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Joel on Software

Platform vendors

by Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dave Winer (in 2007): “Sometimes developers choose a niche that’s either directly in the path of the vendor, or even worse, on the roadmap of the vendor. In those cases, they don’t really deserve our sympathy.”

iSmashPhone: 15 Apps Rendered Obsolete By The New iPhone 3GS

When independent software developers create utilities, add-ons, or applications that fill a hole in their platform vendor’s offering, they like to think that they’re doing the vendor a huge favor. Oh, look, the iPhone doesn’t have cut and paste,  they say. Business opportunity! They might imagine that this business will be around forever. Some of them even like to daydream about the platform vendor buying them up. Payday!

The trouble is that only a tiny percentage of iPhone users are going to pay for that little cut and paste application. With any kind of add-on, selling to 1% of the platform is a huge success.

For Apple, that’s a problem. That means that the cut and paste problem isn’t solved for 99% of their customers. They will solve it, if it’s really a problem. And you’ll be out of business.

Filling little gaps in another company’s product lineup is snatching nickels from the path of an oncoming steam roller.

A good platform always has opportunities for applications that aren’t just gap-fillers. These are the kind of application that the vendor is unlikely ever to consider a core feature, usually because it’s vertical — it’s not something everyone is going to want. There is exactly zero chance that Apple is ever going to add a feature to the iPhone for dentists. Zero.


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About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, which lets you organize anything, together, FogBugz, enlightened issue tracking software for bug tracking, and Kiln, which provides distributed version control and code reviews. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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