The Apple/Android duality: in your market, are you a curator or an egalitarian?

Oct 18, 2013
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The Apple/Android rivalry has been an on-going “fight” for quite some time, and it seems that the two, purposefully or not, created the perfect duality for users in which the only two options were Apple & Android. While this begs the question as to how other mobile operating systems like UbuntuOS or FirefoxOS will find their space in the ecosystem, an interesting moment occurred last week while I was at IdeaLab (SEE: “God has given you the internet” & other great quotes by Oliver Samwer) moderating a panel on crowdfunding. Speaking backstage about Kickstarter vs. Indiegogo, there was a mutually agreed upon sense that Kickstarter was the “Apple” of the crowdfunding universe and that Indiegogo was the “Android” of the universe.

Initial comparisons lined up. Like Apple, Kickstarter has a ‘curated’ ecosystem – that is, you only launch a campaign on Kickstarter if the people at Kickstarter want you, too. Meanwhile, Indiegogo, like Android, will let anyone put their own campaign up (though they will remind you of tips that may result in better odds of successful crowdfunding). Like Apple, Kickstarter’s curation technique means they are able to provide more ‘boost’ to campaigns (i.e: PR to journalists, etc.); however, Indiegogo’s Android-esque meritocracy system means any campaign can land on the home page depending on the engagement, donations, and other factors that go into their algorithm.

What are the characteristics of an “Apple” and “Android” player?

When I began to realize this, my first desire was to figure out what about this duality was company branding, and what was distinct to how a new market is formed. For example, Apple has ‘design thinking’ as part of its core, though what ultimately comes out is a sense of selectionism & curation. I decided to name these two players the “Curator” and the “Egalitarian.”

Properties of a Curator:

  1. Selectionist – distinctly ‘not for everyone’
  2. Supportive – provides more resources for those who it welcomes into its ecosystem
  3. “More Valuable” – if only an illusion, there is a sense of more value per member of the ecosystem

Properties of an Egalitarian:

  1. Unbiased – anyone can get in, assuming they do not break the basic rules of ‘decency’ in the ecosystem
  2. Equal – no special treatment for any one member, though any particular member’s success is looked at with suspicion of favoritism
  3. Populist – has a sense of being available to everyone, therefore has less value per-person.

The most important aspect of the Curator/Egalitarian duality is that there is no third player with more than an insignificant share in the market. Everyone else is “like a Curator/Egalitarian, but not, and smaller.”

Where else does the Apple/Android duality apply?

nespresso1With this more general relationship defined, I wanted to see if I could find more players who fit this duality. Interstingly enough, the first one that popped to mind was Microsoft & Apple in the past 10 years. Microsoft, prone to trojan viruses due to its source code being available, was a clear dominator in the market, but Apple offered a safer, closed ecosystem that slowly won the hearts and minds of those looking for a more controlled environment.

Looking beyond Operating Systems, I looked at players like Nespresso, who have created a close, curated coffee ecosystem with their Capsules. They created an ecosystem of curation by making a patented machine and capsule dispensary, and up until their patent ran out, they would sue anyone who violated it. Now, players like Kraft Foods, which makes Carte Noire, are introducing “generic’ capsules that arguably taste less good, and have no glimmer of value, but are compatible with Nespresso machines and cost much less.

Another great example of this is in the ISP market – while Orange & Bouygues offer more customer service and support, Iliad’s Free has presented the “option for everyone,” and is quickly taking the market share of people who prefer egalitarianism to curation.

Opportunities for becoming a Curator or Egalitarian.

The last thought I leave you with is, if you are building your startup today, to examine your competition, and determine whether they are a Curator, Egalitarian, or neither, and look at who you want to be. If you are both taking the Egalitarian approach, then you likely won’t be able to exist in the same ecosystem; if you are complimentary, then support each other’s growth and realize that part of Android’s success was due to Apple’s success, and people wanting an egalitarian alternative.

The Curator/Egalitarian market duality seems to play well into what we intuitively know about society: for every elite, there are those who reject the elite, and turn to whichever faction presents the best implementation of opposing values (think of all the anarchists and punks you knew in high school).

It seems that, ultimately, this duality can be defeated by at least one outcome: commoditization. There are no curators & egalitarians in the world of Electricity, because Electricity is seen as a commodity. Should smartphones become a commodity (which I doubt), this could mean the end to the Apple/Android duality.

Any thoughts on other Dualities that you see? Throw them down below and I’ll add them above if I see any good ones!