App Neutrality Should be Part of the Net Neutrality Discussion

I bet you think the mobile internet is open.  That if you write the next great mobile app there is nothing that can stop it from fulfilling its destiny.  That if you create a mobile content app that blows away netflix there is nothing that can stop it.

Wrong.

There are basically 2 doors that control the availability of apps to the vast majority of smart phones in this country.  They are owned and controlled by 2 of the largest tech companies in the world, Apple and Google.

If you want your app to reach any type of audience (yes there are other app platforms supporting phones on the margin, but they are  tiny by comparison), you have to make Google and Apple happy.

You have to make them happy by the type, quality, subject matter and more of your app. You have to make them happy with your revenue model. You have to make them happy in more ways than most app developers can count.  And in reality,the good news is,  they both are playing nice these days.

But, and its just a hypothetical, what if they stopped playing nice ? What if, in order to drive up their stock prices they created their own version of a Fast Lane/Priority App Positioning for which they charged ? What if Google decided to sell by bid, positions in their store like they do ads ? What if Apple charged revenue minimums for them to distribute an app to their user base ?  I’m not saying these or any other changes are coming but if I were a betting person I would handicap the odds that at some point in the next 2 years both companies will look towards their app stores for new sources of revenue .  What happens then ?

The mobile app economy is far from open.  It’s dominated by two companies.  It is in the best interest of the entire mobile eco-system to address this duopoly while we are re-examining net neutrality. We should seriously consider requiring Apple to to allow and support 3rd party app stores and to require  that Google continues to support and enable 3rd party stores and more importantly to integrate them into the Play Store, much as Amazon does with Marketplace integration.

Lets open up the mobile app ecosystem and  make sure it stays open.

what do you think ?

46 thoughts on “App Neutrality Should be Part of the Net Neutrality Discussion

  1. I do see what your saying but I don’t it’ll happen. Lets just say Google starts blocking or starts putting restrictions on apps. Wouldn’t that start to make Apple products that little more appealing for users and developers? Then if Apple products are that little more appealing then more and more people might swing to buy an IPhone on their next phone update. Or choose to start developing on IPhone first and potentially exclusively. I feel like phones, more than any other type technology, is all about momentum. What I mean by that is if you see your friend with an IPhone then you are a lot more likely to get an IPhone. So 5 years from when the restrictions are put there could be very big implications. There seems to be a lot of risk attached to putting restrictions on apps just because of the other tech giant is always there staring at you.

    I kind of feel like its similar to the railroads. Union Pacific and BNSF are the two and only two railroads in the West… no one can come in that space. If one starts making life more difficult for the customer then there is no where else to turn than the other one. I think Goggle and Apple are in the same boat except the switch might be a little slower.

    Just My Thoughts.
    Victor

    Comment by Victor Cassone -

  2. I’m surprised a business man like you is saying this. Companies competed and won. Now you want to mandate this or that. How about Apple and Google start charging to make their apps and then a new player comes along that isn’t charging and people jump from Apple and Google to a new system. I wouldn’t want the government legislating anything about apps. I hope they keep their hands off it and let the market do what it wants. It’s not eggs and bread. If people don’t get an app it doesn’t matter.

    Comment by Page Trimble (@pagetrimble) -

  3. Pingback: More On The Subject Of Net Nuetrality And What It Might Mean To You |

  4. Mark your right, everyone knows Google and Apple dominant the mobile app market and will continue to for the years to come. Which is why I plan to have my application SketchU, be embedded in every android and ios device in the near future. SketchU allows users to take a picture of themselves and convert it into an emoji. We have already received an overwhelming response on this idea from http://www.joyinapp.com and plan to have it available to the masses in the near future.

    Hope you’re as fond about this application as we are, because you’ll probably be using soon.

    -Jack Stalte

    Jstalte94@gmail.com

    Comment by jstalte94 -

  5. nice post keep it up vist my blog http://hd9wallpaper.blogspot.com/

    Comment by ch Bilal -

  6. “what do you think ?”

