No, 'App Neutrality' Is Not A Thing

from the misdirection dept

Last month, BlackBerry CEO John Chen tried to kiss up to major wireless carriers on the issue of net neutrality with a truly bizarre missive that received ample mockery in the technology press. Basically, Chen tried to argue that we don't need tough neutrality rules -- but we really should consider rules that force app developers to make content for unpopular mobile platforms. Like oh, BlackBerry, which after endless missteps now controls just 2% of the smartphone market. This was, to hear Chen tell it, because when companies refuse to make apps for unpopular platforms they're violating something Chen called "app neutrality":
"Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level."
Of course, as we pointed out at the time, Netflix isn't discriminating against anybody. If BlackBerry wasn't currently a train wreck and had a big enough market share to justify their time, Netflix would surely develop an app for BlackBerry users as well. As most of you know, net neutrality is about protecting the Internet from the bad behavior of companies that have built massive last-mile broadband monopolies courtesy of regulatory capture. In contrast, developers aren't making apps for BlackBerry simply because people aren't using BlackBerry's products. And while Google and Apple do dominate the smartphone market, the primary reason is because they offer a good product. That's in contrast to say, AT&T or Comcast, which offer a crap product because they have a government-protected monopoly over the last mile and have no incentive to improve.

I have no idea from the bowels of which ISP think tank or telco meeting room this "app neutrality" talking point originated; Chen and BlackBerry's incoherent tirade dominates the search results for the term. But it's worth noting that Mark Cuban actually argued a very similar point two days earlier, but, fortunately for Cuban, the media was too busy mocking BlackBerry to notice. Here's a snippet of Cuban's insight on the issue of app neutrality:
"There are basically 2 doors that control the availability of apps to the vast majority of smart phones in this country. They are owned and controlled by 2 of the largest tech companies in the world, Apple and Google. If you want your app to reach any type of audience (yes there are other app platforms supporting phones on the margin, but they are tiny by comparison), you have to make Google and Apple happy."
Again, this ignores that Apple and Google have come to dominate the smartphone market because they make a kickass product. Not to say either of those companies doesn't engage in anti-competitive behavior, and I don't think anybody would argue Apple's app approval process isn't bizarre. But that has nothing to do with net neutrality, and Apple and Google are a far, far cry from government-pampered duopolists like AT&T and Comcast. Still, Cuban proceeds to insist that net neutrality rules need to ensure Apple and Google play nice too:
"The mobile app economy is far from open. It’s dominated by two companies. It is in the best interest of the entire mobile eco-system to address this duopoly while we are re-examining net neutrality. We should seriously consider requiring Apple to to allow and support 3rd party app stores and to require that Google continues to support and enable 3rd party stores and more importantly to integrate them into the Play Store, much as Amazon does with Marketplace integration."
Cuban is again showing he doesn't quite understand how the broadband industry works or what net neutrality actually is. Consumers actually do have a choice of what kind of smartphone to buy or what apps to install. While there are some smartphone freedom constraints (usually imposed by the aforementioned carriers, mind you), users still can buy a Windows phone, or a BlackBerry phone, or some offshoot hackable Android ROM that provides greater application freedom and allows them to install whatever unsigned applications they'd like. They can also access something called the Internet for even greater freedom. That's in contrast to a Comcast customer who, if they want decent broadband, usually doesn't have any other choice. The two discussions are nothing alike, and I don't think that's a particularly complicated point to understand.

Still, like "search neutrality" before it, somebody somewhere pretty clearly hopes that the idea of "app neutrality" will shift people's attention away from what the net neutrality conversation is actually about: highly-tactical telecom carrier abuse of an uncompetitive broadband market. Fred Campbell of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology (a policy group dedicated to "liberate the ingenuity and creative spirit of America’s high-tech entrepreneurs and enterprises through market-oriented government policies") also rushed to the "app neutrality" argument when the group recently suffered a small stroke over the FCC's Title II plans:
"Chairman Wheeler’s description of his plan in Wired is disingenuous. His proposal will not ‘ensure the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.’ Some of the biggest gatekeepers on the mobile Internet today are using their power over mobile operating systems to deny access to application developers, yet these behemoths are exempted from the FCC proposal. The fact is, application developers will still have to ask someone for permission before they can access the mobile Internet.

