There’s an App for That

Note: I wrote this blog  post almost a year ago on a different platform (which is no longer conveniently accessible). The lessons are just as valid now as they were back then. So, I like to repost it here.

I wonder if you watched Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad yesterday. I did for the most part. But I am not “blogging” about the iPad here. Instead, I simply want to use the iPad (or for that matter, the iPhone and iPod Touch) as a vehicle to discuss about complementarities, the value webs (or networks) and value co-creation, and their ramifications on business strategy.

It is worth noting that Steve Jobs did not simply showcase the hardware (iPad) but also the possible content (e.g., photos, the NY Times and ebooks), entertainment (e.g., music via iTunes) and applications (e.g., games and other applications via Apple Apps Store) available for the iPad. This is increasingly the case for many information- and technology-based products and services. Such a product creates not much value by itself but much much more when being made available with other complementary products. What can you do with the iPad without the content, entertainment and applications offered by other publishers, media sources and software developers?

Lesson #1think not of a standalone productbut rather of a bundle of offerings or even a platform (iPad plus iTunes and Apps Store).

When complementary products and services are offered together, they enhance one another’s appeals; the value of the whole system or bundle is greater than the sum of its parts. Complementarities therefore indicates a condition of increasing returns in which the adoption of one element has a higher payoff when one or more complementary elements are simultaneously adopted. The more consumers find the apps on the Apps Store appealing, the more interested they would be in having an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. In fact, “there’s an app for that” has become the selling point for these Apple products.

Contrast Apple iPod with Microsoft Zune. The latter product has received high marks for quality hardware in many product reviews. Its sale volume has been meager however, despite the financial clout of Microsoft. There are simply not that many apps for Zune and the Zune Marketplace, unlike Apple iTunes Apps Store, attracts far few more visitors and buyers. For prospective iPod, iPhone and iPad challengers, it is the apps as much as the hardware that will determine their success.

This new reality necessitates a shift in strategic thinking from the value chain to the value web. In a traditional value chain, a firm competes by occupying those links where it can add more value at a lower cost. Strategy becomes equated with strategically positioning the firm along that chain of value-adding activities. Value creation focuses on transforming objects. The value thus created lies in the resulting products themselves. However, as complimentarities among products and services become the source of value, the value chain concept proves less useful in uncovering value and analyzing value creation. A firm succeeds only by finding complementary technologies, products and market participants it can network together to co-create value.

Lesson #2Value co-creation focuses on mediation (i.e., facilitating interactions and collaborations) among the networked participants.

The value thus co-created lies not only in the product itself but also in complimentarities among the products and services. The value of Google Maps lies not as much in the database of geographical mapping information as in Google’s ability to attract a large and growing number of map-based applications. Likewise, the value of the iPad is not as much in the device itself but in Apple’s ability to attract a large number of publishers, media companies and software developers to make their content, entertainment and applications available to iPad users.

The shift from value creation along a value chain to value co-creation through network relationships also coincides with a shift from production of goods (in the physical world) to the provision of service (more prevalent in the digital world). The latter necessitates a shift from the goods-dominant (G-D) logic of value to the service-dominant (S-D) logic. In the G-D logic, producers and consumers have distinct roles; the primary focus of the firm is on the production of goods to be sold to customers. In the S-D logic, their roles converge; the focus turns to interactions between the two sides, not simply to facilitate transactions but also to offer an experience unique to individual customers.

Lesson #3Value is ultimately derived with participation of the beneficiaries (often the customers) through use, and is thereby essentially ‘value-in-use’ as opposed to ‘value-in-exchange’.

Think of YouTube, Flicker and Facebook, just to name a few. Without user active participation, they cannot even exist. The locus of value creation then moves from the ‘producer’ and market exchange to a collaborative process of co-creation between parties.

The next time, if some one says “there’s an app for that”, I hope you would also think of serious strategic marketing stuffs like multi-sided markets and platforms, complementarities, value co-creation and S-D logic.

On a lighter note, there are times (such as now — December in snowy Michigan, and thinking of sunny Florida Keys) when “there is no app for that”.