Connected Nation: A Platform-by-Platform Best Practices Playbook
When it comes to customer experience, multiscreen connectivity is the name of the game. Over the past few years, how and where people access the internet has changed dramatically. Web usage has stagnated, while access via mobile channels has gone through the roof.
However, while mobile has also pulled ahead in terms of the percentage of users and revenue, brands still need to spread their customer experience efforts across multiple platforms. In a similar vein, the platforms themselves are trying to develop strategies that tie together desktop and laptop, hardware and software, as well as mobile devices and apps.
This is where platform owners struggle. There's a lot to deal with. For example, devices designed to connect to monitors are beneficial to some platforms but potentially harmful to others. There are also game-changing connected devices using mobile technologies to join the fray. The bottom line is each platform's strategy, for better or worse, is influenced by its current revenue.
Who has the best multiscreen approach?
The big question, of course, is which platform's multiscreen strategy will deliver the best results? Here's a snapshot from the playbooks of three major players:
Microsoft: Leveraging your Windows Phone as your PC is ideal for a company like Microsoft, which makes money on software and enterprise services, not hardware. Until recently, that software has mostly been for the desktop — very similar to the embedded software on mobile devices. This is why Microsoft has invested in a project called Continuum, which will allow your phone to connect with a monitor and operate like a full-fledged desktop.
Microsoft is also investing in software technologies to enable the same app to run on any Windows 10 device. Those apps can auto-scale depending on the form factor, and can also take advantage of specific functionality on the device. In addition to Windows apps, Microsoft also wants to enhance its app catalog by enabling Android and iOS apps to run on Windows 10. Via Project Astoria, Microsoft has implemented Android APIs as a subsystem in Windows, so APKs can be submitted to the Windows App Store. Through Project Islandwood, Visual Studio now supports compiling Objective-C, and Microsoft implemented a subset of iOS API calls on Windows. This should allow iOS developers to compile their apps to run on Windows.
Apple: Apple makes a majority of its revenue on hardware. Turning the MacBook into a thin shell that you plug your iPhone into could potentially cannibalize the $5 billion to $7 billion in revenue that Apple makes on Mac products every quarter. This is why Apple has pursued an approach it's calling Continuity. The idea is to seamlessly transition your work or activity from one device to another — e.g., start writing an email on your iPhone and finish on your Mac, or browse a web page on your Mac and continue to view it on your iPad. Continuity also enables easy sharing of a phone's functions with a Mac, such as phone calls, text messages and an automatic hotspot for a Mac without a Wi-Fi connection. Powered by iCloud, this strategy further strengthens a consumer's dependence on Apple's family of products.
Another of Apple's advantages is a rich ecosystem of beautiful apps available to its users, which drives hardware sales. To enable those apps to work across platforms, Apple has focused on extensions. This feature allows apps to share data and widgets across both iOS and OS X.
Google: Google is a bit unique from Microsoft and Apple — it doesn't make a majority of its revenue from either hardware or software. Instead, advertising is its cash cow. And that advertising can live on any platform as long as you're consuming Google services.
To help further strengthen users reliance on Google, the company has invested in a range of hardware initiatives — Chromebooks, Nexus Android devices, Android TV, Chromecast, Nest and Google Fiber, to name a few. The most prominent example of an attempt to merge these platforms is the App Runtime for Chrome, or ARC. This system allows Android apps to run on Chrome OS (and unofficially on Windows, Mac and Linux).
Both Google and Samsung have software initiatives that are similar to Apple's Continuity product. Samsung released a product called Flow, but unfortunately it only currently supports a few Samsung devices. Google's built Smart Lock into both Android Wear and Android smartphones. For example, Chromebooks can be unlocked when your phone is nearby.
In summary, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to servicing users across multiple devices. A unified desktop-mobile-internet of things (IoT) operating system has a few obvious benefits, but the risk will always be user experience — e.g., apps that can scale appropriately for the platform or take advantage of what the new hardware has to offer. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a set of standards for web and mobile web apps, but there isn't yet a common standard for "connected applications." Each of the platform owners have their approach to standardizing connected devices: Microsoft through Azure and a "small" version of Windows 10, Google via Brillio and Weave, and Apple via HomeKit and HealthKit.
Since it will be difficult for the platform owners to agree on a common runtime for apps, the lowest-hanging fruit is in a common communication protocol for connected devices. This is where the platform owners should come together, Weave and HomeKit/HealthKit, as well as Azure. Given Amazon.com's leadership in the cloud computing space, they should certainly be driving the other platform owners towards a set of standards.
The platform owners do seem to agree on one thing: your phone as your identity. This identity carries permissions to unlock other devices, to pay for items and services, and to provide a profile of work and activities.
This is the foundation of the multiscreen world, and the building block of technologies that will help consumers continue to be better connected and more mobile in the future.
Andrew Levy is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Crittercism, a mobile application performance management platform.