BlackBerry chief calls for ‘app neutrality’ to better compete with Apple and Android

22 Jan 2015

John Chen, CEO and executive chairman of BlackBerry

Net neutrality should not target internet carriers, it should go for the content providers, according to BlackBerry CEO and executive chairman John Chen.

Amid a game of political tennis with ‘net neutrality’ playing the unwitting roll of the tennis ball, US President Barack Obama again spoke of the issue in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

This has seen the debate re-emerge online as consumers, activists and stakeholders all declare what they think is the ‘right’ thing to do.

Given the ethos behind Obama’s push for all internet consumers to enjoy unweighted internet service – basically not allowing different internet carriers to slow down certain online services as a way of promoting their own, paid-for services – it’s surprising to see so many versions of what’s ‘right’.

The latest industry figurehead to show his hand is Chen, who announced BlackBerry has been “in the midst of a turnaround” since he took over, as the company moves away from solely hardware-based operations.

Content crossover

Key to that, Chen claimed, is BlackBerry’s strategy of app and content neutrality. By that, Chen means that content produced by BlackBerry is available across all platforms.

So BlackBerry Messenger and his company’s secure BES12 mobile device management software can be used on Android or iPhone devices, not just BlackBerrys. Chen then pointed the finger at Apple, Netflix and other major content providers for not doing the same.

“Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service,” he said, adding that Netflix “has discriminated” against BlackBerry customers by not making its streaming movie service available on the devices, with others doing similar.

Two tiers is a problem

“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 criticised at the carrier level.”

It’s an interesting argument but there are obvious points to deal with. Firstly, this is clearly a BlackBerry executive promoting a cause that would infinitely improve BlackBerry’s business.

Secondly, app creators are not only tech behemoths. Many are single developers, small teams and start-ups. The costs behind developing apps for multiple platforms would push many to the brink, and be simply unsustainable for others.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic