For some time now the smart folk at Addictive Mobile have been talking about the 'vertical stack' as a way of understanding the developing strategy of the big four (GAFA – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon). It's a useful metaphor for navigating through all the myriad of launches and announcements that emanate from them so I've been thinking about it a lot, and ended up categorising my own version of what the key parts of this vertical stack might look like. It's far from an exhaustive list, but it reads like this:
1. Hardware – Google launching the Chromebook and buying Motorola, Apple, Amazon Kindle, Fire and the rumoured Kindle smartphone
2. Operating system – Apple IOS, Google Android, Facebook as the Social OS
3. Content (Platforms/Distribution/Streaming/Cloud) – Amazon Web Services and Kindle publishing, Apple iTunes and iCloud, Facebook content streaming, storage and frictionless sharing, Google TV, YouTube, Gmail, Music and Docs
4. Access (Apps and Browsers) – Chrome, Silk, Safari, Facebook mobile app, the Apple, Facebook and Android App ecosystem
5. Payment ecosystems – Google checkout, Wallet and Android Market, Apple iTunes and NFC, Amazon Payments and Associates programme, Facebook Credits, daily deals
6. Context – location aware (Google, Facebook, Apple), sharing and social graph aware (Google+, Facebook), identity aware (Facebook Connect, Google log-in, Amazon tracking, iTunes), personalisation and recommendation (Amazon), advertising (Facebook, Google)
7. Messaging – Apple's Facetime and iMessage, Google+ hangouts, Gmail chat, Facebook Messenger and Skype integration
Ecosystem is rapidly becoming something of an overused word in the modern media lexicon, but it is a good description of what each of the GAFA is building here. Whilst they have each arisen from a different place (Apple from devices, Google from access, Facebook from a social platform, Amazon from commerce), they are all attempting essentially the same thing – to establish a play that exists at multiple layers through the stack, facilitates consumption in many forms, and one where a user never has to leave.
The inevitable upcoming clashes at various levels of this stack are being positioned as what Fastcompany has billed as the 'great tech war of 2012' (in a piece that is well worth reading if you haven't yet done so), but as that article noted, it would be a mistake to see their ambitions as "simply a grab for territory (and money). These four companies firmly believe that they possess the ability to enhance rather than merely replace our current products and services".
And therein lies the truth about the layer that overlays each part of the stack – the data that reveals a detailed understanding of our needs, likes, consumption and behaviour, which can be aggregrated, analysed, filtered and re-applied in order to create and extract substantial value. It's no mistake that mobile platforms, devices that are uniquely associated with us as individuals, are so central to each of their future strategies.
Anything I've missed?