Author(s): Peter Bryer
Forget platform convergence for a second. Not too far down the road, everything will converge.
Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer, explained yesterday at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference that Microsoft is now a challenger, not a market leader. A computing platform is a computing platform, whether a laptop, tablet, smartphone or TV set. Microsoft is correct: it's no longer appropriate to neatly compartmentalise hardware by shape and size, but better to classify devices by use.
According to Turner, Microsoft doesn't have the 90% of the global market for PC operating systems that's widely reported, but instead holds 14% of the global "device share". It's the right way to think. Individuals in many developing countries will never own a traditional PC, choosing to jump straight to mobility with low-cost smartphones. Younger consumers across the globe don't pigeonhole hardware the way their parents might. It's the content underneath, not the computer on top, that counts. For Microsoft, showing this bigger picture is a good way to fight complacency and rally the troops.
Microsoft's complete market share figures are closer to reality, but the more remarkable big-picture stats were recently released by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main standards organization developing Web specs (the HTML part of the Internet). According to W3C, there are currently about 1 billion devices in use that support Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC). This enables voice and video calling as well as file sharing within a browser, without the need for external plugins. WebRTC provides the APIs for HTML — developers can enable live communications in a Web page just as Web designers can include JPEG images.
CCS Insight has predicted for several years that the longer-term industry shift isn't between several competing platforms or device categories, but into an age of more-open content and services development supported by HTML5 and WebRTC. When every Web page has the potential to be an application or service, the definition of an app store and an over-the-top service will need to change.
The browser and cloud will take centre stage, with the ultimate goal of running everything through a Web page. CCS Insight believes that one of the biggest industry disruptions will occur during the coming five years as native development environments give way to Web standards at an accelerating pace. This will mean more than a move away from plug-ins such as Flash, but also away from closed platforms, and there will be significant changes for developers and publishers across industry domains. From chat to maps, from music to TV, the platforms for content and services are undergoing a tidal shift. We agree that the industry must take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Devices are becoming screens to underlying standardised Web content that's becoming richer. This is what industry strategists will need to plan for.