    I think I haven’t thought about this subject as much as you have and I need to think about it some more. Good post.

    Comment by Jerry Stevens -

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  9. While I agree with the concept of what Mark is saying, there is one fundamental flaw with all of this. And that would be that there is no real neutrality on the internet, and therefore no real neutrality of apps would be possible. The real problem here is economics. There is simply too much revenue generation done on the internet to ever have true neutrality. I am not part of the occupy movement, I don’t have a problem with corporations making money, to a degree. However, its the same old story that has always existed. Large companies, and individuals with large amounts of power will never truly allow neutrality in any market place, as this would undermine, well, their “thrones” of power. Lets take a real look at the net. What is the net, really? Is it simply a place you buy things on? Talk to friends on? Stream media? Its is all of those and yet so much more. The internet is a place for idea exchange. Work is done. Money is made. Services are offered. Media is consumed. Policing is enforced. Anarchy exists. It is, in a VERY real way, a world superpower. We are not far off from the day that literally everything you do, will in one way or another, solely be done, and solely exist, on the internet. It will be its own country, with its own set of laws, and its own virtual military to enforce this laws. The money made through it will have to be protected. So when you truly understand this, then ask yourself, do you ever expect true neutrality from a government? Its a great concept, but one that to this day has never been realized. It would be great to think “hey, nobody controls the internet” but that is incorrect. The internet is not all the systems connected to it, no those are simply “clients” of the internet. The REAL internet is a collection of massive routers. You want to read Marks latest blog? How do you get there? Your system connects to DNS servers provided by your ISP, (or other DNS servers you can chose) and the ip address resolution infrastructure provides an IP address to get you there. Who controls that? ONE company, with ties to ONE government. There can never truly be any form of neutrality while this system is in place. It is far to easy for one controlling force to be able to control what websites you can go to, and what websites you cannot. Sure, right now, they are not doing that. But its coming. I realize I am somewhat off topic, and probably to some, my post sounds odd to extreme. But make no mistake, that while we are not at this point yet, one day we will be—-> Whoever controls the internet, will control the world.

    yours irrevocably,
    Guy Fawkes :)

    Comment by jaegs47 -

  10. I think that the web has basically become a modern-day Tower of Babel. Everyone is speaking a different language on mobile platforms even if they are using the same transport layer. Meanwhile, dev kits and market share largely determine which platform that developers and companies will support. HTML 5 could bridge that gap but native app development is preferred for accessing more of the device’s native features. However, it is only a matter of time until self-service application development begins to shift the balance of power. The future of app ecosystems will hinge on how those services are implemented. Microsoft has already built a service like this so I’m not alone in this concept. Either way, imagine the implications for automating application development. If you empower consumers to drive their own application services and content, it changes everything. Custom development will be there for some time but a percentage of that can be automated by building out modular templates that tie code together based on selected services and features. I keep thinking about building it myself but it would be a pretty sizable project. 😊

    Comment by inlinev -

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  12. yes!

    Comment by Blake Chinn -

  13. Mobile apps are the dumbest waste of time ever. No benefit with an app. We at ourstudio.co can build anything using pure .php and jquery that can be found on any device anywhere. Everyone in this world is focusing on apps. The true winner is cloud apps or web apps. Cuban I bet you I could build your broadcast.com website in 1 hr from scratch! Long live Greenville Ave!

    Comment by nathandelle -

  14. If google/apple do move in that direction, would it incentivize more development with html 5/web apps to avoid such problems?

    Comment by Dana Ward -

  15. As someone in the internet radio business Mark Net Neutrality is an issue important to me. I totally agree that mobile competition needs to be enhanced. Although the question I’d be interested in hearing your take on is this: if we did break up the duopoly on mobile space, is there not an existing company with establshed revenue and market position (Yahoo Amazon come to mind) that would just swoop in and pick up the new market share? In other words would breaking up the duopoly create opportunity for smaller providers to gain a messurable footprint in the space?

