The computer in my lap has 12 connectors on it and supports two wireless protocols. In other news General Motors is considering the possibility of putting an audio input on the radio of some future model. They released a photo! How can that possibly be news worthy?

When you make something – a computer, a car, a website, a communication’s network, intellectual property rights scheme – one of your design choices is leaving some open connectors. Leaving open some options for other the customers to fool around with. What guides a designer, a business architect, in making those choices? Why do car makers tend to horde these options while PC makers tend to bleed open interfaces?

One driver for hoarding is value pricing; a few options (leather seats) are valued very highly by a small number of customers. If you left your car open to customization then 3rd parties could undercut you and selling the high margin options. For the car maker the after market is a competitor; and unlike the software business they lack network effects to lock-in their customers.

One driver for open designs is innovation; a highly open architecture allows the vendor to sample the long tail of creatives. Innovations the pop out of that space will often change the game. If you get in early and their network effects you get to grab elite positions on the power-law distributions that emerge. That leaves your competitors bewildered. The car market has a reasonably vibrant after market. Where in the software world we call them hackers in the car world they call them tuners. They do innovate, and the majors do capture those innovations. But it’s not at the scale you see in the PC world.

Presumably the idea that GM would provide an audio connector is news because people have so totally accepted that car makers horde most of the options. In that world, even this tiny bit of giving away is news worthy. Those who want access to the machine’s data bus will have to wait.

Makes me wonder if there is a disruptive move in the car business. Somebody gives up the hoarding and builds a business around empowering the after market. Something an emerging nation’s car maker might do.

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