Is Apple’s iOS user experience a platform in its own right?

NOTE: I started this post before Steve Jobs announced his resignation as Apple’s CEO, but it’s particularly poignant in light of that news…

I had a fun, thought-provoking conversation this morning with Darien Brown, CEO and co-founder of YongoPal (a recent 500 Startups grad). The general theme of our conversation was the new kinds of social interactions being enabled by mass-market adoption of smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and the many different devices powered by Google’s Android platform.

Darien’s perspective is specifically informed by the global adoption and usage patterns of his company’s app: YongoPal is a sort of “virtual cultural exchange” platform, pairing members in different countries for week-long chat and photo-sharing sessions about each others’ lives and cultures. To help break the ice, the application suggests specific activities (e.g., “take a photo that shows how you got to work today”) to trigger conversations about how life is similar and different in different parts of the world.

One thing that Darien said has been rattling around in my head all day and I wanted to put it in writing to see if it still felt true. His comment was something to the effect that – in a global context the tight constraints that Apple had put on the iOS user experience could be considered a platform in their own right.

While other “platforms” – e.g,. Twitter, Facebook – had succeeded in building up local adoption in other countries, the global uniformity of the iOS experience conferred instant cross-cultural familiarity and accessibility to iOS apps, making it effortless for people in different cultures to interact with each other.

In an increasingly global and cross-cultural world this felt like an important insight to record and share. I’m already on record as expecting Android to dominate the smartphone wars in the developing world, and I stand by that prediction, but Darien has given me something new to think about (which is one of the big reasons why I love what I do).