    Comment by Gary Ayd -

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  18. From a user perspective, one of the key functions of the two giants, and their app clearing houses, is to vouch for the reliability and harmlessness of apps available on their platforms. Whether absolutely true or only perception, end users like the idea that a “higher power” has provided some basic guidance. This may also be true of sites like Cnet. Apple takes the control thing to an unnecessarily level and has, as a result, seen Android eat at least part of its lunch. So, in effect Google has acted as a modifying influence, even if its “open platform” has slowly morphed to a more controlled environment. Will the big two be able to put fences around their portals and charge to get in? The internet is famous for handing posteriors to fresh MBAs who thought they could monetize as-yet unrealized assets.

    Comment by Murray Schultz -

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  21. I think you are spot on. Us developers are at the mercy of how these giants wake up every morning. For me personally they don’t allow donations to happen in-app, so we moved to pure web app (https://moderngiver.com). I personally am really excited at the progression HTML5 has been making and that you don’t have to rely on an app and can run purely on the mobile web (if it makes sense for your model). Once HTML5 can access native functions that apps can (camera, microphone, etc.) I think we are going to see a large shift in the landscape. Just my 2 cents.

    Comment by Jon Taggart -

  22. This is an interesting thought and discussion. The one thing that I would add is to those who say it wouldn’t or couldn’t happen. Many times we refuse to have a plan B because we say it would never happen. Then when it does we have to react. Sometimes it is too late. Just remember we always think things won’t happen-sometimes they do. I like the proactive approach and appreciate that Mark has thought about this and is sharing it. No one know for sure what will happen-money talks and people follow!

    Comment by June Dwyer -

  23. Pingback: Mark Cuban: Let’s dramatically increase the government’s role in the app ecosystem | Twitchy

  24. Native apps are one way to get to the Internet but there is also another: the web browser. Apple, nor Android nor Google, do not have control over the websites people visit. If companies like Apple make it less economical for content providers to deliver their content to their customers then content providers will begin to explore other options. Personally, I don’t think users care how they get their content, they just don’t want to have to work hard to get it; so, from a user perspective if it’s just as easy to open a browser and go to Netflix as it is to open the Netflix app then they won’t care.

    So as much as I agree with you that the native app ecosystem should be open, it would certainly make my life easier as a developer, I don’t think any of the gatekeepers will do much to jeopardize their current position. If they do? Great! then I can go back to making HTML5 apps and won’t have to worry about creating several different versions of the same app to appease each platform.

    Comment by Przemek Lach -

  25. Blaccard – I agree that android mobile is more-so open than Apple but they can still do better. Duopoly is the problem and I’m sure we’ll learn about some bloody battles between them years from now for over stepping anti-trust laws. Antitrust ][ starring Mark Cuban ? Let’s write it…leemanbrothaz@gmail

    Comment by leemanbrothaz -

  26. I agree with Mark, in that Apps are replacing the Network. More and more people are using the internet via App, ever actually using the free, open network these apps transit across.

    Apple and Google are in unique positions, as first movers, to dominate and monopolize this space – not unlike Microsoft did on the Desktop until the Feds jumped in.

    Comment by Lon Baker -

  27. Google android would never do what you are saying, Apple would. Look at all the tools Google has created for people to develop. As a developer for Google Glass, I think they are awesome. You can side load android and Glass apps, so Mark you need to do some homework, The android platform is open source and will stay that way. When ChromePhone hits the market all bets are off.

    Comment by blaccard -

  28. In the unfortunate event that Google and Apple go down this road I think it would lead to their slow motion demise. It would take time but developers would abandon their platforms and sponsor something else. I hope they are not so stupid as to try something like what you describe. We’ll see though…

    Comment by John Bowden -

  29. Mark, I disagree.

    I think an app which brings TRUE value to the end-user doesn’t necessarily require Apple/Google’s full support. This type of app is extremely rare, however, and I will concede to your view that Apple/Google’s ‘blessing’ are required for the vast majority of apps.

