As much as we’re determined to shine a light on the innovation and positive trends we see all around us in Europe, I’ve repeatedly said the goal of Tech.eu’s editorial team is to be critical champions of the region’s technology industry, not cursory cheerleaders.

So, here’s a theory. European startups are, by and large, unable to get the most valuable real estate where it’s starting to matter most: the home screen of the millions of smartphones finding their way into consumers’ hands across the globe on a monthly basis. And that’s a problem.

European tech companies are generally very poor at – for a variety of reasons – becoming such a dominant force in a certain market that a vibrant developer ecosystem takes shape around the core product.

They’re typically lousy platform producers, if you will.

Hence why European startups can create a TweetDeck, but seemingly not Twitter. Kings, Woogas and Supercells, but not the Facebook platform or massively popular mobile operating systems like iOS or Android. A Vente-Privée.com (and lot of local variants), but not Amazon. A GetJar, but not iTunes.

Norway’s Opera Software makes decent browsers, but their market share remains minuscule compares to the Chromes and Firefoxes of this world. Software companies like Readmill and 24symbols make beautiful e-book readers, but they’re no match for Kindle or iBooks.

I could go on, but you catch my drift: the major platforms tend to come from elsewhere (read: the US).

Of course, there are many notable exceptions, particularly in the sound space (Spotify, SoundCloud, Shazam, Deezer etc.), the online video market (Dailymotion is, for all intense and purposes, a leader in this space) and e-commerce (the likes of ASOS, Zalando and Ozon are carving a path of their own).

(Also read our analysis of a study on the growing European ‘app economy’)

But, to my original point, European companies rarely succeed in building and maintaining globally used platforms where the end user experiences and distribution channels are controlled top-down. Then again, very few companies in the world succeed at that, and it’s not like massive businesses can’t be built on what is essentially someone else’s turf (see Rovio and SwiftKey for examples).

The massiveness of the small screen

On mobile, it’s a real issue though. As we’re now living in a smartphone-flooded world, the real estate on what you use to be pejoratively referred to as the ‘small screen’ is now almost immeasurably valuable. My former TechCrunch colleague MG Siegler went a step further, positing that the first app you open when you grab your phone is the ‘new browser homepage’. That may be somewhat true, but the reality is most people use 4-5 apps regularly rather than occasionally.

Of course, it’s much easier to make it to the home screen if you’re not only an app developer but also the company that, you know, actually manufactures the devices and makes and maintains the mobile operating systems they run on.

Still, the main social networking, entertainment and communication tools on a smartphone user’s home screen increasingly tend to be third-party applications, and that’s trend that’s likely irreversible.

Yet it seems European app makers aren’t riding that trend, or at least not well enough.

Take a look at my iPhone’s home screen, for example:

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Now I’m aware that there are tens of thousands of decent mobile applications coming from European app developers and publishers, and that most can compete with similar software products made elsewhere in terms of functionality and design.

And yet, here we are: the only app on my home screen that you can legitimately call European anymore is Triiing, a VoIP app from my local ISP Telenet. Sure, there’s a news app from newspaper De Morgen, Frontback (made by Belgians, but an American company) and Skype (which, in case you hadn’t heard, is now owned by Microsoft) but that’s pretty meagre right?

Anecdotal? Absolutely. I asked for my co-founders’ smartphone home screens as well:

Ivo Spigel

Ivo phone apps

Worth noting that Ivo uses his tablet (Nexus 7) way more often, but the only third-party apps on his phone are Foursquare and Seesmic (founded by French-born Loïc Le Meur, but hardly a European app).

Charmaine Li

image (1)

Not an impressive number here either. Readmill is an e-book reading app made by a Berlin-based startup, and the bab.la, BVG and Audio Memos apps were also actually made by companies in Europe, but they are rather utilities (for transportation, learning German etc.).

Adrian McShane

Screenshot_2014-01-06-08-30-26

No EU-made applications in sight.

Alex Barrera

Screenshot_2014-01-07-10-33-22 (2)

Alex says he swipes a lot, but a home screen is a home screen, so we can conclude none of the apps made by European app developers ‘made it’ as far as his phone is concerned.

