When Apple debuted the “App Store”, the notion of an independent developer building, deploying, and profiting from their own application on such a huge market seemed farfetched. However, since that day, both Apple and Android have opened up the markets to anybody with the skills and the motivation to participate in the creation of new software. This massively open application development and deployment system is arguably what has made iOS and Android the kings of the industry, they produced “hackable” hardware. Try selling a phone today without a robust application ecosystem and you’re unlikely to succeed. This very issue is a significant factor in the demise of Blackberry and others similar: they didn’t catch on to making their product open and “hackable” early enough. The future of successful hardware belongs to “hackable” hardware, this is why I believe it to be true.
1) Hyper-Responsive to the Market:
If you manufacture a product with the capabilities to take on new software, it is limited only by what software is available. Opening the developer platform for the accompanying hardware means that anybody can notice a hole in the market and build and deploy a solution – making customers happy. This is huge, the reason iOS and Android are so fantastic is that there quite literally is “An App for That!”, there’s an app for everything. By opening the phone’s capabilities up to legions of software developers, a company can almost guarantee that their hardware will be leveraged as intensely as possible, and respond to market needs even more quickly.
2) Several Thousand Heads are Better than One:
By opening up the developer’s environment, you also open up your hardware to many individuals who will also spend their days brainstorming ways to improve and extend the capabilities of the device. Quite simply, making the software more openly-accessible means that indirectly, a company can have many thousands of individuals working for them, without getting directly paid.
3) There are Riches in Niches:
The aforementioned factors combine to make it far more easy for niche markets to be addressed more precisely, why design the software for them if they are happy to design it themselves? You can see examples of this in the Apple “App Store” with applications addressing oil-well engineers, surgeons, etc. The result of this dynamic is that your product is more likely to get a steadfast following in highly active consumer populations. Open “hackable” software means that your product can answer these needs more readily.
Making software development more accessible to outside developers is almost certain to make any hardware product more successful. By opening the software up, applications can be developed that make the hardware more appealing to new markets. Open development makes it possible for your hardware to become relevant to niche markets that might otherwise have been inaccessible. “Hackable” hardware can respond to users like never before, and as this trend continues, it will also mean that consumers become less and less receptive to the more “rigid” products.
In fact, we can see such a pattern with video-game companies, particularly the dedicated console manufacturers. Increasingly, a considerable share of game revenue is migrating to mobile-based games. Unless video game manufacturers migrate the model to a more Open Source approach, they are likely to find a continuous decrease in market share and revenue. I don’t expect that video game manufacturers will ever be put out of business, regardless of their strategy, however sticking to the status quo will inevitably hurt them. For success in hardware, open the gates, make it open source!