    In saying this, I do not believe that Apple or Google is under any type of duty to open the mobile app space and to promote third party markets.

    After all, we live in a free market system and any regulatory scheme requiring Apple/Google to open the space would just bring inefficiencies to the space. Why should private companies be forced to act outside of their interests? What other duopolies would then be regulated and forced to open the space to foster creativity and a free market?

    As the end-user, we (the consumer), have created these giants by supporting their products and pumping their cash reserves.

    This statement is qualified, however, as the mobile space as a whole is a ‘galactic’ system which is undergoing change at an incredibly fast pace and is unstable in that sense.

    What I mean is that another player (Samsung, Sony, etc) can come along and ride the ‘wave’ of a new trend and take market share at a rapid pace – I wouldn’t feel secure investing more than a few percentage points of my portfolio in that space in one company.

    So, if Apple/Google were stifling creativity/function by making it difficult for apps to come to market, it would allow another player that was fostering creativity to ‘swoop in’ and take market share via the Android platform. The space, as mentioned, is dynamic and can shift in a matter of months with an innovative idea which the user gravitates to.

    Even the notion that Apple/Google would create such a ‘toll’ system for apps is, frankly, quite far-fetched. Apple/Google’s interest lie in retaining and growing their existing market share – by fostering creativity and then tailoring/moulding the apps to fit the desired message, Apple/Google positions itself to retain its death grip on the market.

    Why would Apple/Google place such restrictions on mobile apps for a few hundreds millions in revenue? To do so would place their very position at risk as the creativity and function will find a way to express through other, smaller companies.

    In regards to your duopoly argument, I think the real question is whether government will intervene in favour of competitive markets when faced with the question of allowing a merger between the top two tech companies ‘big brother’, creating a monopoly in the space. Of course, this is a question decades in the future as the system matures.

    Comment by honourslawstudent -

  30. @ businessshark2
    For Apple as well as the other companies, those are opt-in. In Apple’s case with Touch ID you don’t have to use it. Passcodes can still do the trick, it’s a neat option though for those who want something secure, it’s store on the hardware and has to have a rediuclously high resolution for you to unlock in through there (which would mean that by hacking it via password/pass code would be better). On the hacking side, unless you’re the NSA or (insert government equivalent), it would be easier to hack through other methods and actually disable it. Grabbing the thumbprint wouldn’t be as easy or worth while for anyone when CC info, SS, etc. would do better (only in wanting to incriminate someone would those prints be any good).

    Comment by kirielson -

  31. I agree. However, the link between net neutrality and app store neutrality isn’t just that they are analogous. Past experience shows us that the carriers see control of their network as a way to extract rents from app makers.

    In the early days of mobile data the available apps were determined by what devices shipped with. Since carriers controlled which devices could connect to their network, they controlled which apps were on the network as well. And indeed if Google wanted it’s J2ME search app on a feature phone, they had to negotiate with AT&T or Verizon (not just Samsung).

    Thankfully, Apple struck a deal with Cingular (which at the time was struggling) that gave them a very favorable terms. Cingular became AT&T, and given the iPhone’s success, Verizon had to turn to the even more open Android platform to have a competitor. Those events combined with the now dead net neutrality rules, led to the current system whereby the worst penalty that carriers now extract is the bloatware they still demand gets installed on the mobile devices they sell.

    Without net neutrality, expect the carriers to attempt to gain more control over the apps allowed on devices that connect to their networks.

