BlackBerry's "App Neutrality" isn't as crazy as it sounds


BlackBerry have drawn scorn from the technology world with their calls for Network Neutrality to apply to app developers. The CEO thinks that NetFlix - and others - should be forced to provide apps for BlackBerry's minority platform.

Is he serious? It sounds like an insane and bureaucratic solution to BlackBerry's woes - but I'm not so sure that it's necessarily a bad idea.

Yesterday, I was quoted in The Guardian saying:

But web developer Terence Eden argues that Chen is “right, but for the wrong reasons”.

“The web works everywhere,” he says. “Even the worst BlackBerry from years ago can display HTML, CSS, and run JavaScript. The more recent browsers do it just as well as iOS, Android, and Windows.

“We’re fast entering a situation where just about any app can be run as a website. Yet we see large services like WhatsApp balkanising the ecosystem by only blessing certain phones and browsers.

“I believe in network neutrality - and think that governments should mandate it. I don’t think they should mandate open standards for private companies - but I would hope that the economics of a diverse portfolio of devices would encourage companies to develop open standards to let their products flourish.”

Let me clarify my position.

Regular readers will know that I hate the current trend of companies strong-arming their customers into inflexible solutions designed to restrict market choice and promote "ecosystems". See I Don't Want To Be Part of Your Fucking Ecosystem and the imaginatively titled follow-up I Still Don't Want To Be Part of Your Fucking Ecosystem!

NetFlix is under no legal or moral obligation to provide its service to any platform. If it wants to only support Symbian handsets in rural Australia, it can do so as it pleases. But that's not very customer friendly - and it certainly wouldn't be good for their business.

At the moment, I can't watch Amazon Instant Video on my Panasonic Smart TV because.... well, I don't know why. Amazon won't support the platform. Even though Panasonic TVs can play NetFlix, iPlayer, and all other manner of VOD content.

Panasonic can't build an unofficial app to help their customers because Amazon's video service is built on proprietary technology.

If VOD providers used common (web) standards - none of this would be a problem. Any Internet connected device would be able to point at a their servers, enter a username and password, retrieve a page of listings, and then watch streaming video.

Instead, business choose which devices to bless and, when a new device reaches the market, have to spend a fortune developing yet another proprietary app for that platform.

You want to talk crazy? That is crazy!

I accept that not every service can be run in the browser. I also accept that companies may want to "preserve the brand experience" or some-such nonsense. But customers don't care about that. Every TV channel works on every TV - why don't apps work in the same way?

Am I saying that the law should mandate that every developer - from software giant to bedroom hobbyist - should release software on all available platforms? No!

Should companies realise that developing to open standards means more customers? Yes!

Would a stronger BlackBerry and Windows Phone (and Jolla, and Tizen, and ...) push Apple and Android into developing better and cheaper devices and operating systems? Well, that's what the capitalists say, and who am I to argue with them?

Anyone can burn a movie to a DVD. That disc will run on any DVD player. DVD players can talk to any TV using the standard HDMI cable. It's not a perfect analogy, but I truly believe that's where we need to get to with apps and smartphones.

That's what a real ecosystem is.

3 thoughts on “BlackBerry's "App Neutrality" isn't as crazy as it sounds

  1. The Blackberry proposal could be rephrased as "API Neutrality". A classic example would be email protocols. Neutral APIs would enable best-of-breed apps which support more than one API/service, improving usability and choice for consumers. Platform owners would be free to optimize integration between their platform and backend, but could not exclude clients from competing platforms. They would not be obligated to support competing services, but users would then have the option of switching to a multi-service client app.

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