HOW APPLE DRANK ITS OWN KOOL-AID AND CREATED A THRIVING DEVELOPER ECOSYSTEM A look at Apple’s early days and the decision to seed the app store.

Sangeet Paul Choudary

ABOUT THE AUTHOR SANGEET PAUL CHOUDARY is the founder of Platformation Labs and the best-selling author of the books Platform Scale and Platform Revolution. He has been ranked as a leading global thinker for two consecutive years by Thinkers50, ranking among the top 30 emerging thinkers globally in 2016 (Thinkers50 Radar) and ranking among the top 50 thinkers of Indian origin in 2015 (Thinkers50 India). He is the co-chair of the MIT Platform Strategy Summit at the MIT Media Labs and an Entrepreneur-in-residence at INSEAD Business School. He is also an empaneled expert on the global advisory council for the World Economic Forum’s initiative on the Digital Transformation of Industries. His work has been featured as the Spotlight article on Harvard Business Review (April 2016 edition) and the themed Business Report of the MIT Technology Review (September 2015). As the founder of Platformation Labs, Sangeet is an advisor to leading executives globally. He is also an empaneled executive educator with Harvard Business School Publishing, and has advised the leadership of Fortune 500 firms, family-owned conglomerates, and key government bodies. He is frequently quoted and published in leading journals and media including the Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, MIT Sloan Management Review.The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, WIRED Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, and others. Sangeet is a frequently sought after advisor to CXOs globally on the topic of digital transformation and also serves as a fellow at the Centre for Global Enterprise in New York. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has been invited to speak at leading global forums including the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions (Summer Davos), the WEF ASEAN Summit, and the G20 Summit 2014 events. Sangeet has a bachelors in computer science from IIT Kanpur and a masters in management from IIM Bangalore.



Marshall Van Alstyne and Geoffrey Parker are contributing authors to the research published by Platformation Labs, including the books Platform Revolution (coauthors) and Platform Scale.

Platformation Labs is C-level executive advisory firm and think-tank, focused on the analysis and implementation of platform business models and network effects towards the digital transformation of industries. Platformation Labs has advised governments, Fortune 100 firms and high growth startups in 40+ countries across the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific. Our thought leadership and intellectual capital are commissioned and licensed by leading consulting firms globally and have been featured in leading global forums.

Imagine visiting eBay on day one. You’d have a choice between a merchant and consumer profile and once you set up your profile, you’d realize really soon that the platform was utterly useless if there weren’t any sellers selling their wares. Platforms face The Ghost Town Problem quite often, not just on day one but all the way till they hit critical mass. The problem is that platforms have little or no standalone value to consumers. Consumers visit AirBnB to rent apartments, Youtube to watch videos and get onto the iTunes app store to download apps. The products on the platform (rental listings, videos and apps respectively) are the ultimate products with which the consumers interact. What works for the iPhone… When the iPhone launched back in 2007, it didn’t have an app store. In fact, the whole implementation of the iPhone+App Store as a platform showed up several months down the line. But when the iPhone launched without the app store, it still had a basic set of in-house-developed apps which gave it the minimum functionality required from a high-end phone at that time. Rumor has it that Steve Jobs was against opening out an app store to third party developers. We’ll never know whether Jobs was wrong but the app store was a masterstroke for Apple that not only disrupted the entire mobile industry, it also breathed new life into the iPod Touch and eventually, the iPad and the Mac. Today, the app store is the reason iPhones sell. The design and capacitative screen are great but the iPhone wouldn’t have become such a raging success if not for the fact that its functionality could be extended by the user with a search and a couple of taps. So this is how Apple solved the mutual baiting problem here. Apple acting as a producer on its own platform launched the iPhone with a few in-house apps, which along with the superior design and hardware, attracted an initial base of users. This initial base of users attracted developers to the iOS platform, eventually fleshing out the app store with apps. Apple realized that a platform is quite empty without the complementary products (in this case apps). Since the producers producing these products won’t show up until the consumers do (the mutual baiting problem), it makes sense for the platform owner (in this case, Apple) to often start acting as a producer to create value for users. Content platforms often follow this strategy and set out with creating an in-house editorial to seed the platform with content initially.

Three Scores for Apple Apple (and in a similar vein, any platform owner) solved three problems with this strategy: Ensured that the lack of apps didn’t hold back consumers from adopting the iPhone even in the early days Set a standard for producers (developers) in terms of app design and interactions by acting as a producer itself Introduced consumers to the concept of apps much before the app store got alive and kicking The Flip Side, though! When a platform starts out with the platform owner as the sole producer, the addition of new producers provides consumers with greater selection. While this is a welcome change for consumers, it may be tricky for producers, especially those competing directly with the platform owner’s products. Any note taking app released on the iPhone’s app store had to compete with the resident note taking app. While Evernote succeeded despite the challenges, most other note-taking apps never found any adoption.

Has anyone tried doing this?


C-level Executive Education

Platform Architecture and Strategy

C-level and business leadership-level exec ed towards a platform implementation at a client organization. It may also include workshops for execution and implementation teams. For larger teams, this may be done as webinars remotely.

Engagement on a specific platform strategy and implementation. Includes: platform business design, layout of feedback loops and network effects, monetization scenarios, management of curation and governance of the ecosystem, data strategy, roadmap creation and metrics definition, among other things. This may be done remotely or in-person or through a combination.

Commissioned Research

Retained Advisory

In-depth research, commissioned by the client, to create thought leadership material, layout future industry scenarios or study business model transformation.

Retained advisory relationships with a specific project (or multiple projects) at a company, or advisory boards, typically structured as 6-12 month retainers.

Corporate Speaking Keynote speaking at sales events, executive briefings for C-level execs, and speaking and briefings at executive planning sessions and offsites.

To engage further, please write in at the following: [email protected] [email protected]



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