For no intelligible reason, I found myself watching Steve Jobs’ keynote at the 1997 WWDC in its entirety yesterday. Fifteen years later, it is still a sight to behold, for many reasons. Beyond his thoughts on the power of networked computing, where he essentially lays out Apple’s current iCloud strategy (and the need to own the hardware interface in a cloud world), Jobs ability to speak in an honest and unscripted manner is beyond impressive. It’s the type of performance that helps build trust in a company and its future; in my daydreams the keynote is something I imagine CEOs and entrepreneurs start their day watching. Of course, following the performance of RIM CEO Thorstein Heins, maybe they are.
The keynote also contains a segment that illuminates the current fortunes of both RIM and Microsoft. The keynote comes after Apple’s purchase of NeXT but before Jobs had retaken the reigns of the company. Jobs had essentially been trotted out to allay developer concerns about a struggling platform with diminished market share and no clear direction.
At the 13:00 mark, a developer asks Jobs how they can profit by filling the gaps in Apple’s ecosystem. After a seven minute tangent, the developer presses again and Jobs gives an answer. Jobs states that neither Microsoft nor Adobe have announced support for the just-announced Rhapsody platform, presenting an opportunity for developers willing to port their application suites; Jobs offers Sun’s purchase of Lighthouse (a notable NeXTSTEP developer) as a successful example of this.
Sound familiar? RIM and Microsoft need apps. Not only do they need as many apps as they can get, they need the right apps – the apps that consumers buy (or don’t buy) a phone for. On its Q4 financial conference call, Thorsten Heins noted that RIM can’t possibly build out every part of its BlackBerry ecosystem by itself, and would look to partnerships to fill the gaps. Heins was speaking specifically to major media partnerships, but the point still stands: there are certain apps RIM needs on its platform, and it can’t build them all itself.
If the original developers of these killer apps don’t have the resources or the interest to develop for BlackBerry and Windows Phone, there’s a huge opportunity for knowledgable developers on both platforms to step in. I’m not talking about knock-off apps (Cut The Angry Farm Rope With Friends, anyone?), I’m talking about straight ports of the apps that make iOS the dominant platform: Instagram, Instapaper, Infinity Blade, Path, Angry Birds, Temple Run, Netflix (well, maybe not Netflix).
Obviously, the market conditions for software development have changed quite a bit in fifteen years. Most apps are now free, not paid, making revenue deals between the two development houses more difficult. But I find it hard to believe that Infinity Blade on the BlackBerry PlayBook, or an ad supported/freemium Words With Friends for the new Lumia 900, would fail to recoup the development costs.
I’d love to hear what developers think, but in my mind, it’s a win-win. RIM and Microsoft get the apps that they need to fill out their ecosystem; small and talented development teams make money and get a huge profile boost for their next – original – application. Or as Jobs puts it: what are you waiting for?