent controversy came up over an application named "Readability"[7].

The device you choose to buy in the coming months will start to involve more than the just the applications and the software running on it. Soon, you will have to consider what type of information you'l be able to consume, how open it will be, and how much t will cost. If all of the 30 percent held back by Apple were to be passed on to you when trying to subscribe to the Toronto Star, would you still pay for that  or would you just opt for the much lower cost of home delivery? The battle lines are drawn, who do you think will come out on top? Are you waiting to buy a tablet? Do you already own one?

References:
1. http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/21/861-5-percent-growth-android-puny/
2. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110215005900/en/Apple-Launches-Subscriptions-App-Store
4. http://www.google.com/landing/onepass/
5. http://mediamemo.allthingsd.com/20110209/time-inc-gets-the-tablet-magazine-subscriptions-it-wants-with-hp/
6. http://www.newspaperscanada.ca/about-newspapers/ownership/ownership-daily-newspapers/ownership-daily-newspapers
7. http://blog.readability.com/2011/02/an-open-letter-to-apple/

First Published: Thursday, March 24, 2011

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