Platform development means different things to different people depending on their role or the product they are developing. Therefore, the term platform can be used in several different contexts when talking about technology or app development, and this undoubtedly causes confusion and issues with miscommunication.
To create the best possible product for your target users, you need to clearly understand the type of platform you want to create. This post will cover the different types of platforms commonly developed. While defining the different platforms, we will include details that will enable developers to create products that meet user expectations.
Understanding Platform Development: What Is a Platform?
Besides being super successful, what do Uber, Google Search, AWS, Android, Facebook, and Airbnb all have in common? These are all examples of platforms. As you can see, each of these platforms differs from one another quite significantly. A simple definition of a platform is any software or hardware used to host an application or service. If you are interested in platform development, you might find this definition overly broad.
To simplify the concept of the platform, we can break the term down into subcategories to simplify identification and development. The common types of platforms are as follows:
- Computing platforms
- Utility platforms
- Tech platforms
- Network platforms
- Service platforms
- Marketplace platforms
- Content platforms
Computing platforms facilitate interactions between platform users and developers. The most popular computing platforms globally are Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Microsoft’s Windows. In this case, the platform is the operating system. Developers create apps and software to extend the platform and make it more attractive and valuable to users.
Typically, users interact with computing platforms through app stores. The app store model is where users discover new apps and extensions and where developers can monetize their creations. In the case of computing platforms, there are apps developed specifically for each platform. These apps are called native apps. A native app is built specifically for the operating system and devices that run it. For example, native iOS apps are built specifically for iOS and iPhone devices.
In addition, there is also cross-platform development. Cross-platform app development creates software that can be run on multiple platforms. For example, a cross-platform mobile app will run on iOS and Android, and a cross-platform desktop app will run on macOS, Linux, and Windows.
The main challenge developers face when creating a computing platform is attracting users and third-party developers. A wide selection of apps and extensions attract users, and a large user base attracts more developers to create apps. However, it can be difficult to attract users when you have little to no apps, and on the flip side, it is hard to attract development talent when there are few to no users.
When creating a computing platform, the key to success is to invest in building up either a user base or a library of apps. Once you accomplish this, you will attract the other side of the equation and create a self-sustaining ecosystem around your computing platform.
A utility platform offers users a valuable service, typically for free. The best examples of utility platforms are Google Search and Kayak. Users visit these utility platforms because they are useful to their daily lives, and they don’t have to pay to use them. However, utility platforms still have ways to monetize their offerings even while providing free services to users.
Kayak and Google Search are very popular platforms that attract a lot of users. These platforms can monetize their services by opening their platform to advertisers. If you want to develop a utility platform, you need to provide users with a valuable service that encourages repeat visits and doesn’t cost your business much to provide. Once your platform starts attracting users, you can sell advertising access to interested businesses.
Technology platforms offer services or building blocks that can be reused in other products. Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services are the most popular examples of technology platforms. Developers use technology platforms to build or enhance the services offered in their products.
Tech platforms sell their services to developers, and generally, these platforms are invisible to the end-user. Take the example of Netflix, which is built on AWS. Netflix’s users don’t see or interact with AWS at all. Instead, end-users only interact with Netflix.
Technology platforms don’t have to concern themselves with user supply and demand. If developers use your tech platform, your growth and success are assured. Technology platforms only need to focus on creating a service that provides value and efficiency to developers.
Network platforms facilitate digital interactions between specific users. In this case, users could be individuals or businesses, and digital interactions can represent several actions, from messaging and voice calls to money transfers. Popular examples of network platforms include Facebook, Bitcoin, and WeChat.
It is important to note that all digital interactions are tied to specific accounts. Users join network platforms to interact with other users. This differs from the other platforms we have covered so far in that users end up attracting more users.
The common launch strategy employed by network platforms is to target users who already interact with one another and build from there. As more interactions occur on the platform, more users are attracted to join and create an account.
Service platforms are comparable to utility platforms, except that service platforms charge users for the service provided. The best examples of service platforms are apps like Uber, Lyft, and Doordash. In addition, several different service platforms offer users the ability to get a service on-demand.
Service platforms have to provide product discovery, ordering, payment, and fulfillment all in one place. Typically, these platforms give users little to no control over how their service will be rendered or by whom. Additionally, services might not always be available. Take, for example, Uber or Lyft, in some locations, and at certain times, you won’t be able to find a ride. Lack of availability hurts brand image and leads to a poor User Experience.
Successfully launching a service platform requires employing enough providers to meet user demand. These platforms can face serious challenges when user demand rises because they will need to quickly scale up and find more service providers, which is not always easy. Guaranteeing service availability is the key challenge to maintaining a user base and attracting new users.
Marketplace platforms connect supply with demand. eBay, Amazon, and AirBnB are popular examples of marketplace platforms. The challenge that marketplace platforms face is similar to computing platforms. Users are attracted by the sellers on the marketplace and vice versa. Without sellers, you won’t attract users, but you won’t attract sellers without users.
Solving this issue is the most significant challenge facing marketplace platforms trying to launch. The typical way marketplace platforms address this challenge is to invite creators for a niche product to sell on their website. The goal is to attract buyers to the website and expand from there. As the platform grows, more sellers will bring more buyers, and so on.
Content platforms crowdsource content from a subset of their users and then share it with the wider user base. Yelp, YouTube, TripAdvisor, and TikTok are the most popular examples of these platforms. Content platforms share similarities with network and marketplace platforms.
Some interactions occur between users, but these are centered around the platform and content, not specific accounts. Additionally, like a marketplace, content platforms rely on content to attract users. Therefore, more users equals more content and vice versa.
Launching a platform like this can be simpler than network or marketplace platforms because platform owners can seed the platform with initial content to attract users. The ongoing challenge is motivating users to contribute content to the platform. However, you can simplify this process by sharing ad revenue with creators.
As you can see, platform development is not straightforward. Many of the particulars will depend on the type of platform you want to create. You will always want to consider a few things: User Interface and User Experience. Without a good UI or UX, it doesn’t matter how great your platform’s service offerings are; you will drive users away. If you want to learn more about the platform development process, reach out to an app development partner.