For new entrants to the phone or tablet market the conversation always turns to how many apps there are. At launch, a year later, how fast the numbers are growing. The conversation is driven by the incumbents and echoed by the press and makes it very hard for a newcomer to be taken seriously.
What would happen though if a new entrant to the space, such as Mozilla with the Firefox Phone, decides not to obsess about the numbers game, but own the narrative and re-write the rules…
If you play the numbers game means you are spread thin, chasing a huge catalog and will constantly be behind the ball playing “me too” and catch up at the mercy of the big fish who probably don’t see you worth the effort until you have an established presence.
Defining your rules allows you to identify a small selection, maybe a dozen, of apps that users want, need or actually use as a base line and expend significant effort working with those partners to create the best version of their experience on your platform.
You help with engineering, dollars and resources, providing money, talent and demonstrating true partnership. Engage deeply with your partners and share the risk - you both need to comfortable enough to experiment with new features on your new platform, to iterate and fail fast but within that small group drive their success while establishing your new platform and demonstrating what is possible.
For most of the incumbents this isn’t the way they play the game. Apple dictate to partners secure in their position, Google, with Android, rely on OEMs and the scale of their store to drive developers. Microsoft have a huge field Evangelism organization who can wield marketing dollars but are chasing numbers and have quarterly goals to meet and don’t seem to have the patience for long term engagements any more. BlackBerry are desperately copying any playbook that seems to make work but are finding resurrecting their brand hard going.
For a new player it’s a losing proposition to try and get into their race. Even if you launch with 50 thousand apps there will be the issue of quality and questions around the presence of the “must haves” who won’t have taken the risk, and every omission will hurt. If you make the headlines read “Twitter launches their next generation client on Firefox OS”, “Evernote delivers game changing update first for Firefox OS” you can control the conversation.
By controlling the conversation you become a platform that is aspirational and seen as innovative.
That is where technology evangelism has to return too, not being driven by the same old marketing and PR story that is seen as safe conventional widsom