Earlier this week John Chen, CEO of Blackberry wrote this post on the Blackberry blog.
In the post Chen basically hijacks the Net Neutrality argument to bootstrap a justification that the government should enforce “Application/Content Neutrality.” Basically, he wants the government to force mobile application developers and companies who develop applications of iOS and Android to also create the same applications for Blackberry. He points out that while Blackberry makes their BlackBerry Messenger application available for iOS and Android, Apple does not allow non-iOS users to use iChat and other Apple applications. He also seems upset that there is no Netflix application for BlackBerry.
Call me cynical, but this post seems like an attempt to blame everyone else for BlackBerrys misfortunes over the past few years, except for BlackBerry. It’s not us, it’s those jerks at Apple! It’s not us, its Netflix discriminating against our users! It’s not us, it’s those greedy developers who focusing on platforms with the largest users bases!
Sorry, it’s Not the Mobile Developers Fault
In the article Chen cites some numbers attempting to show that BlackBerry is still a widely used mobile platform. And for customers with a specific need for what BlackBerry is selling, it is very popular. But since the iPhone, Android and even Windows Phone have come out, BlackBerry has become a niche product.
So, why aren’t developers writing applications for BlackBerry? Because why would you invest the time in creating something for less than 1%1 of the market when for a similar level of effort you can write an Android application and potentially get 84.4%1 of that market? I’ve never written an application for BlackBerry. From a technical stand point I have no idea what’s involved in creating a BlackBerry application. But at less than 1% of the market, it’s not even worth my time to investigate how I would write a BlackBerry application. Smart developers go where the money is. The money is clearly not in BlackBerry.
Sorry, it’s Not Apple’s Fault
Chen complains that while BlackBerry has made their messaging application open and available on iOS, Apple has not seen fit to reciprocate and make their proprietary applications and services available on other platforms. Is this really a surprise? Apple has never been known for being an open ecosystem. And the fact that you create an application for their platform does not imply a quid pro quo where they will stock your application store with their products.
I may not like or agree with Apple’s closed ecosystem philosophy. But Apple, or any other company for that matter, has a right to package and sell their products and services however they like. You have a right to buy it or not. Apple is under no moral obligation to allow you into their house. And they shouldn’t be.
Sorry, it’s Not Netflix’s Fault
One thing that really seems to be getting under Chen’s skin, based on his post, is that Netflix is “discriminating” against BlackBerry customers by not providing an application for their platform. I think that use of the word “discrimination” is a bit inflammatory and totally unfair here. I don’t know this for a fact, but I highly doubt that Netflix has made a conscious decision to keep people from purchasing their product simply because they use a BlackBerry.
Developing mobile applications cost money. Netflix makes money by having subscribers who use their service. Netflix is a smart company. I have to believe that they have done a cost/benefit analysis of creating an application for BlackBerry. The lack of an application indicates that they found ample reason not to invest in the platform. My guess is that they concluded the number of new subscribers they would receive from creating a BlackBerry application would not justify the cost of creating or maintaining a BlackBerry application.
There are many ways to access Netflix. Aside from the mobile applications you can watch Netflix on a PC. If you have a gaming console there is likely a Netflix application available. My cable box has a Netflix application. And every “Smart TV” I’ve seen includes a Netflix application. If there was really a huge outcry for a Netflix application for BlackBerry, I have to believe Netflix would have created one by now.
Sorry BlackBerry, it’s Your Fault
So who does that leave? Well, unfortunately for Chen, it leaves BlackBerry.
Asking the government to level the playing field is a horrible way to try to save your business. Aside from the fact that it’s akin to asking for a government bailout, it’s unfair to mobile developers and the companies they work for. Forcing companies and developers to create applications for your tiny user base forces them to spend time and resources from which they are not likely to see a profit. Creating this policy of “Application/Content Neutrality” limits the freedom of these developers and companies to conduct their business and make money.
And let’s be clear, this is not a situation where you’re asking the government to break up a monopoly or cartel. BlackBerry was king of the hill at one point. Their lack of innovation has seen iOS and Android take their market share. They aren’t a new company struggling with a barrier to entry. This isn’t a case where companies are colluding to keep the new guy out. BlackBerry got caught flatfooted, made some bad decisions, and now they’re paying for it.
Sorry your market share crashed BlackBerry, but it’s not our fault and it shouldn’t be our problem. You want more applications? Create a compelling platform that can compete with Android and iOS. Don’t force me to write applications for you because of a law; force me to write applications for you because if I don’t I’m leaving a lot of money on the table! If you do this, the applications will come.
One More Thing…
In his blog post, Chen only talked about getting application developers to write applications for BlackBerry. He made no mention of the other application-poor mobile platform; Windows Phone, which sports a 2.9%1 market share.
I am a Windows Phone user. I love my Windows Phone. However, after many years of owning and loving my Windows Phone, I have decided that I’m going to get an iPhone.
This is not because I think iOS is superior to Windows Phone. To be sure there are many things I’m going to miss about my Windows Phone. But after more than three years, I’ve decided that I’m tired of not having access to the mobile applications I want. I’ve waiting and been patient, but the applications have not come.
Why do I bring this up? Because you could argue that Microsoft is facing the same issues with Windows Phone that BlackBerry has. Yet Microsoft has not responded by crying to the government about how unfair things are. Microsoft is trying to make their platform more attractive, thus increasing their market share. Earlier this week Microsoft showed some of the new features for Windows 10, including many features for the Phone version of the operating system. It’s clear they are working hard to create features that users want to try to get them to switch. Will it work? I don’t know. But I applaud their approach and I think BlackBerry could learn a lot by watching them.