CES 2012 is in full swing. Yes, there are too many gadgets, gizmos, and doohickeys to count. There are ultrabooks, ridiculously thin TVs, and tablets galore. But beyond the hardware, there's an underlying current at the biggest tech event of the year: the platform.
Case in point: just about every keynote speaker used that very term multiple times up on stage. Let's take it down a notch, though. How are smaller companies embracing platforms?
On Tuesday, I had a fascinating conversation with Kevin Chartier of Wizdom Music, a company "dedicated to pushing the boundaries of technology to create expressive and exciting tools for making music." Chartier described how traditional app development has required creating distinct code for each device. For instance, while you can essentially copy and paste basic text such as descriptions, the inner workings of apps could not be easily transferred from device A to device B. Developers have had to create one app for Apple's iOS and a distinct app for Android -- even if those two apps were supposed to do the same thing.
Well, that is no longer necessarily the case. Chartier is now developing apps that, in a nutshell, can work across platforms. That is, the same code can be used on multiple devices -- even competing ones like iOS and Android. While tweaks are certainly still necessary, the overall reduction in development time and cost is dramatic.
At the Wired party on Wednesday night, I talked at length with Henrik Lenberg, VP of Platform at SoundCloud, a company that bills itself as "the world's leading social sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them everywhere."
Now any company can claim to be a platform (and many erroneously do these days), but that just doesn't make it so. For its part, Lenberg's company is walking the talk as evinced by its development tools. Without getting into too much technical detail here, SoundCloud has developed a true platform and, by design, doesn't exactly know where that platform will go and how it will evolve.
And that's the whole point.
SoundCloud is letting users, external developers, and third parties take its platform in new and unexpected directions. Think Angry Birds. No one could have possibly expected 6.5 million downloads of it -- on Christmas day alone! But that's the genius of the platform as a business model.
To be sure, it's way too early to predict which products, services, and companies will be successful at CES and beyond. Less uncertain, though, is how those winners will prevail: by the strength of their platforms -- and how their companies utilize existing ones.