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Need competition on mobile platforms, not just between mobile platforms

December 28, 2012

Remember the Jurassic age of packaged software?

You know… you’d go to the store, buy a shrink-wrapped box of software that you took home, opened up, and installed on your computer using 3 ½ or 5 ¼ inch discs? Then came CDs and DVDs and man, you were really flying! That software would practically install itself.

Plus, you’d have the hundreds of pages of instruction manuals that you’d use to line your bird cage. And fortunately, the manuals came in multiple languages so your Japanese Cormorant would feel right at home next to your Spanish Eagle.

And the box itself would make a lovely planter.

Those days are long gone and we now rapidly download small “apps” (the younger, swifter sibling of a shrink-wrapped “application”) on to our mobile devices.

And with the exception that your cormorants and eagles no longer have a multi-lingual place to poop, all is well.

Or is it? Outside of the bid cage liner, there is also one other important relic of the shrink-wrapped age that went the way of the Dodo… retail competition.

Back then, you could choose from any number of computer stores, electronic shops or even office supply stores to get your applications. Those stores would compete for your business and the honor of selling you shrink-wrapped boxes.  And no matter where you bought the software, if it was the right version for the right home computer, you were good to go.

But that no longer holds true. With apps, there is pretty much one place to get it, the native app store.

Small wonder why so many people don’t like the app store experience, there isn’t any competition! There are no market forces driving the native app stores to really innovate and offer the consumer additional value.

We often talk about competition between mobile platforms, but we rarely talk about competition on mobile platforms. Each mobile platform is effectively a mini-monopoly, with only the native store allowed, or properly positioned, to sell apps. (appreciating that Android is more open than iOS, but nothing on Android comes close to GooglePlay.)

The result is as you’d expect, the app retail environment is a poor user experience, and it concentrates wealth into the hands of very few developers.

The Mozilla vision of the app retail environment is very different. We see a future where many apps stores can pop up on your mobile device and provide a differentiated experience.

We want to see competition on just between platforms, but actually on platforms where third-party app marketplaces have room to innovate.

For example, competition would help improve the overall search and browse experience that is roundly panned by end-users. Beyond that, you could imagine competition between app retail outlets based on unique content, customer service (ever try to call an app store with a question or complaint?), or even price.

This type of competition would benefit developers because they could find and be distributed by a retailer that shares their values, content interests or goals. And obviously, it is better for the end-user who ultimately gets a better app retail experience.

The role of HTML5 is key here because that is the main language all mobile OS’s support. Admittedly, at the moment HTML5 support is patchy across mobile platforms, but that will evolve.

And when it does, there will be a langua franca for app retailers to build their presences, iterate on innovation, and find ways to out-do each other to provide the best possible experience for developers an end-users

True, with the technology solved, there will then be the question of a platform’s policies that may not allow alternate app stores.

This is where Mozilla will lead by example with FirefoxOS. Sure, we’ll have our own Firefox Marketplace but the device is open, so want other app retailers come on-board and set up shop. If users flock to it to that alternate app store, all the better!

By allowing app retail competition on FirefoxOS, we’ll prove how great the app retail experience could be and lead the way for other platforms to open up to other app stores. Consumers will demand it!

The end goal is a world where app stores, providing native or HTML5 apps, can compete openly on any given platform and succeed not because they’re waddling monopolies, but because they soar in their offering.


From → Apps

  1. I like the idea of competition in App Stores but am having trouble seeing how Firefox OS is different than Android in this regard. If they both allow for alternate stores on their platform but typically come with an official one. How is either one better than the other in allowing competing stores?

  2. Good post. I will be facing many of these issues as well.

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