The OS is dead long live the Platform

What follows was supposed to be a short write-up on my post Microsoft Build thoughts, but instead my thoughts got away from me. I still want to talk about Microsoft build and Facebook’s F8 conferences but that will have to happen in another post.

Instead of being a post-Build blog post, this post is about a trend I see happening in modern computing: the death of the operating system and the rise of a new platform layer. In order to explain that statement I’m going to try to explain what I think happened in the past and how it leads us to today. What I hope to show is the decline in power of the Operating System (OS) over time where I think we are headed.

Since this post started with a different focus and evolved into a totally different discussion the arguments contained are a tad short, but bear with me and I will try to expand on this further in the future. Or leave a comment taking me to task and I will try to answer you.


This is the mainframe, mini, and hobby PC era. I am going to leave this aside and focus on modern computing instead. I’ll start somewhere in the mid eighties when the personal computer began to assert it’s dominance within the enterprise and eventually at home:

The Desktop Operating System Era


This is the era where the winner was Microsoft. During this time operating systems were very important, you would pay hundreds of dollars for them 1 and each new release was surrounded by unbelievable fanfare.2 The era of the desktop operating system was dominated by large expensive desktop apps (we used to call them applications or programs) that were very tightly integrated with the operating system they ran on.

The Internet Era


After the desktop era came the rise of the internet. This was the heyday of the “world wide web”, when the western world came online and companies like Yahoo, AltaVista, GeoCities, Netscape, and Google came to dominate the computing landscape3.

One of the things that was significant about the internet era was that dominated by a layer that sat on top of all operating systems equally. This meant that you could be on a Mac, a PC, or a Linux box 4 and the layer that was the “web” remained largely the same, e.g. outside the control of the operating system and the company that dominated it. It also meant that aside from the web browser being used, users were spending less and less time in desktop apps.

During the rise of the internet the operating system lost it’s position of dominance, to the point where, for most consumers, using the computer meant starting up a browser and visiting Facebook, Gmail, or some other website. This era began the decline of the consumer desktop app and the rise of the free-to-use website.5 Notice that the “software” (e.g. websites) that most people used online were free, or free and ad supported in contrast with the expensive applications in the previous era.

The Mobile Era


Next came the mobile era where we moved from desktop computers and the web browsers that ran on top of them, to smartphone operating systems and the apps they ran. This is the era where the entire world came online. In this era the internet moved from being the front end user experience layer to becoming the back-end that powered the smartphone apps that dominated computing. These apps, like the desktop apps of the past, were tightly bound to the mobile operating systems they were designed for. 6

In this era operating systems went from costing a lot of money to being free. Mobile operating systems never seemed to cost anything, unless you include them in the cost of the phone purchase and, even if you do, the updates were free and no one thought that the sales of mobile operating systems would be directly profitable.

On the desktop Apple was releasing new versions of OS X for $25 and then finally, with the release of Mavericks, OS X was free. On the Windows side Microsoft continued to charge for upgrades and new versions of Windows up until Windows 10, where they made the consumer upgrade to Windows 10 free for the first year. The days when sales of your operating system to consumers are a direct profit center are done. Linux, the other major desktop operating system, continued being free during this period.

The start of the mobile era renewed the importance of the operating system as iOS and Android competed for apps and features. After almost nine years of this both operating systems reached basic feature and app parity, a level of maturity where the importance of the operating system again (as seen earlier on the desktop) begins to decline.

The BOT Era or The Rise of The Mobile Platforms


Now we appear to be on the verge or entering a new era. We are a few years away from virtual reality and augmented reality reaching their true potential, but something else appears to be happening. I think that a new platform is emerging on top of the most popular apps that sit on top of the most popular mobile operating systems. This new platform seems to be doing what the “world wide web” did within browsers on top of operating systems twenty years ago.

What commentators on the Internet 7 are all talking about now are Bots. Bots are a layer of technology, or a platform, that will sit on top of the apps and operating systems that we use the most often. They will use natural language processing, deep learning, and the back-end connected cloud to be able to answer our questions, deliver us content, purchase products, and solve problems for us.

This is similar to the “world wide web” in that it is a platform that is sitting on top of another platform. In this case it won’t matter which messaging app, or digital assistant, you choose to use, you will be able to talk to the giphy, weather channel, FedEx, blood sugar, or whichever bots become the most popular.

To put it another way, you will be able to interact with this new “bot” layer in the same way whether you are in Facebook messenger, Skype, using Siri, Google Now, Cortana, or the Amazon Echo. The device, operating system, or app that sits at the bottom of the stack will no longer matter instead it will the be the platform that sits on the top that will rise in importance.


In conclusion I think that bots could be a very big deal, I think that the advances in natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and always-on mobile connections, have brought us to a point where a new interaction layer is possible.

The fact that SDKs are being developed and released means that small developers and companies will be able to populate this layer with bots that operate at a level of sophistication that was not possible at the largest organizations five years ago.

