Jason in a Nutshell

All about programming and whatever else comes to mind

Dear massive companies who are struggling to stay relevant: you’re not cool

Posted by Jason Baker on May 22, 2009

Jonathan Schwartz is talking about a new “App Store” for Java called Project Vector:

How will it work? Candidate applications will be submitted via a simple web site, evaluated by Sun for safety and content, then presented under free or fee terms to the broad Java audience via our update mechanism. Over time, developers will bid for position on our storefront, and the relationships won’t be exclusive (as they have been for search). As with other app stores, Sun will charge for distribution – but unlike other app stores, whose audiences are tiny, measured in the millions or tens of millions, ours will have what we estimate to be approximately a billion users. That’s clearly a lot of traffic, and will position the Java App Store as having just about the world’s largest audience.

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the zune.  You know, the portable MP3 player that’s arguably as good or better than the iPod?  I like to imagine a couple of Microsoft executives having a conversation like this:

Exec 1: Hey, have you seen this newfangled “iPod” contraption Apple’s selling?
Exec 2: My daughter has one.  What does it do again?
Exec 1: Dunno.  But I hear that they’re creating a music revolution or something like that.
Exec 2: Really?  Well if we made one, it would really help us connect with the kids.  How do we make one?
Exec 1: Dunno.  Let’s just let the engineers worry about it.   Then all we have to do is spend a few million on marketing and it will sell because we’re Microsoft and our software is on everyone’s computer.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, the Zune has pretty much turned out to be everything short of a complete and total failure.  And just about all of Microsoft’s attempts to be cool have gone the same route.  And it seems like Sun is trying to follow in their footsteps.

What’s in a name?

Well, a lot is in a name actually.  The thing is, your name has to mean something other than “big company whose software I’m forced to install on my computer.”  I’m pretty sure a conversation similar to Microsoft’s iPod conversation happened at Sun.  Having billions of people installing your software makes a difference if you’re trying to get people to accidentally install crappy toolbars they won’t know how to uninstall.  It takes a little bit more to get people to actually buy a product.

Apple’s App Store is successful for a different reason.  They’re smart enough to know that it takes more than a successful platform to sell apps.  In fact, it’s the other way around.  Lots of good third-party apps will make a platform successful.  Sun is in the exact opposite situation.  They have a successful platform.  Now how can they make it profitable?

How can Project Vector succeed?

Easy.  Sun needs to play to their strengths instead of making a “me too” product in a field they know nothing about.  There are two potential areas where Sun could make an AppStore succeed:  software development and mobile applications.

Software Development

Let’s face it:  getting a development enviornment set up takes work.  For starters, you have to select your tools and your libraries.  Then, you have to purchase and install them.  And any programmer will tell you that this process is harder than it sounds.  Lots of programming languages have helped solve this problem by setting up repositories where you can download libraries and development tools pretty easily.  Perl arguably wouldn’t be in existance today if not for CPAN.

Why not make a CPAN for Java where developers may buy and sell tools like these?  There are already plenty of killer apps already available for it too.  For example, imagine how much of a time saver it would be if you could install Eclipse or NetBeans with the click of a mouse.  And imagine how lucrative it would be for people who make plugins for these programs.

Mobile Applications

As Schwartz has noted, Java exists on plenty of mobile devices.  Now imagine if the makers of these mobile devices could have their own App Stores pre-made by Sun?  Granted, I’m sure they will want their share of the profits, but surely they’re smart enough to know that one of the reasons they’re getting kicked in the teeth by Apple is because of its App Store.

Update: Here’s another take on the idea that I find pretty interesting.

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