Roxanne Varza

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News app (Le Monde), check. Otherwise, no EU-made apps on the home screen, unless you count the ones in the folders (you can spot SoundCloud, Viber etc.).

Jon Bradford

Screenshot_2014-03-06-09-31-17

So many apps, so few that were made in Europe. Only Citymapper and RingGo count, really.

It’s all still anecdotal, but these are seven different home screens of phones used by people from across the continent, all of which are knowledgeable about the European tech startup scene and the apps that get made in these parts. From the looks of it, EU app makers still have a long way to go.

Your turn: what’s on your home screen, and how many of the apps on there are made by European companies? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter if you’re so inclined.

Also read:

Analysis: an appraisal of the burgeoning European ‘app economy’, and its growing pains

Featured image credit: Robert S. Donovan / Flickr

  • cr0vax

    What are you criteria?

    Where the app really were developped?
    The HQ of the company?
    The legal registration of the company?

    It’s unclear.

    You seemed to assume Firefox is developped in the US. It’s a free software developped by a community represented by a foundation named Mozilla. That foundation is divided in severeal entities and Mozilla Europe seemed to be the most active one. But still … Firefox isn’t developped anywhere else than the Internet.

    You assume Chrome is done in the USA while the project started in Denmark and I think it’s still developped there (but a growing part of the code is done in Google Munich).
    A large part of Maps is developped in London. It’s the case of the Youtube app as well.
    The priority inbox feature of GMail comes from Google Zurich.
    The new Android VM is developped in France, ChromeOS is developped in Canada, etc.

    So does that count for US since Google HQ is in the US?

    On Alex’s screen isn’t it France’s based Beautiful Widget?

    • All fair points, I guess I was referring more to European startups than just any tech company. That leaves out the likes of Mozilla, Google, etc. regardless of where large parts of it get coded.

      • cr0vax

        I still can’t count Mozilla as an american company. That is like saying Linux is all from Finland. Or the Web is all from Switzerland.

        It’s true though that Europe is more infrastructure oriented than customer software app. Just as USA are a pretty average (not to say bad) place for consumer electronics companies.

        • I’m only saying Mozilla isn’t a startup.

          • cr0vax

            All right then 😉

          • cr0vax

            Another point : does bought european startup count as EU or US? 😉

          • Ah the endless debate. Also, what about American companies started by Europeans? :)

  • osimod

    Good stuff Robin. But you mix 2 very different arguments: the platform and the presence on the home screen. You should write another blog post on the platform – here are my 2 cents http://egov20.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/eu-startups-dont-think-in-terms-of-platform-what-does-it-mean/

    • They’re not entirely different though I understand where you’re coming from. If European companies were abler to create dominant platforms, they’d have a higher chance of getting onto your home screen. They start with a disadvantage because they don’t. Spotify would be a counter-example (there are others).

  • Martin Pansy

    Very good topic and I’d like to contribute more from an app developer’s point of view. I agree with osimod, that platform and presence on the homescreen is mixed here. Europeans have lost the plattform battle to US players as we’ve moved from Nokia & others to Android & iOS. This is the fault of few (Nokia?), but has impact on many (all app devs). If you look at which apps get promoted in app stores (even in local EU versions like Italian or German) it’s US apps all over. Sometimes they’re better than their EU counterpart, sometimes not. The selection is done by the platform owners and is critical at the very beginning of the product lifecycle. And this goes on…

    What I am trying to say is that: US gatekeepers (Apple, Google, Tech Blogs at a much lower scale, etc…) promote US apps if they are equal in quality. EU gatekeepers are non existing or are not promoting local apps with the same persistence.

  • Anecdotical, but still a signal indeed.
    I think I count four on my home screen (Sunrise from France, Globo from Italy, Telegram from Germany/Russia and ToDoist from a bit everywhere but lots are European).

  • Nice reading. What about the apps that used to be European and transformed into a US company app? I see there Skype, I see there WhatsApp (well, not US), there is also Telegram messenger could be seen. After all almost every successful app company end up as US company for simple reasons. And usually only successful, read useful apps, end up on a home screen. Hence, there is high probability for an app on a homescreen to be US app by the time it gets there. BTW, as European example, I have Wunderlist on my home screen.