A great platform does not make yours a good product

As I sit here writing, burnt out from the incredible hype surrounding Apple's iPad launch and I cannot help but have flashbacks. Flashbacks to 2004/2005 when "Web 2.0" was at its peak, "ajax" and "mashup" were quite trendy. Flashbacks to mid-2007 when the Facebook Platform was gaining steam, words like "FBML" and "social applications" became the new lingo. Flashbacks to early 2008 when the iPhone SDK launched and hoards of developers rushed to submit their apps to the App Store. All bore a resemblance to today, with the iPad, the newest, hottest thing in the world with everybody and their mother vying for one.

Every step of the way, beneath the almost overwhelming marketing and hype, lies actual technological innovation. With "Web 2.0", the underlying core innovation was the rise of the web as a formidable platform, browsers became capable of supporting immersive applications built in JavaScript, the web "came alive", no longer a lexicon of static pages. With the launch of the Facebook Platform, products could engage not just on a one-to-one level with a user, but with a user's social circle. The iPhone SDK made developers re-think building applications, touch, motion and then location became fundamental building blocks for products. The iPad represents a slightly different innovation, the introduction of "casual computing" to the masses. Personal computers are becoming omnipresent, the smartphone in your pocket, the laptop on your desk and now the tablet on the coffee table.

It comes as no surprise that just as with every other hyped innovation over the past few years, there's a rush of gold-diggers trying to latch onto somebody else's innovation, using it to rocket them to the top. The announcement of a $200m "iFund" for iPad apps reminds me a lot of the crazy venture capitalists establishing Facebook app funds or even the $100m "iFund" for iPhone apps (from the same group no less).

Venture Capitalists aren't alone in their attempts to ride Apple's innovating coat tails, companies building products are falling for it too, with hundreds of thousands of apps in the iPhone App Store or the hundreds of thousands of Facebook applications, one could deceive themselves into believing tens of thousands of companies are printing money on these platforms!

I would estimate that for every 1000 applications, on any of these platforms, only one is a good product. The same thing is going to happen on the iPad, for the exact same reason that it occurred with Web 2.0 sites, the Facebook Platform and the iPhone.

It's like X, but for the Web / Facebook Platform / iPhone / iPad!

Platform innovation is no substitute for product innovation. The iPad app for the New York Times comes to mind, which apparently does nothing but format the New York Times and show the user interstitial ads. There is really no added value over using something like NetNewsWire or god forbid, browsing to newyorktimes.com with Safari for consuming content.

Supporting the iPad is not a product, it's a feature, if your product isn't already compelling there is nothing intrinsic about the iPad that will make it more compelling just as it was with the launch of the other platforms.

While I won't be buying an iPad, I wish all those jumping on the bandwagon luck. With a word of caution, bring features because your presence on the iPad alone will not be enough.