If you can’t beat ’em, tell the government to force ’em to let you beat ’em. That’s the approach BlackBerry CEO John Chen wants to take to mobile software development. Today Chen wrote in a blog post on the BlackBerry website that he believes the issue of net neutrality requires the government to not only promote and protect neutrality not only among wireless and broadband carriers, but also among app and content providers.
Chen argues that it’s pointless to tell Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, and other carriers that they can’t discriminate against certain data while still allowing applications and content providers to discriminate against certain platforms.
Here’s a direct quote from Chen’s post:
Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. 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.
To put Chen’s points in simpler terms, he’s angry that services like Netflix and iMessage are not available for BlackBerry devices and says that the government should require the companies responsible for those services (and others like them) to stop “discriminating” against BlackBerry.
The executive points to BlackBerry’s BBM service as a shining example of a cross-platform messaging service, noting that it is also available to users on iPhones and Android devices. Unfortunately, the lackluster BBM app currently available for iOS doesn’t do a great job of inspiring confidence in cross-platform design.
Chen’s argument, of course, hinges on the idea that features like iMessage shouldn’t serve as selling points for their respective devices. It seems the CEO has forgotten that the point of creating proprietary software is to encourage people to spend money on a specific product.
If iMessage was available on BlackBerry and Android phones, Apple wouldn’t have much reason to keep improving it because it would no longer be helping them sell iPhones. To the contrary, the exclusivity of iMessage on Apple’s devices is the single factor keeping many people on iOS. To allow those users to take their iMessage account to another platform would be helping sell competing handsets.
As for Netflix and other services that are typically platform agnostic but choose to exclude BlackBerry, the problem lies in the investment of time and money required to build an app for a new platform. Are there enough BlackBerry users clamoring for a Netflix app to warrant the effort, or would it ultimately be a waste of time for the streaming service to pursue? Why should Netflix invest its own time and money on an app that won’t serve a user base substantial enough to justify the expense? Would the work essentially be charity for BlackBerry to help sell smartphones?
Of course, BlackBerry isn’t the only platform that would benefit from this. Suddenly, messaging services with Mac apps could also have to build a Windows app and a Linux app. Without a clear definition of how popular a platform needs to be to qualify for “neutrality,” could any company theoretically create a smartphone running a new operating system and demand that legislators ensure that software developers support whatever they’ve created?
As soon as one takes even a slightly closer look at Chen’s argument, it starts to fall apart and his true intentions become painfully obvious: he wants the government to force other companies to help him get people interested in his products again—a goal he has thus far been unable to accomplish on his own.
Perhaps if Chen worried more about attracting consumers back to his platform, he could provide Netflix and other companies with a proper incentive to support BlackBerry devices.