commoditizing complements

It’s usually in a business’ best interests to commoditize its complements. Microsoft commoditized PC hardware because its software needed a home. Companies that contribute heavily to open-source, such as modern-day IBM, commoditize software because they sell consulting and support services. Google commoditizes applications, platforms, and web technologies because it needs places to put its ads and people to see them. (Google also tries to commoditize anything required to get online: web browsers, DNS, and in some cases, even internet connectivity.) Apple commoditizes apps to make iPhones and iPads more attractive (and exclusive). Nobody “opens” the parts of their business that make them money, maintain barriers to competitive entry, or otherwise provides significant competitive advantages. That’s why Android’s basic infrastructure is “open”, but all of Google’s important applications and services for it aren’t — Google doesn’t care about the platform and doesn’t want it to matter. Google’s effectively asserting that the basic parts of a modern OS — the parts that are open in Android — are all good enough, relatively similar, and no longer competitively meaningful. Nobody’s going to steal marketshare from Google by making a better kernel or windowing API on their competing smartphone platform, regardless of whether they borrowed any of Android’s “open” components or ideas derived from them. But Google’s applications and services are locked down, because those are vulnerable to competition, do provide competitive advantages, and are nowhere near being commoditized.