Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 22nd Aug 2013 22:18 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

"BlackBerry has a thriving ecosystem with BlackBerry 10." That's what CEO Thorsten Heins said this May at a developer conference before revealing that users had a choice of 120,000 apps from its still-young app market, BlackBerry World. The problem is that over a third of those apps come from a single developer. Yes, a Hong Kong-based company called S4BB has published just under 47,000 apps to BlackBerry World since launch. That's not a good sign of a "thriving ecosystem."

This is what happens when the technology press lets itself be dictated by companies. The companies were the ones who started touting quantity over quality when it comes to mobile application stores, and the press played right into their hands. In a statement to The Verge, BlackBerry confirms the issue, but states that it's not actually an issue at all. Of course they say that. They want to keep touting that number.

Companies wanted this to be a numbers game, and now it is. Go into any mobile application store, and 99.9% of the applications in it are crap. Comparing numbers reveals nothing. It never has, and never will.

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What fascinates me about third party apps on phones is that most of the time, these seem only to exist in order to fix the issues of the underlying platform.

Take Instagram, as an example. I've been long wondering why people would want an app that merely duplicates the basic photo-editing capabilities of most modern cellphones OSs. Only recently did I find out that iOS's bundled photo editor was extremely crude, much more so than its cousins on other platforms. Now I know how this thing became popular.

If I take a quick look at the apps which I installed myself on my dying Android cellphone, I'll find an office suite and a PDF reader (because Android does not support common e-mail attachments properly), software to backup SMSs, calendar events and contacts without going through Google's servers (because you can't do that natively), a tool to flush the battery calibration data as it curiously tends to auto-corrupt over time on that OS, an app store that offers other payment options than insecure banking cards... Well, you get the idea.

The only things which I wouldn't expect to find pre-installed or available on a website are a language-learning app (because mobile SoCs and network connections are too underpowered for doing it on a website), a timer that makes ticking noises (because that's fun and reminds you that it's running), and an app that displays up-to-date timetables about French trains (which curiously aren't easily available on the SNCF website).

Looking at others' phones running various OSs, I'll find the same patterns : mostly functionality that should really be supported by the OS natively or done through a website, some stuff that can't be done online due to hardware limitations, a couple of gimmicks, and the native code equivalent of Flash games (because, you know, Flash player doesn't run well on phones).

On tablets, I see the point of third-party apps more easily, as they enable some tricks that cannot be trivially done using websites or bundled apps, such as image or audio manipulation or other moderately complex content editing. But on small-screen phones, is there a good reason for their existence? Or are they just a source of platform bugfixes, funny gimmicks, annoying "Hey, we also have an app!" pop-ups on websites, and endless number bragging contests between OS manufacturers ?

Edited 2013-08-23 07:10 UTC

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