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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Coronavirus opportunity: Developers, stay home, and clean up your code

Code streamlining and cleanup is something every single app developer and the platforms themselves should be focusing on this year.

Due to the global coronavirus threat, technology companies -- as well as many other industries -- have been canceling their conventions and other events. It started with Mobile World Congress. Then, it expanded to Facebook F8, The Adobe Summit, the Game Developers Conference, and more. In addition to canceling events themselves, many large tech companies such as AT&T, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, and VMware have made changes to their travel policies to prohibit or severely restrict international travel.

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Late yesterday, Google canceled its I/O conference, its most important developer event of the year, which was set to be held May 12 to May 14.

The other big conferences that we have yet to hear about are Microsoft's Build (May 19 to May 21) and Apple's WWDC (June 3 to June 7). These three conferences, including Google I/O, are of significant importance to the overall software development community, as it relates to the Android, Windows, Mac, and iOS platforms, which represent tens of billions of dollars of revenue for developers and the technology giants that run the respective app stores. 

To put this in perspective, Apple's worldwide gross revenue in its App Store in 2019 was $54 billion and Google's was $29 billion for apps sold on its platform, according to Statista. That's quite a lot of money on both sides -- even when you consider that Apple and Google take 30% revenue cuts on the transactions, returning 70% of the revenue to developers.

While not an app store giant like the other two, Microsoft's Build is particularly crucial to Redmond due to the yearly call to arms and priority setting for developers in its cloud development ecosystem. At this event, the company is expected to launch release versions of developer kits for the Surface Duo, a dual-screen Android device. Pre-release SDKs and hardware emulators for the Surface Duo (as well as for the Surface Neo, another book-like device that runs on Intel chips and a new Windows 10 X variant) have already been seeded in mid-February.

I think that it is likely that, if positive international progress regarding containment of the virus does not happen in March, and cases in the US spread significantly beyond what is being dealt with in isolation now, we may very well see the cancellation of these events. The cancellations, as well as the supply chain issues that are already affecting these companies, would have a cooling effect on the industry, one that we have not seen the likes of in a very long time -- if ever.

If these essential developer events get canceled, then developers -- both the ones writing apps and the ones at Apple, Google, and Microsoft -- and their partners -- should stay home and clean up their lousy code.

Look, let's face it, both iOS 13 and Android 10 (for the devices that support it) are extremely buggy. Multiple daily crashes on the supposed release versions of these mobile environments are commonplace for end-users -- and quite frankly, Mac OS X and "stable" non-insider builds of Windows 10 aren't much better. 

Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been pushing the envelope to get a new OS release out every single year now for several years ongoing, adding new features of questionable value. And it seems with every single iteration, there are increasing numbers of bugs. 

I'm not saying that we should halt all progress for a year, or that we shouldn't have new versions of these operating systems next year to load onto new hardware. However, if we aren't going to have developer conferences -- or if we are going to hold them virtually, then we should consider that the focus of development this year should be to get all these platforms as reliable as possible. In 2020, Apple, Google, and Microsoft need to think very carefully about new features they want to add in these platforms and apps versus bugfixes and streamlining of code.

While I have often criticized Facebook for its mishandling of customer data -- the company ended up on our yearly Tech Turkeys list -- I have to give it credit for putting significant effort into streamlining code for their mobile apps. Facebook Messenger, which recently underwent a considerable code simplification, is reported to be twice as fast and only one-quarter of its previous size. I'm hoping this streamlining effort at Facebook extends to all its apps, including the main Facebook mobile app and Instagram. 

If we are going to be spending more time telecommuting, and away from public spaces, then it behooves us to have computing platforms and apps that are as reliable and as secure as possible. In situations like this, our technology may be the only thing that allows us to maintain ties with other people. It may end up being our primary interfaces to getting important things done, such as shopping for critical supplies, primarily if our movements are restricted or congregating in large areas becomes impractical or inadvisable.

What will you do instead if your business travel is canceled due to the coronavirus threat? Talk Back and Let Me Know.