Kobo, iBooks, Nook or Kindle?
There are clearly format wars taking place today in the mobile space. When it comes to operating systems, handsets, or ebook readers, everything mobile is entangled in some sort of format competition.
We’ve seen this in the media space many times before. There was VHS vs. Beta , Microsoft Windows vs Apple OS, and more recently, HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray. I would argue, however, this round of format wars is much more intense and the stakes much higher.
The revolution of the Internet has made access to information and the ability to communicate easy and widespread. Couple that with a personal device that individuals own and you have a powerful market. When it comes to movie players or computers, often, these are purchased one per household (meaning a family of 4 would usually purchase one for the home). While this is obviously not the rule, I think it’s safe to say that this purchasing trend is typical. Today, however, that same family of 4 would typically be in the market for one cell phone per individual in the family making the market much larger, thus the stakes for mobile manufacturers much higher. Mobile devices such as cell phones have become really personal devices.
The benefit of a format war is that is spurs innovation – companies constantly pushing the limits of their formats in order to get and keep the upper hand. There are, however, also costs to this innovation – exclusivity. Take the gaming industry as an example. Since the early 1980’s, gaming manufacturers have used proprietary software with digital locks to keep their content from landing on other consoles. The problem here is that while there are some gaming manufacturers that create games for many formats, others do not. Unlike the gaming industry, other format wars have resulted in clear winners and losers and those who purchased products on the format that lost lose out.
Since mobile devices are so personal, I think that the market is large enough to support multiple formats. When it comes to education, however, this may not necessarily be a good thing. If schools are to incorporate the use of mobile devices into teaching and learning, struggling with multiple formats and exclusive content is going to continue to frustrate both educators and learners.
I am of the opinion that hardware brands and format shouldn’t matter – all content should be open and easy to use on all devices. There are signs that during these mobile format wars, content openness is becoming more prevalent. An example of this is that a Kobo ebook app and a Kindle ebook app exist for iOS devices such as iPhone and iPad. However, the fact that the gaming industry, backed by the 3 gaming giants (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo) have made, and continue to make, a pile of money by selling exclusive content on exclusive consoles clearly shows that we have not yet completely embraced openness when it comes to content. Clearly, companies will continue to leverage content and keep it hostage and locked to their hardware as long as we, the consumer, allow them to.