Facebook's Zuckerberg feels the pain of mobile app development

Facebook's Zuckerberg feels the pain of mobile app development

Summary: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has just given TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington an exclusive half-hour interview to correct what looks like a TechCrunch screwup: it claimed Facebook was secretly developing a “Facebook phone”. (We should all be so lucky....

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has just given TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington an exclusive half-hour interview to correct what looks like a TechCrunch screwup: it claimed Facebook was secretly developing a “Facebook phone”. (We should all be so lucky....) One of the things that emerged – and which I’m highlighting because either you didn’t see the interview or fell asleep before the end – is that Zuckerberg is feeling the pain from the chaos in the smartphone market. He says:

today it’s like, Ok, we want to go build an app. Even a new product that we launch. We’re working on Questions, and it’s like OK. So we build Questions for the web, then we build the ‘m’ site for Questions, then we build the Touch HTML5 version of questions. Then we build the iPhone version of Questions, and then the Android version, and then maybe.. (Elliot Schrage: iPad…) Right, the iPad stuff. And then we don’t work on a RIM version and then a bunch of people are pissed because it’s not available on their phone. It’s kind of a disaster right now. I really hope that the direction that this stuff goes in is one where there’s more of a standard.

Of course, this isn’t a novel observation: people have been pointing out for years that the smartphone operating system space has too many competitors, and that it has yet to enjoy the sort of slimming down that has taken place in the mainframe, minicomputer and PC markets. Arrington is clearly no mug and must already have noticed this fact himself. Why, then, would he think there was room for a “Facebook phone” as well?

As for Zuckerberg, it’s a useful reminder that he has moved Facebook to Silicon Valley, and he now sees the world in the same way. A bystander would be shocked to discover from his comments that the two leading smartphone operating systems are Nokia’s Symbian (42% of sales in this year’s second quarter, according to Gartner on August 12) and RIM’s BlackBerry (18.2%). Android was third (17.2%) but may already be second, followed by Apple’s iOS (14.2%) and Microsoft’s declining Windows Mobile (5%).

The choice of which smartphone platforms to support is actually worse than these numbers suggest. As well as Symbian, Nokia also has MeeGo, a version of Linux that is a combination of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin. RIM is also developing a new smartphone platform based on the QNX real-time operating system, which it owns. Microsoft is doing another “re-set” to move from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7, though both actually have Windows CE underneath. And the world’s biggest IT company – Hewlett-Packard – has bought Palm and is expected to launch devices based on WebOS.

Will developers who can’t support five platforms suddenly start supporting 10? Answer: not unless seven or eight of them can be programmed at once using Java, Adobe Flash or whatever, or delivered via HTML5 websites. The last one is what Zuckerberg went on to mention in the TechCrunch interview. He said:

it’s pretty hard for us to build a lot of new products and build them all for these different platforms. So if something like HTML5 becomes a big standard then that would be hugely valuable for us. So we’ll help push that. I imagine that over the long term that will be the solution to this problem that you’re talking about.

This might cut the legs off the galloping app market, but maybe not completely. From what I’ve seen of smartphone users, a lot of them would be happy to pay 99c for an “app” that only comprised a snazzy icon that linked to an HTML5 website.

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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16 comments
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  • Couldn't help commenting on something you wrote: "it has yet to enjoy the sort of slimming down that has taken place in the ... PC markets. "

    Do you REALLY think the world would be a better place if the mobile phone market were dominated by a single company (like Microsoft dominates the PC market)? Isn't that what people have been complaining about for years?

    In my opinion, it would be best to let companies innovate in the mobile hardware and OS space and create open standards like HTML5 to ease the porting of services to multiple platforms.

    Also, most people in the industry seem to agree that browser-based solutions will win over native apps in the long term which will mitigate the fragmentation problem on the OS level.

    Markus Bäckström
    http://www.thirdpresence.com
    markusbackstrom
  • @markusbackstrom
    > Do you REALLY think the world would be a better place if the mobile phone
    > market were dominated by a single company (like Microsoft dominates the PC market)?
    > Isn't that what people have been complaining about for years?

