The Fellowship of the Ring: To Open or Not To Open?

Sam Lin
5 min readDec 9, 2017


On Veterans Day, what’s open or closed is a peopler question. Nope, this is not about that, go search, please ;) This is about open or closed platform strategies. But seriously, it’s very confusing, and a holiday always works better when everyone gets it. As AI is going to do all our work soon, we shouldn’t need to work that much anyway, right dear employers? There has been some interesting conversion to blog in the future.

“All Of This Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again”

BSG — Last Supper

After 2 blogs on Apple products, I’m probably looked like A fan. Well, I’m not. Let’s not oversimplify by judging only by results. Facts: Apple does have good products, strategy, and execution. It does not mean that’s the only way nor the best model for all waves in the different phases of the market life cycle. Furthermore, one can try to beat Apple on its own game. Good luck, I’ve not seen nor expected anyone comes close anytime soon. To the fellows of “iPhone killers”, you should really stop thinking like this. The point is: a better world needs different kinds of beasts in the market. In general, there are 2 extremes: Open or Closed platform models.

Open against closed

Apple does excellent jobs via a Closed platform approach on Device Product Development specifically. Whereas, Open Platform is a better model to democratize the value chain, create competition, drive down the cost, inflect the market size, facilities innovation and etc. Which is the one I believe more. Naturally, it is more interesting for news to “sell” winner-vs-loser stories. In practice, the market seldom cares and the market is always better (at least for the end-users) when both models are executed well. Also, there is no point to debate about which is better without the context in the real world. It is more meaningful to put them into a specific setting and do proper Situation Analysis. Don’t worry, no plan to do a formal analysis. Let’s just do casual thought experiments instead. Note: App Store is not in the focus of the discussion here, which is actually an Open Platform(-ish) strategy.

The Dilemma of Middle-Class Innovation

Forget about Open vs Closed. Let’s get both — slightly open. I was a part of such ambition: AJAR. In the early 2000s, TTPCom tried to reinvent Feature Phone via developing an Application Framework on top of its proprietary RTOS, AJAR. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the dawn of the smartphone industry revolution.

The dilemma of middle-class innovation is, well ending up in the middle. Most plans start with ambition to deliver the best of two worlds but typically compromise their way toward the worse of both worlds. In my defense, AJAR was too early and too little. It ended up as a successful failure: acquired by Motorola, but didn’t become the next big thing. To my good old TTPCom comrades, it was an honor and fun.

Moto W450, A45 and NZ300

2 more ambitions

  1. Moto Rokr E1, the 1st mobile phone with iTunes supposed to be the “BIG thing” in 2005.
  2. In 2012, Windows 8 was intended to be the “unify” OS for Personal Computer and Mobile. LaptopMag has a few good points. Especially, the 2-in-1 did not make users’ life much easier.
Moto Rokr E1
Windows 8.1 Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Lessons Learnt

  1. 10x: You need to have the magic, 10x improvement to change the landscape. It’s Path Dependency, Stupid. There is no easy path to get users to drop their good old QWERTY keyboard nor to start adapting Metric System (for Americans).
  2. Don’t focus on the competition: Microsoft cared too much about catching up on mobile and forgot to serve the existing users. I’m sorry, but I’m just too old to learn a new way to “Start the menu”.
  3. What’s new in the context: those examples are a bit far-fetched, one may say. Not if we look for the bigger picture and seek fundamental patterns. If one wants to learn from history, one has to dig deeper. Past failures and experiences are only relevant if one can properly generalize the lessons learned, transform and adapt to a new context. MBA 101: always do/update your situation analysis.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to make such an innovation a successful one. Only, it’s god damn hard. A paradigm shift is like planets lining up. It happens only once in a while. And, more planets (factors to disturb) in line, the less frequent it gets.

Total Eclipse Progression by Douglas Brown

BTW, in case you missed the solar eclipse on 21 Aug. this year, here are some eye candies. Fun fact: if you can wait that long, all 8 will even “align” one day.

Solar System by Jeroen Gommers

Next chapter: The Two Towers

The Two Towers Poser

Full Disclosure

The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company. They are mostly extrapolations from public information. I don’t have insider knowledge of those companies, nor a whatever expert.



Sam Lin

A Taiwanese lives in Silicon Valley since 2014 & has random opinions on some stuff. The opinions shared here are my own, not those of companies I work for.