My Two Cents on BlackBerry's 'App Neutrality' Nonsense

John Chen, CEO of BlackBerry, discussing his concept of 'Application/Content Neutrality':

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.
Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system.

Remember when BlackBerry (née Research in Motion) joyfully joined the Apple Developer Program and launched its market-leading BlackBerry Messenger service for iOS as soon as it was possible to do so back in 2008?

Wait, that never happened. Must have been an alternate universe.

Instead, what happened is that BlackBerry refused to open its messaging client to Apple's users. Why did they not do so? Because they were the market leader at that point in time.

What has changed in the intervening years? Quite simply, iOS and Android have given BlackBerry the old heave-ho off the top of the mountain. As it turned out, the BlackBerry Messenger service was not valuable enough to keep customers loyal to the platform. The superior user experiences provided directly by Apple and indirectly by Google won the war. The market spoke, and it spoke clearly--BlackBerry was no longer relevant for today's users.

Chen's statements are ludicrous. He attempts to conflate 'net neutrality' with his bogus concept of 'app and content neutrality'. Despite having similar-sounding names, the two concepts are worlds apart in meaning.

The basic underlying principle of net neutrality is that the so-called 'gatekeepers' of the Internet (e.g. Internet Service Providers) should not be allowed to interfere with the natural open market. Take, for example, the time that Comcast (allegedly) throttled Netflix's video streaming performance in order to get Netflix to 'pay a toll' for good performance. That's a perfect example of a gatekeeper exerting undue influence on determining the winners and losers in the market.

The basic underlying principle of app and content neutrality, as proposed by Chen, appears to be the idea that marketplace participants should be required to make investments that benefit their competitors. On the face of it, this is an absurd requirement. Is there a minimum threshold for a competitor to qualify for this standard? Should Apple and Netflix be required to spend the time and resources supporting Ubuntu's smartphone platform? How about Firefox's smartphone platform? Companies would quickly go out of business if they had spend money to support every conceivable competitor.

On the one hand, you have a concept that is better for the market by preventing gatekeepers from strangling market players. On the other hand, you have a concept that is worse for the market by requiring market players to take actions that are detrimental to their own businesses.

Chen is correct about one thing, though. There is in fact a 'two-tiered' ecosystem--the good choices (i.e. iOS and Android) and the terrible choices (i.e. BlackBerry and Windows Phone). Microsoft learned its lesson by realizing that, in order to stay relevant, it had to make its services available everywhere. BlackBerry should do the same without trying to force others to pay for its own business mistakes.

Folks, don't be fooled by this nonsense.