    Thanks for the comment, but you're asking about my *opinion* when I pointed out a *fact*. It's generally not a good idea to confuse the two.

    Why didn't you say: "like Microsoft dominates the PC market, Intel dominates the chip market, Cisco dominates the comms market, IBM dominates the mainframe market, HP dominates the printer market, Google dominates the web search market, eBay dominates the web auctions market, Apple dominates the MP3 player market, Linux dominates the web server market...."?

    I find it rather strange that so many people have their knickers in a twist about Microsoft but they don't appear to notice or care that other companies dominate other markets. Why do you think that is?

    Otherwise my point -- as a rational observer of reality -- is that tech markets start with a lot of alternatives and end up with a small number, of which one is usually dominant. This de facto standardisation isn't ideal, but it provides a lot of benefits for consumers. I won't be surprised if the mobile phone market slims down somewhat over the next 5-10 years. You're welcome to be as upset about it as you like.
    Jack Schofield
  • Maybe people begrudge Microsoft its particular monopoly because its products are no damned good?
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • > Do you REALLY think the world would be a better place if the mobile phone
    > market were dominated by a single company (like Microsoft dominates the PC market)?
    > Isn't that what people have been complaining about for years?

    Maybe it is HOW they came to dominate the market. It wasn't because they had a better product. It was because they made a deal with the manufacturers that every computer they made would have windows pre-installed. Or, maybe it was because they forced a competitor out of the market. Or. maybe they used illegal, or unethical tactics to remove the competition. However they did it, it was certainly NOT because they had a better product. Competition brings about innovation, and levels the playing field.
    ator1940
  • Web deliverd apps are fine when you are on your home network with bundled data rates, not so great when that 99 cent app you "paid" for just cost you 5 dollars to use because of sky high roaming charges.
    1000201957
  • @BrownieBoy
    > Maybe people begrudge Microsoft its particular monopoly because
    > its products are no damned good?

    That doesn't fit the facts, which is that Microsoft products consistently won magazine reveiws as the best products. Windows had quite a bit of luck but it won the market fair and square.

    @ator1940
    > Maybe it is HOW they came to dominate the market.

    More likely, it's because most people are remarkably ignorant about both how Microsoft won and how other companies achieved their own dominant market shares.

    > It wasn't because they had a better product.

    Wrong, actually. But you are probably making the typical misake of thinking only in purely technical terms. You should read up on the meaning of "the whole product" and how markets actually work.

    > It was because they made a deal with the manufacturers that every
    > computer they made would have windows pre-installed.

    An approach that was tried by other companies including Digital Research and IBM.

    > Or, maybe it was because they forced a competitor out of the market.

    Which is what every other capitalist company does all the time. If you are referring to Netscape, Microsoft won that battle on merit. Otherwise, Microsoft's behaviour has been far less exclusionary than, for example, Apple or, historically, IBM, to name but two. If you wanted to be logical, you could find lots of other companies to hate.

    > Or. maybe they used illegal, or unethical tactics to remove the competition.

    Or maybe they didn't. On the whole, Microsoft has been just about the most legally-behaved company in IT for the past 15 years, during which time its every move has been closely scrutinised (at huge public expense) by the US DoJ and the EU. Even before that, it's behaviour wasn't noticeably less ethical than, say, Oracle or IBM or Intel or Apple.

    > Competition brings about innovation, and levels the playing field.

    That's a religious mantra.
    Jack Schofield
  • @Jack,
    >> Windows had quite a bit of luck but it won the market fair and square.

    Probably true. But having won that particular battle, it then abused its position to win other markets, such as that for web browsers. And that one was most definitely *not* won fair and square.

    Note that I said "battle" not "war". Statcounter is reporting that IE market share has just dropped below 50%. It will undoubtedly fall further still. That's what happens to Microsoft when it has to compete on anything like a fair basis.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • "it won the market fair and square" - This is a joke, right? A good one too, really funny.

    "I find it rather strange that so many people have their knickers in a twist about Microsoft but they don't appear to notice or care that other companies dominate other markets. Why do you think that is?"

