It's never a good sign when you have to pay people to be your friends. But that seems to be the standard friend-finding technique in the smartphone industry these days. It's Astroturfing gone wild.
This doesn't apply if you're Apple
Can't buy me love (or friendship)
Research In Motion
And this is where "buying your friends" comes in. To give Android developers some incentive to displace some of the tumbleweeds infesting that store, RIM recently offered up a free PlayBook tablet to anyone converting Android apps to the BlackBerry format. Some 7,000 developers took the company up on the offer, including yours truly.
That influx of apps is a drop in the bucket next to the hundreds of thousands of apps in competing markets. Moreover, giving away one free tablet -- which also is available at retail if you really wanted one -- will draw in only tiny developer houses. Again, like yours truly. Even if you assume that RIM's conversion tools produce perfect BlackBerry apps and don't introduce any new bugs and quirks along the way, the big boys don't care one bit for a single piece of hardware worth a few hundred bucks anyhow. So what you get is 7,000 mostly low-budget apps, full of bugs and bad design. Yeah, like mine.
To follow up on that questionable tactic, RIM will hand out 2,000 free smartphones at a developer confab in May. This effort is a little different, because it involves getting prototype hardware in the hands of developers who really can't buy it anywhere else. "The experience on this device from a consumer's perspective is not in any way indicative of what the final experience on BlackBerry 10 will be like," RIM's VP of developer relations told Bloomberg. So this time, you might get a more serious horde of programmers testing their apps on the as-yet unreleased platform.
This makes some sense. But RIM is still trying to storm the Bastille armed with a spork and two packets of ketchup. These giveaways won't make a significant difference to BlackBerry 10's lacking app store. Nor will it boost BlackBerry sales in the long run.
We don't need no education
Oh, but the Canadian firm isn't alone.
In Finland, Microsoft
But that will probably help Finland's software developers more than it helps Microsoft and its chosen hardware paladin. Even a very large college program can only churn out a few hundred developers a year. And it'll be years before Microsoft sees any graduates from the new app-maker school.
Give Microsoft some points for planning ahead, I guess. Nokia is getting major brownie points with the Finnish government, media, and people here, but that doesn't move a lot of handsets.
So Nokia is the only company that comes out looking smart at all, and not for the reasons Microsoft was hoping.
Of course, there's a small chance that one of these efforts might spark some freakish success story that turns the mobile world on its head entirely. But chances are, you'll forget all about these grassroot-ish desperation plays in a couple of years, and none of the participants will have gained much from the experience.
In the meantime, the smartphone and tablet revolution will continue apace, with Nokia, Microsoft, and RIM largely on the sidelines. But the biggest winners will play every side of the field.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Nokia, Apple, and Google and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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