> Why Not a Platform for Apps? -
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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.

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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?

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Matt Lawrence

Author Matt Lawrence

Graduate of a Computer Engineering Technology program, and overall geek. I've always had an interest in writing and video production, revolving around technology. I currently own and operate my own web development & design business, Digital Dynasty Design, and submit content here on BerryFlow. If you want to talk tech, comment on my articles, or use my Twitter - @mlproductions01

More posts by Matt Lawrence
  • susan

    For those of us not on an iOS or Android phone platform, that would be fantastic. I’m on BlackBerry and I know a few people on Windows phone and we’d like a little more flexibility. I have most of the apps I need and want. Same thing with Smart TV. It doesn’t have to be Apple TV or Roku or Google based to work well so allow that same option for app platforms.

  • Nabil

    Great idea. Only issue is being ‘Universal’, not just in terms of installing an app but in terms of experience and utility across all technology ecosystems.

    Being a Technologist I am a fan of BlackBerry’s vision which revolves around security, privacy and communication. I am also fan of Apple’s vision which revolves around one thing and that is utility of end user.

    Apple created everything of their own not just the hardware or software but they created eco-system for their every device which is universal in Apple’s world but not for people using BlackBerry or Android, why? Because every platform has its strength and they only focus on that.

    What you are talking about is only possible if all platforms could talk to each other, natively, in all aspects, so that experience is same in every aspect for every user including customers, developers, manufacturers and all stake holders.

  • Paul S.

    I couldn’t agree more. If Google would provide BlackBerry World with a Google Play Store app (and services) then they stand to pull in additional revenue on app purchases and app subscriptions that are made through Google Play Store. Great article, now we just need someone important at Google to read it.

  • You would recommend Blackberry at least make Facebook app working. It time by time cannot send messages and I cannot see replies to my comments. And a camera app… guys, please make autofocus work. So stop be romantic, just do you job. Nobody cannot accept half-working apps now. I like my Blackberry Passport but feel I am a looser since a lot of things work poor.

    • Matt Lawrence

      I agree. I know there’s a lot on the plate of the developers at the moment with the Priv, but they should really be working on some of the smaller stuff, on occasion. The details mean a lot.

  • selian

    Whay for OS 10 can’t use theme?

  • Fernando

    Hi Matt,

    The idea is brilliant! One of the more interesting articles that I’ve readen in a long time.

    • Matt L

      Thanks for the feedback!

  • runzlord

    I might be the only one that disagrees with you but I really do

    Uniqueness does not only play a role in the way the operating system looks or works but also the way the app works for the operating system…

    Take whatsapp for example…
    Whatsapp varies between the way it looks between android, Windows phone, ios and Blackberry. You don’t want to be seing material design on Windows phone :-/

    Now take BBM for example…
    BBM varies with the way it works on different platforms….
    It send messages to HUB on Blackberry while on android it gives a notification…
    Then BBM has an ‘always on’ icon on android notification center to keep up…but works different on other operating system like ios…

    So UAS may not work like that……. I have an operating system idea…and if UAS exist…it means apps won’t work for my operating system the way I want! And that won’t make my operating system different from existing ones that much. One way I want my operating system to be diff is to eliminate pop-up menu, and any short menu needed to just come up slides down from the notification bar… But we all know this is rampant on the Android operating system. So UAS developers (who would likely focus, test and eliminate bugs on a bigger operating system like android while/but building for all operating systems) would not build apps without pop-up menu for my operating system therefore not making it unique….

    • Matt L

      That is one disconnect from app developers. If you want all apps to look a certain way you may be out of luck, but at the end of the day if you want a BlackBerry Passport for the form factor, you’re still going to want apps. I don’t mind having a few of my apps be very ‘Android’ looking if I can get that functionality working.

      One solution might be some sort of system where OS developers can send in design guidelines, or even GUI assets in some way.

    • runzlord

      Matt the point is, we can’t have one app. If its looks and works the same accross all operating systems, or operating systems are now built for apps instead of apps built for operating systems. These operating systems would be little or not unique at all.

      But if developers tend to make their OS more unique, that means we are still gonna have apps that says “avaliable for ios and android only” which is no diffrent from what we have now.

      Even at now we still have apps that are avaliable to a particluar device and can’t work on the other, even if both use android operating system.

    • Matt Lawrence

      There will always be exclusive apps. Some platforms offer certain benefits for being exclusive and there’s no way to stop that. The fact that there are so many people using Android and iOS is why most apps are cross platform with so little exclusivity anyway, developers can’t afford to shut out millions of potential customers just for some exclusivity bonuses.