The Chairman’s plan is also discriminatory. He is proposing to apply privacy limitations on Internet service providers through ‘Section 222′ while exempting Internet ‘edge’ companies whose fundamental business model is to profit from collecting and selling personal information about consumers. The Chairman’s discriminatory decision to exempt the Internet’s biggest data collectors from this privacy provision appears designed to protect the Administration’s political allies in Silicon Valley, not consumer privacy."
You see, Google, Apple and Netflix's domination of the smartphone and streaming video market is bad, even though consumers still actually have an organic market choice when it comes to those services. AT&T, Comcast and Verizon's stranglehold on the broadband market is to be ignored -- even praised -- because, uh, well, I'm not sure. You'd think those endlessly espousing the value of "free markets" would find the latter situation equally untenable, since it often involves companies literally writing state telecom law to further insulate government-protected duopolies from said market freedom. Unless of course it's not really about loving free markets or meaningful personal values at all, and it's really just about offering any old flimsy, inconsistent argument to help carriers protect the revenues received from uncompetitive (and certainly not free) markets?

Filed Under: app neutrality, fcc, fred campbell, john chen, mark cuban, mobile ecosystem, net neutrality, open internet


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 7:36am

    So Blackberry wants independent software makers that have absolutely nothing to do with Google or Apple to spend manpower to build their same app from zero for their irrelevant platform. Did somebody ask if Blackberry is going to pay for those work hours? Oh no? Then STFU. If the developers don't think writing the app for Blackberry is profitable then nothing can or should force them to do it anyway.

    As for the morons trying to divert the attention from the real neutrality debate it is a losing battle. When 98% of the market couldn't care less about the ones whining about apps it's hardly going to be effective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    avideogameplayer, 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:03am

    Remember when it was called 'Crackberry'? I think the name is apt now, since they're seem to be on it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DOlz (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:12am

    If Blackberry went to Netflix and said we want to develope an app so our customers can use your service, I’m pretty sure Netfilx would work with them. Instead they whine that Netflix isn’t doing something that doesn’t make economic sense for Netflix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JBDragon (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:46am

      Re:

      Using Netflix as a example really is pretty dumb! They're whining about Netflix, a service that's on just about every platform you can think of. I'm sure on more platforms then just about any app I can think of. If they thought Netflix on Blackberry made any sense, they'd make a App on that one also.

      Forcing a company to make a App on your platform has nothing at all to do with Net neutrality. If this is the person heading BlackBerry, no one they are still having problems. They keep hiring Idiots to lead their company!!!

      The LAST thing any company should want is forcing Company's to write software on other platforms. When they were all high and mighty with BBM and keeping people on their own platform because of it. That are just fine for them. Only when everyone leave after a number of years did they support BBM on other platforms, Android and iOS. By the way, is it on Windows Phone? Not that I'm away of, why not??? How about TIZEN? They're really doing a piss poor job themselves. That's only one App of theirs and it's only on a few devices.

      If this is the person leading BlackBerry, they're doomed!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 10:06am

        Re: Re:

        They are already in their terminal days. The only possible way to prevent death is to open their mobile phones to another environment (android or windows phone I'd say) and focus on building a phone that can easily integrate to companies and homes alike while being secure and customizable for the company/home needs. Even that may fail. They are lagging behind this train for a while now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DOlz (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 11:52am

        Re: Re:

        I was suggesting if Balckberry wanted a Netflix app so badly, Blackberry sould write it themselves. I was also suggesting that Netflix might be willing to provde technical help. Finally I said that Netflix wasn’t writing the app themselves because it didn’t make economic sense for Netflix.