Letting this technology loose onto the billions of people uses the most popular apps and onto the developers eager to serve these new customers will lead to new interactions that we have not yet thought of. This is the bot as operating system and I for one am excited.

2015 Predictions Part 1

2014 has come and gone, so let’s take a look ahead to 2015.

With the start of the new year I thought it would be fun to post some of my thoughts and predictions for what will happen in technology in 2015. I know that everyone and their dog as “prediction” posts around this time of the year, but I thought it would be a good way to work through some of the ideas for my own personal use (perhaps on a podcast or two). I also like the idea of keeping a record of predictions and then seeing how many of them were true at the end of the year. Sort of like a theory scorecard.

Note: I’m not totally sold on using the word “predictions” for what this (and hopefully a few more) post contains since I’m really theorizing on what I think will happen, as opposed to actually predicting a specific outcome. But since everyone uses “predictions” I thought I would stick with that term. If I was more courageous I’d probably make bolder predictions!

Now, with that out of the way, and in no particular order here are my 2015 predictions (theories):

The Apple Watch will be a huge success

The Apple Watch will sell very well in 2015. I’m thinking somewhere north of 30 million sales (not a number I came up with on my own). I’m still conflicted when it comes to the Apple Watch, but something about it and the category it is trying to create triggers something in my gut.

I want to point out the fact that it’s tethered to your iPhone (cutting off all the Android devices out there and the times you want to leave your phone at home). That the use cases for the device are relatively unknown. That there are too many new methods of input. That we don’t know anything about the battery yet. That the cost is too high and the replacement cycle is too quick for a luxury good.

But even with all of those issues something about the Apple Watch makes me think that it will be a success. Maybe it’s the similarity to the way I feel about the Apple Watch today and the way I felt about this first iPad (I didn’t get it). Maybe it’s Apple’s past successes as a company, I’m not sure but something tells me this is a product that will succeed.

Part of my reasoning is that I think that we are getting to the point where we need to enter a new era for our connected lives. We live in a world where we are all connected nearly 100% of the time and I feel as though the mobile phone paradigm wasn’t setup for that. The smartphone got us there, but I don’t think it’s sufficient for the network that it created.

Maybe I’m wrong about the Apple Watch, but I think that all these connections will give rise to something new in 2015 and it just might be the Apple watch.

Big Bold Prediction: Apple will sell 10 million units in the first quarter and 30 million units in the first year. This will allow them to capture: 90% of the smartwatch market. I actually predicted this in the third episode of The Incoherent Podcast: Weird Statues.

Android will have an existential crisis in 2015

Android will face it’s biggest growing pains in 2015. Google has done a lot to make Android one of the best (if not the best) mobile operating systems to use. It’s the dominant mobile platform on the planet, accounting for 84% of the smartphone sales worldwide, so what’s the problem?

Profits for one. Developers are still making less money on Android then they do on iOS. The Android first app development that has been predicted by those who worship at the alter of market share, has still not come to pass. And it’s not just developers, handset makers are struggling too. Witness the decline of Samsung and HTC.

But also witness the rise of Xiaomi, who is now the 5th largest phone seller in the world, and a phone seller that sells a non-Google controlled version of Android. What does that mean for Google as they try to tighten their control over the operating system by bundling more and more features into their Google Play Services? You have hardware manufacturers struggling when selling your operating system, and others succeeding selling a version of your operating system that you no longer control. (Don’t forget about Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE, and Micromax…)

Android isn’t going anywhere but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a version of Android that will differentiate from, and compete with, Google’s version of Android. This could happen on a global scale, or on a regional scale as it already seems to be doing in China. Cyanogenmod perhaps?

Big Bold Prediction: A hardware manufacturer will release an Android phone with a differentiate custom version of Android (outside of China) that users will actually want to buy.

App discoverability will become (more of) an issue

There are 1.3 million apps in Google Play and 1.2 apps in the Apple App Store, this makes discovering new apps very difficult. I think this difficulty could give rise to new competing app stores or paradigms (that might actually succeed outside of China) that will differentiate based on discoverability and not necessarily the number of apps.

Big Bold Prediction: A successful and relevant app store or discovery engine for apps, not Google Play or the Apple App Store, outside of China.

Bonus Round

Here are some off the wall predictions that I don’t really think will come true but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if they did:

Microsoft will drop Windows Phone

After years of sub-par sales, low low market share, and billions of dollars spent (advertising, development, keeping Nokia on board and then buying Nokia) Microsoft will finally drop Windows Phone.

Super far-out prediction:

Microsoft will fork Android

Not wanting to be left out of the market entirely, after dumping Windows Phone, Microsoft will fork Android and release a Microsoft service based version of Google’s baby on their own hardware. This has the added bonus of tying into my Big Bold prediction for Android above.

Stay tuned…

That’s it for now, in part two I will give you some of my thoughts on China, VR, Microsoft’s relevance outside of the enterprise, and a few other topics.