You want to create a mobile OS. You possess all the skills to get started and you have a vision. This vision is what drives you to create your own experience. Maybe you don’t like the swiping gestures of BlackBerry 10, or maybe you just hate how app icons are displayed. Whatever the reason, you want to make your mobile device your own. You code, design, and troubleshoot for countless hours and then…you’ve done it. You load your operating system onto the device of your choice, and the screen comes to life. From the boot screen, to the settings menu, this operating system is uniquely you and you want to share it with the world. You franticly jump on your website, and tell the world that you’ve done it! You have made a new experience for smartphones, you share your vision with the world and you’re ready to let the public experience your creation. You prepare your masterpiece for the masses, and after release you eagerly watch that download counter…and what do you see? 0 downloads. Your heart sinks, and you realize a fatal flaw. Where are the apps?
Obviously the scenario above is a romanticized version of how a mobile operating system comes to be, but ultimately you get the picture. Our reliance on apps has made the mobile landscape almost, bland and without culture. Sure you have a choice in today’s market, but only two are the most viable. Apple’s iOS as well as Google’s Android have stolen the scene and ultimately you’re going to have to get one of their phones in order to keep up-to-date with the latest software. This is ultimately a shame, and really limits what we’re used to experiencing. Every operating system, whether it be mobile or not, was created with a specific vision in mind. Whether it’s productivity, battery endurance, performance, or some sort of visual experience, limiting the amount of viable operating systems we use is ultimately limiting creativity and culture. How many more unique experiences would we have if it was viable for small companies and individuals to make their own operating systems? Obviously the problem is apps, and at the root of that problem is development. Nobody, myself included, wants to develop the same application over and over again for various platforms. With less platforms, developers can rejoice in spending more time adding features and fixing issues, rather than creating redundant products. At the end of the day though, there is one possible solution, and BlackBerry 10 was actually one of the first to touch on it. What about instead of apps for a platform, we had a platform for apps?
BlackBerry 10, for better or worse, has a built-in Android runtime. Some people find this feature controversial, blaming it for the downfall of the platform in general as it allowed some Android developers to ignore native BlackBerry 10 apps altogether. Nonetheless, the concept is an interesting one and lends itself to my idea of a ‘Utopian Mobile Future’ of sorts. What if instead of having apps for a platform, we had a platform for apps? This might sound crazy to some, and obviously there’s a lot of details that would have to be worked out, but I think this idea could work. We’re already seeing Android apps being ported to Windows 10 with little issue, emulators that allow Android apps to run on PC, and initiatives like Apache Cordova which can aid in porting web apps to Android apps. All these third-party solutions indicate that there is a market for apps that can run on almost anything, so how might this app platform work?
My idea for this app platform comes in the form of a universal app store (UAS). Simply put, any mobile operating system would come pre-loaded with this UAS, just like you would see Google Play on an Android device. You’d be able to browse and download apps, purchase movies and shows, and download eBooks just like you would on any platform. The beauty of this UAS is that it would run on anything. You could make some in-app purchases in your favourite app on your PC, and then use that purchase on your mobile device. This would allow you to use virtually any operating system you want, without worrying about compatibility and better yet, developers would be able to make content even faster with just a single app store to worry about. All of this sounds like it’s impossible, but I don’t think that it’s nearly as far out of our reach as we think it is, from a technical standpoint anyway.
Many developers are more than familiar with coding up applications that can run on multiple platforms, or at least can be ported with ease. In addition, with the Internet of Things, we’re seeing an increased amount of standardized ways of programming, especially in the home automation space. If we were to somehow focus the technically savvy individuals in the industry on this platform for apps idea, I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be done. The biggest obstacle in my opinion wouldn’t actually be the technical side of things, but rather the business side. There are typically commissions paid to the companies that own their respective app stores, whenever an app or in-app purchase is made. Obviously this is a massive stream of revenue for these companies, something they definitely wouldn’t want to lose out on. In addition, there may even be hardware implications that these companies would have to abide by in order to allow the UAS to function properly. Taking away the revenue of the individual app stores and then putting limitations on manufacturers is not a very good way to get them onboard with the idea. Some sort of revenue sharing may be the answer, but even getting device manufacturers to consider this idea may take years.
Having a platform for apps would be the ultimate end to the severe separation that we are experiencing in the mobile space. Although it won’t be easy, I believe that it may be the only way for unique experiences like BlackBerry 10, Ubuntu Touch, and even Firefox OS to thrive in the mobile space. Much like how we’re seeing indie games rise through the ranks in the video game market, independently developed mobile operating systems could put a unique spin on how we interact with our devices, while keeping our workflow intact through a plethora of apps. We use our devices for hours each day, wouldn’t you like to have an experience that is uniquely yours?