Twelve years ago in September of 2011, the global smartphone market hit an important milestone. For the first time ever, both iOS and Android operating systems crossed over 20% market share each.
Smartphone operating systems were still fragmented at this time with 7 different mobile OS’s having over 2% share and no single one over 30% share. But this 20% threshold milestone was the final proof of the impending iOS / Android duopoly that would come to dominate smartphones. In just 8 years, the fragmented mobile operating system landscape would consolidate around those two players with iOS and Android capturing 99% of the smartphone market. And this consolidation turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for consumers.
Consolidation is a necessary ingredient for emerging platforms. By definition, emerging platforms have less users and applications than other platforms. So with fewer numbers, emerging platforms need to group their limited users and activity together to create density that can attract application developers. Developers building more applications brings in more users, which brings in more developers to build applications, which brings in more users. Keep repeating and you eventually get a flywheel that turns an emerging platform into an established platform. But that can only happen if you have consolidation on the platform, and not fragmentation.
The consolidation of mobile operating systems around iOS and Android created this exact flywheel for smartphones. In 2010, there were ~320k total mobile apps available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. But over the next 6 years as the mobile world consolidated on iOS and Android, the number of apps exploded by 15x to over 5 million total mobile apps in 2017.
This incredible growth in apps corresponded with an equally astounding growth in both smartphone adoption and usage. Worldwide smartphone users grew 7x from under 400 million in 2010 to over 2.8 billion in 2016. Notably, the fastest rate of growth was in 2011 and 2012 as iOS and Android consolidation reached its peak.
Consolidation that attracted developers who built more applications, leading to more users, leading to more applications, leading to more users. A perfect flywheel that blockchains might be able to learn something from.
Is there an iOS or Android of blockchains?
There are currently over one thousand different blockchains in circulation, which is a frightening number when you consider the fragmentation that can cause. But fortunately a closer examination of the data shows a different picture. According to VC firm Electric Capital’s most recent Developer Report analyzing software developer trends in crypto, there has been consistent concentration of developer activity into the top blockchains.
In 2018, the top 200 crypto ecosystems excluding Ethereum and Bitcoin accounted for 25% of all developers. In 2022, they accounted for 50%. When you add in Ethereum and Bitcoin, 80% of all crypto developers are currently working in the top 200 crypto ecosystems.
200 different ecosystems is still a lot of fragmentation. But looking at the Ethereum ecosystem — which is the Ethereum Layer 1 blockchain plus the Layer 2 blockchains that support it and help it scale (like Polygon and Optimism) — a better, more concentrated picture emerges. As of June 2023, the Ethereum ecosystem (Layer 1 + Layer 2s) now accounts for 36% of all blockchain developers, up from 29% in 2021. This consolidation of developers has led to a spike in smart contracts running on the Ethereum ecosystem, which have grown 11x year over year to nearly 80 million deployed in Q2 alone. There were more Ethereum smart contracts deployed in the past quarter than the entire past year.
So in the blockchain world, we have growing consolidation of developers on a platform that is leading to a lot more applications on that platform. Sound familiar? This is just like what happened with consolidation on mobile and mobile app growth in the early 2010s, and it’s even more efficient for blockchains because it’s happening on one platform (Ethereum) instead of two (iOS and Android).
Taking the comparison further, you could even say that Ethereum is the blockchain equivalent of Android. It’s the dominant crypto platform that has established the most developer market share, but also market share that’s powered by an ecosystem of partners. In fact, the Ethereum Layer 2s are contributing about 5 times more transaction volume than Ethereum itself. Just like Samsung, Xiaomi, HTC and other partners all create tremendous developer and user activity for Android, Ethereum has Polygon, Optimism, Base and others creating tremendous activity for Ethereum Virtual Machines.
Again, blockchain developer consolidation on Ethereum is leading to more apps (i.e. smart contracts). But this is only step 1 in the flywheel. The next step is will those Ethereum apps bring in more crypto users? And then will those crypto users bring in more developers to build even more apps, leading to even more users, and so on? Will the crypto industry get a new spinning flywheel (like mobile did) to help lift it to new heights?
It’s still too early to tell, but developer consolidation is a welcomed start.