Should Developers Be Made To create Apps For All platforms?

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Sarah Weller, managing director of mobile consultancy and enterprise app developer, Mubaloo, explains why developers may be concerned with a recent statement made by BlackBerry CEO John Chen

John Chen, CEO of BlackBerry has managed to help turn the company around and stabilise it. There is no denying that BlackBerry devices are the right device for some companies, and some people.

By opening up BES12 device management software to Android and iPhone users, it has managed to expand its potential customer portfolio by being more open in its approach. It was a good move for BlackBerry to make, but it was a move that it had to make to survive.

In the recent, much discussed open letter John posted on BlackBerry’s blog about Net Neutrality, some interesting points were raised regarding app development.

Apps and content are not bandwidth

Chen’s argument about openness and neutrality are fair and valid in many ways. It is certainly the case that slowing down broadband and mobile bandwidth limits what developers can achieve with apps or Internet services. Doing so would diminish the user experience and creates a competitive disadvantage for new companies trying to launch services, against those who can afford for the prioritised ‘fast lanes’.

john chen blackberry leadThere is also some truth that having apps available on every operating system benefits consumers who want to easily move from one platform to another. Yet, it’s also clear why BlackBerry would make the argument. Without the popular apps, consumers have moved to iOS and Android and are now brought into the respective ecosystems.

BlackBerry recognises that without the leading apps, it will struggle to recapture consumers who have moved to other platforms. Whilst it does have access to over 400,000 apps through Amazon’s App Store, that store still doesn’t have the same apps that can be found on iOS or Android.

BlackBerry may have opened up some of its software to other platforms, but it’s only because it felt it had to. BBM used to be one of the main reasons many of its consumer users would stick with their BlackBerry’s, then WhatsApp came along and provided a viable, cross platform alternative.

Developing apps is not cheap, if you are going to do it properly. There is also strategy that goes into creating apps which will look at the platforms a target user uses, how they use devices and whether the app will deliver a return on investment.

For the majority of developers, it makes sense to target the platforms that make up 92% of the global smartphone market – Android and iOS. To be forced into creating for all platforms would do one of a few things:

Force all the OS manufacturers to use the same programming language, therefore diminishing their USP and ability to differentiate from competitors.

Force developers to create apps for every platform, therefore forcing many developers out of business because of the associated costs of creating and maintaining the apps.
Force developers to only use cross-platform tools, or build for the mobile web (which would also force all mobile browsers to use the same language), therefore stopping innovation and degrading the user experience that people expect.

Unless all apps were free, not make a huge difference to consumer interest in changing their OS. Consumers will be brought into ecosystems by buying apps, paying for in-app purchases, music, movies and other content. The same is also true for businesses, who will have invested in bulk app purchases or invested in creating apps for the devices its employees or customers use.

This has nothing to do with bandwidth speeds, and everything to do with the costs of developing, maintaining and marketing apps.

BlackBerry may have President Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, NATO and the U.S. Department of Defense (and Kim Kardashian) as users, but in the UK at least, its market share has fallen to just 0.8% according to Kantar. This will be a major factor in influencing app developers’ decisions on whether to develop apps for BlackBerry.

The reason that many world leaders, business leaders or even celebrities may use a BlackBerry is that they are good work tools. They are secure, have physical keyboards and are designed to make getting through email on the move that bit easier.

In many ways, it is precisely because they don’t have the same apps that users can find on other platforms that make the a good platform for world leaders – they are task and work focused. For other tasks, such as relaxation, using Instagram or watching an episode of House of Cards on Netflix, it’s likely that these users will have a secondary device that is more personal.

BlackBerry’s User Base

BlackBerry is still a popular device for many business users who spend their time in email or spreadsheets. It’s latest devices reflect the firm’s understanding of who its market is.

Popular apps like Instagram, Netflix and CityMapper aren’t generally targeted at the type of person who would want to have a BlackBerry as their work device. Instead, they will probably have another device, like an iPhone or Android that is more targeted at their consumer lifestyle needs.

Instead, BlackBerry should be focused on encouraging businesses to create enterprise apps that run on its platform and help to make its devices more useful for companies who deploy them. BlackBerry users don’t necessarily need the latest app designed to help monitor your exercise, instead they need apps that monitor businesses and help them run more efficiently.

This is something that Apple is focused on through its partnership with IBM. The apps, which will be for iOS only, are designed around helping businesses be more efficient and empower employees to do their job. It’s not the latest Crossy Road, Angry Birds or Flappy Bird that BlackBerry needs to succeed; it’s ability to help businesses remain mobile.

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