Sahas Katta over at SkatterTech muses over whether apps that are exclusively available on one carrier will hurt Android’s popularity. At this point I don’t see much derailing the incredible growth the OS has seen, but let’s take a look at the argument.
Several apps are now only available on a particular carrier. For example Qik Video Chat is only available on Sprint devices. Bing, Blockbuster, and Skype will not be on the Android Market unless you have Verizon service. It’s interesting that Katta compared this fragmentation to Apple’s total control of the iOS App Store. The restrictions are not the same. If you have an iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad), either the app you want is or is not available. There is no competing service (this year, anyway) that is going to offer Skype while other App Store users cannot download it. But there is also no way anyone will be able to get some apps at all, unless they do some serious modding to the devices.
Katta goes on to lament that the ideal is any user can download any app to any Android device. (This is already not the case with AT&T restricting sideloading, perhaps as a way to keep pushing their exclusive on the iPhone. Enjoy it while it lasts, AT&T.) Yes, this can be worked around, but the mainstream user does not want to mess with code and APKs and maybe even plugging the phone into the computer via USB.
Anyway, Katta suggests that not being able to download an intended app, due to carrier exclusivity, could lead to confusion. Well, a simple phone call to customer support is going to clear up that confusion and lead to resentment instead. But I’m not sure the resentment is going to be toward the Android OS as a whole. I mean, raise your hand if you think your carrier is awesome.
As to Skype, the Verizon exclusivity arrangement will be changing and there will be some version of it in the Marketplace soon. Qik’s video live streaming is available to all, but video chat is restricted to Sprint subscribers. (Then again how many of the other carriers have devices with front-facing cameras?) And as for Blockbuster and Bing, how many people are clamoring for those apps? Blockbuster is circling the drain as its physical video rental model joins the buggy whip and the antimacassar in the museum, while Bing only got noticed for replacing the default Google search engine on Verizon’s Samsung Fascinate.
While I agree with Katta that should many popular apps or services become carrier-exclusive, the Android experience will indeed decline, I do wonder how likely that would be. Wouldn’t apps developers see the downside in signing such a deal and annoying their potential users? Would an exclusivity deal bring in users who demand particular apps, or would they simply throw up their hands and buy an iPhone once AT&T’s monopoly ends?