Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Opinion

EU case against Google is bad for developers

  • App developers are hopeful that the European Commission considers the crucial issues for their industry. (Photo: freestocks.org)

In nearly five years since co-founding the App Developers Alliance I have spoken to more than 1,000 app publishers and developers worldwide. They have uniformly been smart, focused builders of products and services that solve problems. They are direct, intense and very opinionated, and they frequently disagree - passionately.

So I was surprised a few weeks ago when I met more than a dozen app publishers in Berlin and they all agreed that the European Commission’s investigation of Google and Android threatens their businesses and Europe’s successful mobile app economy. None of the publishers were Alliance members or professed adoration for Google or Apple. But they know their own businesses and industry and they are acutely aware of who is helping them succeed.

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The publishers recalled the dark days of Android, when phone manufacturers customised operating systems and device features so extensively that app publishers could not even hope to keep up. One publisher recalled a policy of building new apps for only three or four screen sizes. If the app did not render correctly on one screen size “we just gave up”. 

A Finnish developer who now lives in Berlin forlornly recalled Nokia’s demise from global market leadership, which he blames on its fragmented and inconsistent devices. “Developers just couldn’t code in different languages for every device. It was financially unsustainable for publishers so we stopped writing apps for Nokia.”

When Android was relatively new publishers were constantly scrambling when device operating systems would update in ways that broke their apps. Maintaining app quality across Android was nearly impossible, and though Android devices were selling well the publishers were struggling to find resources to improve their apps and frequently doubting their commitment to Android.

The publishers praised recent improvements to Apple and Google APIs and app stores. “I am German,” said one publisher, “but I don’t care where these companies were founded. I only care that they are investing in us – building tools and APIs that are free until our apps reach a certain number of users and it becomes affordable for us to pay. You cannot put a price on lowering the barrier to entry.”

The publishers also welcomed continuing improvements in advertising technology and services, cloud storage, transaction processing and fraud detection. The relatively simple business they entered five or 10 years ago has become much more complex – and all competitors have had to raise their game.

With regard to the Android investigation, the publishers had three concerns. First, they do not want to see backsliding toward a more fragmented Android environment or any outcome that discourages Google (or any platform) from efforts that simplify coding or the offering of free tools and APIs. Apple created a unified environment from the start; Nokia never did and it killed the company. Android started out like Nokia but has worked hard and invested aggressively to make Android great for developers and customers. It worked.

Second, publishers do not want to discourage investments by new competitors. Several are working with the Amazon App Store and one publisher recently removed his app from the Google Play and Apple App stores in favor of an exclusive deal with Samsung’s Galaxy App Store. This was exciting for others to hear, as it offers new business opportunities without creating new coding challenges.

Third, the publishers simply not consider pre-loaded apps as significant competition, and they are not sure why the commission is focusing so much attention on pre-loads. The publishers pointed to dozens of independent options for mail, maps and messaging as indicators of continuing opportunity to compete against platform and carrier pre-loads. If pre-loads pay the bills so that platforms and carriers have more money to support app entrepreneurs, which is a great trade-off for these publishers.

The concerns from these publishers made clear to me that this diverse and opinionated community of app creators has more in common than I'd ever thought. Together we're hopeful that the European Commission considers the crucial issues for our industry so that we can continue to thrive here in Europe.

Jake Ward is president and CEO of the Application Developers Alliance

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