Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why the Next Bill Gates Won't be Canadian an Open Letter to our Political Leaders

During the past two years, the technology sector has been making a big shift towards mobile computing. A tsunami is sweeping the whole field. Mobile operating systems are quickly becoming prominent and even moving towards replacing traditional Desktop OSs. At the same time, two polar opposite business models are competing. A closed proprietary system in which Apple controls every hardware, software and revenue streams and a competing system based on open source technologies mainly managed by Google along with a coalition of hardware and software companies and an open source community. This ecosystem is open to a huge population to compete and sell their creations. Canadians however, are forbidden.

About a year ago, in the height of the financial crisis, I was temporarily laid off and I started developing a software product for the open source Android platform which I intended to sell in the Android Market an alternate source of revenue. After doing a first prototype, I discovered that not only were Canadian users of the Android platform shut out of the Android Market, the main store where users can download applications. Canadians could not purchase any apps, but also Canadian developers and businesses were not allowed to sell on this store.

I thought to myself that this was a temporary situation resulting from Google and the Android platform being in its infancy. In the mean time, I ported my app to Apple's iPhone/iPod touch platforms and became relatively successful selling educational software that help students learn anatomy. Even as an independent developer working alone, my apps dominated the medical section of the app store for more than 6 months. At the same time, I was waiting for Google's platform to open to my apps so that I could have a presence and compete there too.

It has been more than a year and the open Android platform is quickly gaining popularity. Canadians can now buy apps in the Android marketplace but Canadian developers and businesses are still shut out of this market.

A year is an eternity in the tech sector and the big players are starting to establish themselves as leading mobile software businesses before Canadians even have access to this market. We are in a situation where Canadian developers are not even able to sell the fruit of their labors to their compatriots who are free to buy apps in Google's store none of which are allowed to be from Canada. Canadians are not able to participate in one of the more rapidly growing and most lucrative facet of this technology. We are left out.

The new mobile devices allow us to communicate, email, tweet, talk and work. In the coming years, they may well become the main computing platform. Canadians are used to be pushed out of leading edge web music and video mediums which often become available years after everyone else in Canada but this time it is preventing our businesses to participate in the greatest innovation in technology since personal computers.

It is very difficult to achieve success when international competitors get a two years head start. Currently countries allowed to sell on the Android store include Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The window of opportunity is very small for these kinds of technological revolutions and the current climate risks driving the next Canadian Bill Gates out of business.

Benoit Essiambre