        I’m sorry I confused you so badly perhaps you should work on your reading comprehension.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 3:19pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I got the impression that JBD was agreeing with you...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            DOlz (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 3:36pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I also got the impression he was agreeing with my position. However; his response looked like he thought I was supporting Blackberry’s ridiculous position that Netflix should be required to write an app for them.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 23 Feb 2015 @ 9:56am

      Re:

      If Blackberry supported a remotely decent web browser, you would have no trouble watching Netflix on their devices.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:21am

    You know what would fix this? Blackberry running Android. Then they could get their app and eat it too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jake, 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:23am

    Two points of clarification:

    1. What's stopping Blackberry users from using their web browser to watch Netflix videos? If it's the lack of a Silverlight plugin for mobile platforms then that's between RIM and Microsoft. (And aren't Netflix phasing Silverlight out anyway?)

    2. Why the hell would anyone want to watch films and TV programs on a Blackberry anyway?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Not That Chris (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:32am

    Year of the Linux Desktop

    But if we make "app neutrality" a thing, perhaps with all those currently Windows only app developers being forced to make those same apps work on MacOS and Linux desktops, maybe this year will finally be the year! *fingers crossed*

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 9:37am

      Re: Year of the Linux Desktop

      My media center laptop uses Knoppix now. I'm too lazy to move out of Windows 7 on my main computer for the time being but my next computer's definitely getting reformatted and Linux put on it, especially after all that Superfish garbage.
      I only put up with Windows this long because I thought most of my games wouldn't run on Linux, but apparently you can get Skyrim and the first two Arkham games working with newer versions of Wine. Now I just need to get used to speaking Linuxese. ("Terminal emulator" instead of "command prompt", "ls" instead of "dir", etc.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 11:37am

        Re: Re: Year of the Linux Desktop

        You may want to look at SteamOS, for broader Linux game support. I don't recall which distro it is based on and I'm too lazy to look it up, but there is a pretty broad list of games that are officially supported on it. As in you can buy them and expect them to work without extensive research and tweaking.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 1:51pm

          Re: Re: Re: Year of the Linux Desktop

          SteamOS is based on Debian, and Steam itself can be installed on many distros.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Seegras (profile), 24 Feb 2015 @ 1:20am

        Re: Re: Year of the Linux Desktop

        Actually, about 80% of all windows games run out of the box with wine on linux. You can get this up to 90% with some config-fu, cracks and an implementation of gfwl: https://github.com/Seegras/wine/tree/work/dlls/xlive

        Still broken:
        - All games requiring Rockstar Social Club (stupid DRM).
        - A lot of games requiring DirectX 6 to 8, or glide.
        - Lots of troubles with .NET (which is expected, the .NET runtime is a piece of crap. For instance it blows up your registry from 300kb to 8MB).
        - Codec Hell. A lot of older games want to play movies in specific versions of codecs, which of course break newer games and vice versa. This isn't actually a wine-problem. The same happens on Windows.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:33am

    Hypocrisy?

    Hmm... I notice, on the blackberry website there is no BlackBerry Desktop Software or BlackBerry Blend for Linux...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 8:39am

    I see,

    When I am at a disadvantage, the market is anti-competitive, and I need laws to help me.

    When I am at an advantage, then I am just successful, and no one should get in my way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 4:15pm

      Re:

      If you place your right hand on a copy of "Game Theory for Dummies" and chant those exact words, pretty much any university in the US will give you an MBA.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 9:00am

    Blackberry, my friend, if you want apps, build platform that folks want, who will then buy your platform, which will then have enough users to want programmers to build for your platform

    Now, this is just me offcourse, but should revamp a platform that encompases the features and ease of whats out there now, but build from the ground up with privacy/security/open source in mind, and an obvious effort that your in it for the long haul, to show OTHERS how it's done..........then consider me a long term loyal and grateful customer......until then

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 9:02am

      Re:

      Let me revamp that by replacing "pen source" with, openess and freedom.......open source is a good start, software AND hardware

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 9:14am

    i assume Chen used similar amounts of total bullshit in order to get to the lofty position within a company that he currently holds? i also assume those who were interviewing applicants for that job were baffled by his bullshit, as is the usual case?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 9:15am

    I use to rock a 9700 blackberry. Loved the tactile keyboard and the really loved the holster for it. Could whip in and out without worrying about.

