This just in … Bazillions of apps not the key to success

One of the ideas that has had currency in Canonical (perhaps in other parts of the Ubuntu community too, I’m not sure) is that getting more applications available to Ubuntu users will be a critical part of getting Ubuntu into mass use. This was well presented by mpt at UDS-N in this presentation (starts about 2:49).

Personally, I think this is the wrong focus. I think it’s critical that things people use every day are brilliant and reliable. My daughter’s number one issue on Kubuntu (our Ubuntu flavor of choice) is random X (actually Intel driver related) crashes. Until the core parts of Ubuntu (platform and high use applications) are rock solid and interoperable with their proprietary counterparts (yes LibreOffice/OOo, I’m looking at you), 23 different solitaire apps, of which 21 are “not very good”, just don’t matter.

So I was pleased to see today a new study that seems to support this view.

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10 Responses to “This just in … Bazillions of apps not the key to success”


  1. 1 Jef Spaleta August 22, 2011 at 13:32

    I think there are a couple of things going on here which are different but related. What matters to day-to-day use after a purchase, is not necessarily what matters when making the decision to purchase. Pre and post purchase are very different things.

    Yes, day-to-day usage patterns for the userbase of any platform don’t rely on their being thousands of application available.

    However, if you really go back and you look at the history of electronic devices the availability of purchasable “content” matters a lot when making purchasing decisions.

    It’s been this way for ages for all “platform” like devices.

    Your game console? Number of games available for purchase does have an effect on what console you buy.

    Your electronic ebook reader? The size of the purchasable content catalog matters.

    Your cdrom/dvd/laserdisk/blueray/whatever sitting in your home entertainment center? The availability of purchasable content for those devices was absolutely an important factor in encouraging enough people to on the device.

    The vast majority of the content may not be popular, but the availability of niche content, strengthens the viability of the platform as a credible option at the time of purchase.

    -jef

    • 2 skitterman August 22, 2011 at 14:10

      I think console games or media players are different. The point of them is the content.

      Applications are not (mostly) content. They solve certain problems. Mostly we revisit the same situations repeatedly and don’t need new tools every day.

      A large body count in the appmarketplacestorecenterwhatever may be a good marketing point, but unless the stuff people use every day is rock solid, it’s going to get returned.

      • 3 Jef Spaleta August 22, 2011 at 15:03

        Can you really say that the vast majority of app usage for ipad and ios and android are not “mostly content” focused? I think that’s the wrong assumption to be making about the growing mobility marketplace. I think you’re taking a lot of your pre-existing experience with the traditional desktop and all the assumptions about usage habits that go with it and are trying to apply them to the mobile device market.

        It’s really too bad that study didn’t actually talk about what sort of “apps” people are using on those devices frequently, nor which apps they are using are baked-in (like the web browser) and which are picked up from the marketplace. All we know from that study is people tend to use a small number of applications regularly. I would imagine a similar study of web browsing habits would show something similar with regard to how people choose “content” to read on a regular basis.

        -jef

  2. 4 Jorge Castro (@castrojo) August 22, 2011 at 16:17

    I don’t think he’s saying that you need to sacrifice quality in order to get more apps.

    You need efforts in both areas, it’s just traditionally no one has given a crap about application developers and that we need to pay attention to it if people are going to use it.

    • 5 skitterman August 22, 2011 at 16:52

      I think the FOSS ecosystem has a lot to offer application developers, including many ways to deploy cross-platform to they can target a broad user base. I don’t think Ubuntu can provide a significant value-add in comparison without a LOT of work that would detract from other, IMO, more important things.

      Generally apps aren’t developed for Ubuntu as a specific target and that’s a feature, not a bug.

      I think making the underlying infrastructure more reliable and robust benefits application developers too. If their stuff runs well on Ubuntu, then people will like it. If it doesn’t, users won’t care that it’s because of a sound driver and not the application’s fault at all.

      • 6 Jef Spaleta August 22, 2011 at 17:34

        “Generally apps aren’t developed for Ubuntu as a specific target and that’s a feature, not a bug.”

        I think that is the core of the issue right there.

        Some people are content with seeing Ubuntu as a peer among equals with regard to nearly interchangeable linux platforms which compete for mindshare on usability/robustness/whatever grounds but which are expected to run the same 3rd party binaries (even if you have to jump through hoops like alien pkg conversion). This may have some real value to server/workstation customers, but I just don’t think there is real market value in the consumer space for a peer among equals approach, it dilutes the market penetration for any linux entrant.

        I think anyone who is serious about building a mass market oriented consumer device platform must present a coherent SDK story for application developers and that SDK need not be shared by any other platform. This is the lesson of Android. And as far as I can tell Android is the only _linux_ marketshare growth I’ve seen evidence of in the last 2 years. You can’t really claim that the baked-in Android application that Google provides are vastly superior quality. And yet, Android keeps rolling along in marketshare growth while the vast sea of linux distributions just sit stagnant.

        -jef

      • 7 skitterman August 23, 2011 at 06:34

        Android is in a growing market. That helps a lot too. I think it’s a mistake for Linux distributions to consider themselves in competition with each other. Windows and Mac are so dominant in the server/desktop markets that most distributions target that the amount of competition from other distributions is insignificant. I think having a good SDK/third party development story is not irrelevant, but we have so far to get to consumer grade core platform and applications that it’s not something we should worry much about right now.

        With the exception of mail (K-9 rules) I find the apps provided by Andriod quite good an haven’t replaced any. The point of the study isn’t that third party application development is irrelevant, but that appstore/marketplace/whatever body counts are useless. I think they are.

  3. 8 abhidg August 23, 2011 at 01:22

    @skitterman Providing hardware support correctly through releases is always a problem and not confined to Ubuntu, though the six month cycle does not help.

    I wonder if this problem can at all be solved 100% without locking in to a specific hardware platform like Mac has done.

    As for applications — The whole Linux paradigm of providing applications which depend on everything else in the system rather than bundling is its greatest strength as well as weakness. This often prevents backports of applications beyond a few point releases.

    Till the day a Linux moves to a stable core / updated application paradigm, it will not be suitable for most people on the desktop.

    Many people do not wish to upgrade every six months and break $foo. Using the LTS releases means waiting for application updates over a cycle of two years.

    Even if stable core / updated application paradigm is not feasible for Ubuntu (and there are disadvantages – eg, wrt security support), it should at least provide a simple manual as well as recommend third party app developers to either a build ) backport to PPAs or b) provide standalone deb files or repositories having bundled libraries.

    • 9 skitterman August 23, 2011 at 06:38

      Most people don’t need the newest shiny and don’t care. They happily run whatever comes on their computer and only consider upgrading/updating when prompted (and often not then).

      In Ubuntu we are working on improving the backports story to make the process for getting updates into the official backports repository smoother and make it work better for users. There are certainly cases when newer versions of things are important and we should support that without devolving to the Windows model of just downloading and installing random code from random web sites.

  4. 10 Jef Spaleta August 23, 2011 at 07:32

    Scott,
    If the study had actually told us which apps people are using then I could see the data supporting your conclusion. However, the study didn’t say that everyone is using the same apps. We don’t know if everyone in the study is using the same apps. The article writer made a lengthy editorial comment about his belief that its a common set of apps. And even the article writer admits the study doesn’t actually provide the data to support that conclusion, no matter how reasonable that conclusion appears to be.

    -jef


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