Microsoft Office, iPhone And Facebook: Game Over, We Have Our Winners


There comes a time in every maturing market that a single player emerges to dominate a market, leaving its opponents nowhere to go but small niches populated by enthusiastic loyalists who fight for the underdog.

Think back thirty years or so, to the recently birthed PC market. Competition was rife. DOS based PCs fought for market share with Macs, Amigas, STs, and a whole host of other machines. For a while Amstrad's CP/M based PCW range cornered 60% of the UK market and seemed set to carve a sizeable market all to itself. Of course we all know what happened next. Microsoft launched Windows 3 and suddenly the world went crazy for Windows. When Windows 95 arrived the battle for PC dominance was done and Windows has reigned supreme ever since.

The size of the Windows installed user base gave it a power no competitor could challenge. Even Apple only survived by first taking investment from Microsoft and then effectively moving its business away from PCs.

Now, in the post-PC era we are seeing a completely new set of products dominating their markets. Office, iPhone and Facebook.

Back in the early days Microsoft's Office struggled against Lotus SmartSuite. The latter came bundled on PCs and was a bundle whilst Microsoft still flogged individual applications. Aggressively targeting the enterprise, creating file format compatibility issues and anti-competitive behaviour did for SmartSuite, as well as a whole host of competing Office suites like WordPerfect Office and Star Office.

Office's stranglehold on the enterprise world and the problems it causes to competitors is amply demonstrated by the Munich Linux experiment. The LiMux solution leveraged Libre Office for its document suite - and users have been critical of it ever since. Compatibility problems with everyone else out there using Office have led the Munich City government to abandon its experiment and the expectation is that the decision to return to Windows - and more importantly Office - will be formalised in the next few weeks.

Facebook has won the social media market by virtue of its ubiquity. Everybody is on Facebook, no other service is going to be able to grab billions of users fast enough to compete. Bottom line, what's the most likely place to interact with friends and family online? Facebook. Are you going to jump to another service and then try and persuade all of your contacts to switch too? Good luck with that.

Interestingly, the fact that nobody I know actually enjoys using Facebook nor the interactions it powers doesn't seem to have any bearing on its success.

Finally the iPhone. Comprehensively outsold by Android devices when summing market share, but the best selling phones in the world are all variations on the iPhone theme. Unlike Facebook most owners love their Apple products and will defend them beyond the point of rational argument.

Apple customers never abandon the iPhone. However new customers and customers on competing platforms get drawn in and over time, and the net result is that iPhones will represent the greatest number of active handsets, get all of the latest software and wipe out all competition.

That process will only start in earnest once the smartphone has reached near 100% market penetration. There are local precedents for this happening, precedents that tell us the iPhone is headed for victory. In the US, UK and Japan, where smartphones have reached saturation point the iPhone has much greater market share than in growing markets.

So, in five years time I would guess the average consumer will be using an iPhone, communicating and consuming via Facebook and creating with Microsoft Office. Chances are many of you are there already.

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