Platforms, bundling and kill zones

This post is by Benedict Evans from Essays – Benedict Evans

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In the 1980s, if you installed a word processor or spreadsheet program on your PC, they wouldn’t come with word counts, footnotes or charts. You couldn’t put a comment in a cell. You couldn’t even print in landscape. Those were all separate products from separate companies that you’d have to go out and buy for $50 or $100 each. 

A few generations earlier, in the 1950s, a new car often wouldn’t have turn signal lights. That was an after-market product that you could buy and fit yourself with a drill and a screwdriver on a Saturday morning. 

Over time, of course, Lotus and Microsoft, and Ford and GM, integrated – ‘bundled’ – all of that. Spreadsheets do charts, and the operating system handles printing, and no-one today argues that when you buy a car you should choose who supplies the lights. That killed a lot of third party products – it was, ipso facto, unfair competition –  but we don’t argue it should be illegal. 

On the other hand, in the 1960s there was a significant court case around Ford bundling a car radio and squashing competing radio suppliers. Is a radio an essential, necessary part of the product that should be integrated, or is it optional? What would that mean?

This is the centre of today’s argument about what Apple and Google include in their smartphone operating systems, and what Google includes in ‘search’, and it was the argument twenty years ago around whether and (Read more…)