Irony: BlackBerry CEO calls for app and service neutrality

Amidst the hoopla of Microsoft’s Windows 10 event yesterday, I missed a thoughtful letter posted on the BlackBerry blog. CEO John Chen penned it, sharing his thoughts with the FCC on net neutrality. He’s for it — I get and applaud that — but he wants to extend neutrality to apps and services as well. I don’t get that. What I see from that stance is a bit of sour grapes over the fact that BlackBerry phones have only a fraction of the relevance they had just a few years ago.

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Chen seems to think that since BlackBerry opened up its BBM software for other platforms, it’s a perfect example of his company leading the way for “app and service neutrality.” I suppose it is, but it’s also the only way his company could get a significant amount of new users on the service, so I doubt [company]BlackBerry[/company] had noble policy intentions when offering BBM for [company]Apple[/company] iOS, [company]Google[/company] Android, and [company]Microsoft[/company] Windows Phone.

Somehow, that equates to Chen asking the FCC to look at Apple’s iMessage, in hopes of requiring the company to release it for other platforms:

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.

How ironic. For years, the security provided by BlackBerry’s services and the fantastic message system it offered were indeed proprietary and helped build BlackBerry into the mobile leader of the time. People wanted what only BlackBerry could deliver. Now that BlackBerry has lost much of its user base to iOS and Android, there’s a cry for app and service openness simply because far fewer are looking to BlackBerry for their mobile device, app and service needs.

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Do I get frustrated when using a BlackBerry — or sometimes a Windows Phone — because an app or service isn’t available? Absolutely. But legally persuading, or even forcing, companies to bring those missing experiences to a platform isn’t the answer. And sadly, I suspect Chen knows that.

I have some sympathy, of course, for BlackBerry. Heck, as someone who actually stood in line to buy a Palm Pre in 2009, I’m still sad that Palm’s webOS never panned out. I also prefer cross-platform apps and services over single-platform ones.

But what has made the mobile revolution so exciting and vibrant is the pure competition among the many platform providers, with each having their own twist on how we’ll use the computers in our pockets. In turn, developers have had the freedom to decide where to invest their time and energy in bringing us great mobile apps for the ecosystem of their choice. They should continue to do have that freedom.

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Sorry, Mr Chen, but it’s too late to complain about a situation that BlackBerry itself gained from in the past; now that BlackBerry is the fourth horse in a two to three horse race, this thought just appears desperate. Companies are wise to invest in creating experiences where their users are; it’s a smart return on their investment.

I’d love to hear from developers on this thought: How would you feel if you had to support a certain platform or device? I’m guessing not very happy.