    Since I don't "do" apps in general and avoid all things Apple, I only converted to Nexus 4 when the res on BB camera became unbearable and I had enough of BES. Hello Activesync!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 10:07am

    Antitrust

    "The mobile app economy is far from open. It’s dominated by two companies. It is in the best interest of the entire mobile eco-system to address this duopoly while we are re-examining net neutrality. We should seriously consider requiring Apple to to allow and support 3rd party app stores and to require that Google continues to support and enable 3rd party stores and more importantly to integrate them into the Play Store, much as Amazon does with Marketplace integration."

    I don't see very much wrong with this. Even if it's not a net neutrality issue, there's no denying that Apple and Google together dominate the mobile market. The word "duopoly" is quite appropriate, and there's no denying that they're leveraging one market (mobile sales / licensing) to dominate another (app sales). An antitrust investigation, at the very least, would therefore be quite appropriate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mark Murphy (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 10:18am

    App Platform Neutrality vs. App Market Neutrality

    Reading Mark Cuban's post, and contrasting it with John Chen's post, shows that they are not describing the same thing.

    Mr. Chen is focused on what I'll call "app platform neutrality", somehow requiring developers to write apps for platforms other than iOS and Android. This would be akin to requiring developers to write apps for OS X and Linux instead of just Windows, in terms of desktop operating systems.

    Mr. Cuban is focused on what I'll call "app market neutrality". His concern seems less about the platform and more about the gatekeeper role that Apple plays with iOS and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Google plays with Android. He wants there to be other possible gatekeepers, in the form of having other app distribution channels be able to be peers of the App Store and Play Store. Right now, short of jailbreaking, AFAIK it is impossible to have a peer of the App Store. While peers of the Play Store exist (e.g., Amazon AppStore for Android), on Google Play-centered devices, those peers are second-class citizens. I'll be happy to go into details on the Android side, as deep as anyone wants to go.

    Of course, these pale in comparison to net neutrality, for the reasons posed in this TechDirt post and beyond. Of the two, app market neutrality comes closer to net neutrality IMHO, insofar as both are focused on the prospects of oligopolies to control content distribution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      NaBUru38 (profile), 24 Feb 2015 @ 2:39am

      Re: App Platform Neutrality vs. App Market Neutrality

      I agree, app market neutrality is an issue. Apple shouldn't prevent users from installing software by themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shmerl, 23 Feb 2015 @ 10:42am

    One word - interoperaibility

    > Netflix isn't discriminating against anybody. If BlackBerry wasn't currently a train wreck and had a big enough market share to justify their time, Netflix would surely develop an app for BlackBerry users as well.


    Or you know, if video industry wasn't so sick with DRM garbage, Netflix could offer it in normal formats and DRM-free fashion making it viewable on any platform without discrimination...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 11:36pm

      Re: One word - interoperaibility

      If just getting Netflix was his aim, he'd be smart to be going after the DRM requirement that forces the native app route in the first place. He would be shouting from the rooftops about how all the non-DRM requirements are already in the phone, but artificial restrictions are blocking him selling a Netflix capable phone. It would be a great example of how other businesses are screwed even unintentionally by the terrible and unworkable methods the content industry use to "protect" their products - and he'd get a lot of sympathy from consumers and developers alike.

      But, that's not what he wants. He wants his crappy platform to be supported for all apps so that he can regain the competitive advantages his company has already squandered. He doesn't want Netflix to be forced to support his platform, he wants everyone to be forced to do it, and Netflix just happened to be the closest, biggest target he could think of.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Shmerl, 24 Feb 2015 @ 12:01pm

        Re: Re: One word - interoperaibility

        Yeah, he surely didn't hide his intentions :) But my point was that Netflix themselves are quite far from being consumer advocates. They just just happened to be on the right side in the Net Neutrality struggle.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    lars626, 23 Feb 2015 @ 11:30am

    App neutrality. Great idea. There are basically three platforms; Android, Apple, and Windows. He wants to force me to make my app available on all three plus Blackberry, even if I don't want to.