      Also, I don’t agree with your point about how operating systems are made for apps rather than apps made for operating systems. This can be seen most recently by Google introducing material design to Android, and then the apps slowly integrating flatter colours, newer menu options, etc.

      BlackBerry 10 is also a great example of a unique operating system. The main example being the BlackBerry Hub. If there were proper APIs setup, then any operating system could access these notifications and make innovative ways to interact with them, just like the Hub does in BB10. This goes for a lot of other things too, as an example, curved screens could be used in a unique way, and large screens could introduce new ways of running multiple apps.

  • We already have a platform for apps IMO, and BlackBerry also touched on it when BlackBerry 10 was launched, it’s called HTML5.

    One app, one platform that’s accessible to all OSes.

    • Nick Coper

      As said… the problem is not really technical.

    • Matt L

      HTML5 is having issue getting traction in the mobile space because apps typically need to open a webview, and there is a performance gap because the ‘browser is running’ all the time.

    • Christian

      I agree HTML5 is our best hope. But it hurts the development community and Apple’s “End to End” Control. Google Play Services is the only method Google can use to reign in product control.

      Blackberry’s stock Web browser provides the best experience I’ve seen. So much so that I’ll save a shortcut to my homescreen over downloading the App. Saves memory space on my phone too.

  • Toneytone

    Awesome article bro. Putting innovation back as the top priority is much needed in the mobile device arena. Thats what would happen if you put everyone on a level playing field when it comes to apps.

    • Matt L

      Thanks!

  • wnyjackson

    I’m on board with this. I have been thinking for a long time now that the future of mobile is agnostic. We should be able to choose any OS and any hardware without being married to a particular ecosystem. The mobile landscape should be borderless, seamless and customizable. If I like apple hardware but BB10 OS I should be able to customize my experience as such and bring along all my apps and purchases and premium services. It’s really the only equitable and fair way to ensure all players can survive and consumers have maximum choice and the best experience.

    • Matt L

      I think that Apple would be one of the hardest to get onboard with this. They work very hard to provide a ‘gated community’ to their customers.

  • Unfortunately, this is neither a new nor a novel idea. Its just one that everyone important has completely given up on. What you’re basically describing is “write once, run everywhere” which was embodied in Java (server/desktop) many years ago. By extension, J2ME had the same idea for embedded/mobile devices.

    The problem is that the “common platform” doesn’t really feel or act “native” on any platform. You have to test/debug it everywhere, and frequently have to violate the abstraction of said common platform to properly integrate with all the features of the host system. This often results in losing many of the benefits. There also tend to be performance problems. You’re essentially coding to the lowest common denominator of everyone, and it doesn’t provide for the best user experience.

    Of course it also doesn’t help that no major platform has it in their best interests to actually support such a system.

    • Matt L

      For this idea to come to a reality it would require some work on behalf of the device manufacturers. More accurate simulators, and a very efficient app delivery system would be key.

      BlackBerry 10 can run games and it’s essentially emulating Android. With some work from some major players, a native platform for apps could run with little performance impact.

  • maurice

    I would love that… a matter of fact.. I was thinking about it a wile ago… then every Os could exist… But I don’t think that the big companies would allow it… because of money! It doesn’t make their Os so special anymore.

    If that should happen.. BB10 could be big again… Ubuntu could have a real chance.

    • Matt L

      Reducing their expenses, and sharing revenue may be the answer. Someone would definitely need to do the accounting, as well as weigh in any and all benefits to get the manufacturers to even consider the idea.

    • DaedalusIcarusHelios

      Apps can be separated into UI and logic. The UI can have certain “themes” for different platforms, with one being a catch all for the non-specific platforms defined. So they could appear different based on the platform.

      The logic could use a runtime, or it could be compiled in real-time for the specific device. With devices being more powerful, this may be feasible. Alternatively, pre-compiled versions could already be available behind the scenes on this UAS.

    • PML

      BB10 is the best mobile OS which has been slowed by BlackBerry’s slow rise from the aches. I use all of the platforms including Windows 10 mobile and I always go back to my SE Passport, Q10, Z10, Z30 or Leap as my daily driver.

  • Elie Bader

    What you’re saying makes sense, even though I’m not a developer, as long as it brings OS10 to a better position. By that Blackberry can do a new curved device with Qwerty sensitive touch keyboard, with all the high end of screen resolution and processor and battery.
    All the luck mate.

    • Matt L

      If this idea were to ever become a reality, you might just be able to buy a BlackBerry device without an OS installed, and then you’d be able to choose one at will.