What Won't Kill BlackBerry? Instagram Flap - InformationWeek

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09:44 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman

What Won't Kill BlackBerry? Instagram Flap

Apps are essential for smartphone and tablet ecosystems -- but lack of a single app won't make or break any platform.

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AllThingsD published a story last week claiming that Facebook will not develop a native version of its popular Instagram application for the BlackBerry platform. "There will be no [native] Instagram for BB10 for now," said one of AllThingsD's anonymous sources. "Frankly, I'm not sure there will ever be." Instead, Facebook will port the Android version to BlackBerry OS.

This is obviously bad and portends dark things for BlackBerry, right? Wrong.

There's no arguing that applications are vital for the survival of today's smartphone platforms. If they weren't, then Apple, Google and Microsoft wouldn't have more than 1.5 million apps (combined) available to their respective ecosystems.

There are clearly table-stakes apps, too. Each platform must offer apps that mirror the tools mobile device owners use every day, such as Facebook, Twitter, mapping, music/video services, basic communications, and so on. (Angry Birds is not a table-stakes app -- though some think it should be.)

[ Most analysts are bearish on BlackBerry's comeback chances. Read more at BlackBerry 10: More Analysts Cut Expectations. ]

One of the many concerns facing BlackBerry and its new operating system is the availability of apps. At the moment, BlackBerry claims to have about 70,000 apps -- but 40% of them are ported Android apps. That means there are only about 42,000 native BB10 apps.

What's the difference? Ported apps are wrapped in a package (i.e., extra code) that allows them to run in BB10. They offer a mixed experience, as they can't do things such as take advantage of the BB10 Cascade SDK. They also lack the tight integration (and UI conformity) with the BB10 platform.

Back to Facebook and Instagram. AllThingsD says that the companies are hoping to bring Instagram to BB10 through this porting process. But there are problems. The code is challenging. In fact, the ported version may not happen, either.

And that's okay.

Facebook and Instagram have no obligation to develop a version of Instagram for BlackBerry 10. There's no law that says every app should be available to every smartphone platform. Facebook and Microsoft have yet to offer Instagram to Windows Phone. So what? Windows Phone offers its own social network-y photo-editing and -sharing apps. For all we know, enterprising developers are working hard right now on a native BB10 photo sharing/editing app that will be just as feature-rich as Instagram.

It is important to point out that BB10 just launched. The platform offered more than 40,000 native apps at launch, with another 30,000 ported in. When Apple launched the App Store in 2008, there were 500 apps. The Android Market (now Google Play Store), had nearly 1,000 at launch. Both stores now offer more than 700,000 apps, a feat five years in the making.

While a single missing app won't make or break a platform, there is definitely a critical mass issue that BB10 (and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft) needs to address. BlackBerry is working on it. Whether or not it will reach that critical mass in time is the real issue.

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2/26/2013 | 10:02:11 PM
re: What Won't Kill BlackBerry? Instagram Flap
The apps I wonder about BlackBerry landing are less the Angry Birds or Facebook, and more the apps from companies where tech is a complement -- apps from Starbucks, Walgreens, Ford, your hospital, your university. These companies usually develop for Apple and then Android, and then debate whether to go beyond that. These apps aren't by themselves a must-have (OK, Starbucks is for some), but cumulatively the lack of these apps could be a reminder of what you're missing.
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