    Blackberry users are a small specialized group these days. Why would I want to bother.

    How would this be different than forcing a specialty auto parts manufacturer who has specialized in Dodge add-ons to produce parts for a Volvo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wayne, 23 Feb 2015 @ 11:49am

    They have a point

    I think rather than app "neutrality" something like platform neutrality would be a great idea. To say that apple and android dominate because of superior products isnt necessarily true. I have a BB Z10 and my next phone will be a windows phone. The Z10 is a quality piece of hardware (for being two years old), nokia makes some great windows phones. I like the OSs on these systems and absolutely hate ios and android, android being the biggest peice of crap Ive ever used.Sure their phones always have the best specs, but it is usually overkill for the sake of marketing.
    Java became hugely popular because it offered something similar to platform "neutrality". Its hard to argue that Macs can only hold 10 percent of market share and Linux flavors some miniscule amount because they are bad OS's on bad Hardware. The popularity of the operating systems for PCs correlates with the amount of available software. Until recently, gaming on either wasnt even a possibility and it definitely influenced sales.
    I see it like only being able to watch certain TV shows on certain TVs. That would be ridiculous. Id have to assume that the proliferation of the internet would not have happened at the rate it did if you could only access it on a linux machine.
    I know these arent exactly apples to apples comparisons, but I do think it kind of sucks that I cant switch to a linux machine and continue to use the programs that I normally use on windows. I also think it sucks that if I want to have the most popular apps I have to switch to Android (Samsung) or Apple. The hardware on these newer smartphones are pretty similar with the exception of resolutions.My 2 year old blackberry runs android apps pretty well. Once the android emulator loads, the performance is absolutely on par with the s2 and 3 and iphone 3 & 4 (phones that were out at the time of launch and those released after).
    By having to program in a different language for each phone, of course the programmers are going to go where the money is. It would be great for consumers and developers if they could develop apps that would run on any hardware. The segmentation only benefits the OS marketability.
    Even if blackberry put together the most programmer friendly development process\environment, I dont think programmers would waste their time on 2% of the market. I probably wouldnt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 2:35pm

      Re: They have a point

      I find the entire notion of "platform neutrality" to be problematic. The only way to achieve it is to write apps for the common denominator of all platforms. That means that no apps could not realistically take advantage of the unique capabilities each platform has.

      The end result would be apps that are even blander and less capable than the ones that exist now, and the elimination of any reason for OS and hardware manufacturers to create new and unique features, resulting in platforms that are even blander and less capable than the ones that exist now.

      Also, from an ethical and public policy perspective, it's rather hard to come up with a reason for legally compelling companies to do it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 23 Feb 2015 @ 12:07pm

    I just created my own proprietary wireless network for voice and data.

    When should I be expecting Blackberry devices to support it? I could really use some solid dates so I can get my marketing materials put together.

    Feel free to call and schedule an appointment with me for details on how this network functions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TAKUMI (profile), 23 Feb 2015 @ 9:45pm

    "There are basically 2 doors that control the availability of apps to the vast majority of smart phones in this country. They are owned and controlled by 2 of the largest tech companies in the world, Apple and Google. If you want your app to reach any type of audience (yes there are other app platforms supporting phones on the margin, but they are tiny by comparison), you have to make Google and Apple happy."

    This makes his argument sound a whole lot like the background spiel for mediagoblin and Sandstorm and similar open source web apps/app platforms designed to "break you out of corporate media silos" and their potentially unreasonable content policies (to loosely quote a description from a random person on the internet) at first, except then suddenly going off in a totally different direction that totally misses the point. It's kind of surreal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.