    Because Windows sucks, and because Microsoft keeps charging for it over and over again by forcing users to pay for the latest "improved" release, which invariably turns out to be just as crappy and bug-ridden as the previous release was.

    Why don't consumers "get their knickers in a twist" over the other examples you cite? Because HP makes very good printers, IBM makes very good mainframes, Intel makes very good chips, on so on, and so on... while Microsoft continues to make a rubbish operating system.

    "Microsoft products consistently won magazine reveiws as the best products" - I'm still waiting to head what kind of "best product" review Vista won. I'm still waiting to hear what Microsoft is going to do to compensate consumers who were forced to purchase Vista, only to find that it was such a steaming pile of excrement that the word "Vista" will not even be uttered by any Microsoft employee.

    "If you are referring to Netscape, Microsoft won that battle on merit" - Another joke, and this one is particularly hilarious. I find it refreshing that ZDNet UK includes humor in their blogs.

    jw
    j.a.watson1
  • @Jamie,
    "If you are referring to Netscape, Microsoft won that battle on merit"
    I too read this line with incredulity. see my blog reply on the subject:
    http://www.zdnet.co.uk/blogs/apples-are-not-the-only-fruit-windows-are-for-gazing-out-of-not-at-10014376/ms-tablet-the-new-tie-in-for-ms-products-maybe-10020686/
    adamjarvis
  • @adamjarvis - Thanks, your blog post makes a good read, and provides interesting information. The history of Microsoft "winning on merit" is clear, and disgusting.

    jw
    j.a.watson1
  • Personally, I wouldn't be quite as upset about Microsoft being dominant in the desktop OS market if they actually released software that isn't riddled with flaws. My personal belief is that they are so comfortable being on top, that they've let their quality slide over the years. Vista was a wakeup call for sure. But even after that, they continue to make the same mistakes that should have been avoided from previous learning experiences. I spend way more time maintaining installations of Windows, than I do other more robust operating systems like Linux. For example and a fact: One serious flaw of Windows is its failure to clean up temp files automatically. They simply build up and eventually things begin to break. Linux has a service built-in that does this automatically. This is something that should be built in to Windows however even with Windows 7 it still leaves temp files laying all over. Another example and a fact: Windows 7 doesn't handle PAE correctly. Microsoft's solution is to install a 64-bit version of Windows to use more than 4 GB of memory. But why, when Intel designed its architecture with PAE to handle more than 4 GB in 32-bit mode, which Linux handles perfectly.

    These are just a few to scratch the surface. I used to like Microsoft products, and used them solely. However I made the switch to other products after years and years of wasted time maintaining and troubleshooting Windows and other products. Many people just deal with the issues, and that's fine, if they want to waste their own time. Nothing is perfect, but when flaws continue to hang around unfixed over years and years, it's time to look at other products.
    Chris_Clay
  • @BrownieBoy
    > That's what happens to Microsoft when it has to compete on anything like a fair basis.

    Microsoft competed against Netscape and won. It's now competing against Firefox, Google, Apple and Opera, among others, and the competition is much tougher than it used to be. This is both true and logical, though I appreciate these are not things that interest you.

    @J.A. Watson
    > "it won the market fair and square" - This is a joke, right? A good one too, really funny.

    It is not only the truth, it is the opinion of the both the FTC and the US Justice Department. (Microsoft was investigated over potential market-sharing between Microsoft and IBM.) There are plenty of expert books on Microsoft and competition. Have you thought of reading a few? I think you would benefit a lot from finding some informed sources.

    @adamjarvis
    > I too read this line with incredulity. see my blog reply on the subject:

    Would it be impolite to wonder how old you are? You don't actually understand the history at all..... Of course, I know not everybody had the chance to visit the Netscape campus and interview senior figures including Barksdale and Andreessen, which I did, but there's still plenty of documentation available for the people who want to find out the facts.
    Jack Schofield
  • Jack. You clearly don't appear to have read Judge Penfield Jackson's 'Findings of Fact' which can be found here:-

    http://www.albion.com/microsoft

    and contrary to your earlier assertions Microsoft are still not lily white, as evidenced by their activities surrounding ISO document standards - I would like to see you defend that behaviour.

