On being first

Posted: 05.13.15

Doesn’t always mean you win

AMD and Nvidia have been leaders in being first; Intel, ARM, Apple, Samsung, and others have been quick, but seldom first. Qualcomm has had some firsts. Source: Getty Images

First-to-market (FTM), also referred to as first-mover advantage, or FMA, can often gain a significant advantage if it is the first entrant and gains a competitive advantage through control of resources. But that’s really only part of the equation. If the first-mover does not capitalize on its advantage, its “first-mover disadvantages” leave opportunity for new entrants to enter the market and compete more effectively and efficiently than the first-movers. And a first-mover has the problem/opportunity of having to establish a category. If there is only one player, then there is no category.

SONY’S FIRST-TO-MARKET ultra-thin notebook with graphics in the sidecar.



PC TV is one example of companies being first and not really getting anywhere. Microcomputers like the Commodore Amiga had a TV tuner in the late 1980s, and Apple put one in a Macintosh in 1993. PCs got a TV card in 1996 when Gateway introduced the Destination, and ATI introduced their All-in-Wonder TV card in 1998. Others followed and a category was formed, and the concept of the home theater PC emerged. Microsoft, never a first-mover, picked up on the idea, and Windows Media Center was introduced in 2002. Microsoft’s entry promised it would become a category that mattered. But it never did, and now even Microsoft has abandoned it. PC TV was one of those we-did-it-because-we-could kind of ideas, not something driven by consumer demand, or necessarily enabled by a technological breakthrough.

Smartphones, however, introduced by IBM in 1994, took 11 years to catch on before Apple brought out theirs. That was due to a combination of events, not the least of which was Moore’s Law driving down the size and cost of components.
In 2008 ATI developed an external graphics box that connected to a laptop via what ATI called eXternal Graphics Port (XGP). Fujitsu and MSI built laptops that could use it, and they sold …. not very many. The problem was the I/O cable and connector was too expensive, and there was no infrastructure for it.

In 2012, Sony introduced a super-thin, super-light, super-wide-screen notebook, the Viao Z, predating Ultrabooks by a year or more. But it took Intel to fund the supply chain to build the infrastructure to get Ultrabooks as a category. Not many companies can afford to build the infrastructure that Intel can. FUJITSU’S SA W with XGP sidecar.

ATI was also first to market with GPU computing in 2006 and thought they were building a category until Google snatched PeakStream. Nvidia came in with Cuda, and AIBs, and apps, and compilers and built an infrastructure.
So the trick to being first is to either satisfy a consumer demand or to build something revolutionary and make sure you’ve got an infrastructure (… an “eco” system) behind you and that it’s on Moore’s curve.