    Comment by Matt LeVeck -

  32. I think this problem is really just a small sub-branch or a much larger problem with the big tech companies, which is that they are beginning to own tons of data and information about every one of their customers, and we are giving into their demands blindlessly. Apple comes out with a thumbprint password system, and now they have millions and millions of customers’ fingerprints. Google already has insane amount of data about our daily lives. The fact is, we allow these companies to CONTROL the way we live our lives, and at some point I think it’s all gonna come crashing down with some huge security breach of some sort – kind of like Target’s recent hack – just on a much larger and more serious scale: being locked out of devices, stolen identities, etc. It’s all connected.
    http://www.blogsharktank.com

    Comment by businessshark2 -

  33. The barrier to being a carrier is insanely high, while the barrier to being a mobile device + mobile os is significantly lower, as the market is demonstrating (cyanogen, new chines devices manufacturers, firefox, ubuntu, etc). If apps distribution really became a problem someone could sniff out that opportunity and tackle it. If net neutrality is nixed, who has the means to capitalize on a neutral offering? I’d rather not fragment the issue and have a really loud voice on net neutrality.

    Comment by Sam Khavari -

  34. When you say that this duopoly should be addressed, I sure hope you’re not referring to government coercion

    If a closed ecosystem were such a problem for users on either platform, device “jailbreaking” would be rampant. It isn’t. If it were, I could see the incentive in allowing 3rd party app stores.

    Comment by Jason Vasquez -

  35. One option is to develop responsive web-apps that play nice with mobile browsers; this allows any developer to bypass app stores and not be dependent on them for success.

    Comment by Gregory Rueda -

  36. Wow that didnt come out right, my tablet is crap for typing. And maybe its the weed or the lack there of. Maybe if I used xanax id be a better person like the morally upright of the world.

    Comment by hypocrisyrealized -

  37. What about the companies that own the plumbing? Some of the mobile networks are offering customers unlimited use of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Can Verizon & ATT can start charging app developers for heavy usage on their networks? Especially if they see an app with significant revenues. What`s to stop these massive companies from bandwidth-throttling an indie developers apps?

    Comment by Gregory Rueda -

  38. Android already supports third-party app stores (even whole ecosystems, in the case of Amazon’s). Android also supports sideloading of apps directly, without any sort of app store support required. It’s mostly Apple that’s the closed garden.

    Out of curiosity, how would one “require” Apple or Google to support third-party ecosystems?

    Comment by Isaac Leese -

  39. Absolutely, they both openned the doors wide to new developers by making their app writing software free to dominate the market respectively. Now that they have each achieved that goal we have a ogilopoly nearing of the likes of the cable companies. To much power in the hands of the few are never a good idea because it drowns out the voices of the many. This has happenned with churches and our government, but those are another can of worms all together that shouldnt be opened because they always end ugly. People should have an avenue through the internet by which their collective voices can be heard and real change can be made I’m this country by hearing and speaking the truth. But I just forgot what I was saying because the new jersy shore is on so I forgot what I was saying.

    Comment by hypocrisyrealized -

  40. This two mobile markets are owned by private companies. Never were public or government owned. So let them do whatever they want to do (as long as it’s allowed by law). But from publisher perspective you have to always be aware of that kind of environment. Newer put all “eggs to one basket”.

    Comment by Marek Jacenko -

  41. I somewhat disagree. The problem with App stores and saying they should support 3rd party App stores is quality control for Apple. Apple wants to make sure that even if you’re getting the crappiest of apps, it’s on the maker and not at the expense of Apple. While it may seem like some customers would separate that, just look at In App Purchases and how that went.

    However, for Google on the other hand, that actually makes an interesting case. Android’s open however they have special rules with the OHA that says if you modify it too much, you don’t get the Google Play store. That’s what Amazon has done and has essentially created their own ecosystem. Does Amazon deserve to have their App Store compete with Google even though they’re not on their platform?

    Comment by kirielson -

  42. Barriers to entry are toooo high, at least for now. When apps go the way of Atari 64 cartridges, I want to be invested in telepathic satellites.

    Comment by Scott Norris -

  43. Add to your repertoire not only native apps, but also mobile browser functionality, desktop browser, a facebook app and other means to distribute your technology. On top of those, my platform also allows to to “phone” Shouts in from any phone (without even having to be online) and to “email” them in using any phones’ Voice Memo App:-)
    Best wishes
    Norm
    ShoutOmatic

    Comment by Norm Levy -

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