    Perhaps the reasons why we focus on Microsoft are because we are more directly affected by Microsoft in our routine daily lives, and seek choices which always seem to be (have been) deliberately disadvantaged by Microsoft using it's monopoly and financial muscle. Microsoft is perceived as working actively to limit our freedom and choice, for example the almost impossibility to purchase to purchase a PC without Windows installed - the so called Microsoft tax.

    To the vast majority of every day users, Microsoft have established the fiction that computing and IT is Microsoft and vice versa, and most of that majority have little or no understanding of the level of security and protection they must install to remain safe on the Internet and the negative consequences of this on their experience.
    The Former Moley
  • @Moley
    > You clearly don't appear to have read Judge Penfield Jackson's
    > 'Findings of Fact' which can be found here:-

    I'm also aware that Penfield Jackson was accused of bias, his decisions were overturned and he was removed from the case. His "facts" are not necessarily facts.

    > contrary to your earlier assertions Microsoft are still not lily white,
    > as evidenced by their activities surrounding ISO document standards
    > - I would like to see you defend that behaviour.

    I followed this closely at the time, and in my opinion, the ISO result was a good one for users and a good one for computing. The behaviour of the pro ODF camp was equally if not more despicable, since it included vilifying personal attacks on people they didn't think agreed with them. As a matter of fact, I don't use either document format, and I really don't care what you use. However, that was one point where the ugliness of the mob became all too apparent to innocent bystanders.

    > for example the almost impossibility to purchase to purchase a PC
    > without Windows installed - the so called Microsoft tax.

    It's always easier to demonise another party and then blame it for your failure to fix your own problems. There's nothing to stop anyone from selling or setting up a company to sell Windows-free PCs. In fact, Microsoft has driven down prices (to the great benefit of users) and created a huge ubiquitous PC-ompatible platform for a free rival to exploit....

    Meanwhile, Apple seems to sell plenty of machines at inflated prices, and the bankroll from the Apple Tax now stands at more than $50 billion. It looks very likely to become the world's largest company (by market cap), and its behaviour is absolutely perfect, right?

    Finally, I didn't say Microsoft was lily white. However, it is absolutely true that Microsoft has been under tight US government supervision for more than 15 years (and more recently under close observation by the EC, which can retrospectively make things illegal 15 years after the event), and the only *rational* conculsion is that it is behaving legally. The hobby horse you appear to be riding is now a very sad old nag ;-)
    Jack Schofield
  • @Jack,

    > Penfield Jackson was accused of bias, his decisions were overturned
    > and he was removed from the case. His "facts" are not necessarily facts.

    Jackson's decisions may have been overturned by later court rulings, but those same courts all reaffirmed his findings of fact. So, they are necessarily facts.

    > The pro ODF camp was equally if not more despicable [than Microsoft's]
    Did the pro ODF camp go in for committee stuffing on a huge scale? Did they offer bribes to companies to sign-up to ISO committees and vote a certain like Microsoft did in Sweden?
    On top of all Microsoft's wrong-doing leading up to the ISO vote itself, it now appears that they're not even bothering to implement their new "standard" in their own products.

    > Microsoft has driven down prices
    Yeah? When and how? Apart from on netbooks, is an OEM copy of Windows cheaper now than it was say 10 years ago?
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • @ Jack,
    > Microsoft competed against Netscape and won

    Yes, but not fairly, which was my point.

    It's all in Judge Jackson's findings of fact.

    Discounting the price for copies of Windows to OEMs that promoted IE over Netscape is just the most well-known example of Microsoft abusing their Windows monopoly to hurt Netscape.

    Another example is giving priority on the Windows desktop to ISPs that supplied IE to their customers IE rather than Netscape. Microsoft tracked how many of an ISP's customers used Netscape rather than IE, and if that number went over a certain (very low) percentage, then the ISP got whacked with a higher price for Windows. Not only that, some companies were told by Microsoft that they must not even install Netscape internally! Yep, if you wanted a deal off Microsoft back then, then they got to tell you how to run your company.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41