Want Instagram for BlackBerry and Windows Phone? Go build it.

For no intelligible reason, I found myself watching Steve Jobs’ keynote at the 1997 WWDC in its entirety yesterday. Fifteen years later, it is still a sight to behold, for many reasons. Beyond his thoughts on the power of networked computing, where he essentially lays out Apple’s current iCloud strategy (and the need to own the hardware interface in a cloud world), Jobs ability to speak in an honest and unscripted manner is beyond impressive. It’s the type of performance that helps build trust in a company and its future; in my daydreams the keynote is something I imagine CEOs and entrepreneurs start their day watching. Of course, following the performance of RIM CEO Thorstein Heins, maybe they are.

The keynote also contains a segment that illuminates the current fortunes of both RIM and Microsoft. The keynote comes after Apple’s purchase of NeXT but before Jobs had retaken the reigns of the company. Jobs had essentially been trotted out to allay developer concerns about a struggling platform with diminished market share and no clear direction.

At the 13:00 mark, a developer asks Jobs how they can profit by filling the gaps in Apple’s ecosystem. After a seven minute tangent, the developer presses again and Jobs gives an answer. Jobs states that neither Microsoft nor Adobe have announced support for the just-announced Rhapsody platform, presenting an opportunity for developers willing to port their application suites; Jobs offers Sun’s purchase of Lighthouse (a notable NeXTSTEP developer) as a successful example of this.

Sound familiar? RIM and Microsoft need apps. Not only do they need as many apps as they can get, they need the right apps – the apps that consumers buy (or don’t buy) a phone for. On its Q4 financial conference call, Thorsten Heins noted that RIM can’t possibly build out every part of its BlackBerry ecosystem by itself, and would look to partnerships to fill the gaps. Heins was speaking specifically to major media partnerships, but the point still stands: there are certain apps RIM needs on its platform, and it can’t build them all itself.

If the original developers of these killer apps don’t have the resources or the interest to develop for BlackBerry and Windows Phone, there’s a huge opportunity for knowledgable developers on both platforms to step in. I’m not talking about knock-off apps (Cut The Angry Farm Rope With Friends, anyone?), I’m talking about straight ports of the apps that make iOS the dominant platform: Instagram, Instapaper, Infinity Blade, Path, Angry Birds, Temple Run, Netflix (well, maybe not Netflix).

Obviously, the market conditions for software development have changed quite a bit in fifteen years. Most apps are now free, not paid, making revenue deals between the two development houses more difficult. But I find it hard to believe that Infinity Blade on the BlackBerry PlayBook, or an ad supported/freemium Words With Friends for the new Lumia 900, would fail to recoup the development costs.

I’d love to hear what developers think, but in my mind, it’s a win-win. RIM and Microsoft get the apps that they need to fill out their ecosystem; small and talented development teams make money and get a huge profile boost for their next – original – application. Or as Jobs puts it: what are you waiting for?

About the author

Douglas Soltys

Douglas is the former Editor-In-Chief of Inside BlackBerry, BlackBerry Cool, and QuicklyBored, which he launched as a mobile gaming industry site. His knowledge of mobile and social media led him to a job at RIM (BlackBerry), where he got to travel the world and do lots of cool things. He is often left-handed, but rarely sinister.

  • Funny I just watched that last week…. I 100% agree. If Netflix said they will not make an app for the BlackBerry then RIM needs to go to Netflix and say… were going to make it for you or help you build it! 

    When Microsoft wanted to expand its office in Redmond they found out that they could only build 3 stories high.. Why because the local fire station only had ladder trucks that went 3 stories high, Microsoft was forced to grow out instead of up.. So what did Microsoft do? They bought new ladder trucks so that they could reach to a height that was required. This is smart thinking as it actually save Microsoft a lot of money and in the end it was a win win situation…. 

    Morel of the story? RIM please build Netflix app! its a win win….

  • I agree 100%. Of course, the issue is brand. Instagram has become known for being THE sorta-pretty-up-your-photos app. That would be the only reason people want Instagram, specifically.

  • I see where you’re coming from, but it’s more than brand. Instagram built it’s brand by being the best photo app around. Infinity Blade is a crazy fun game.

    But maybe these aren’t the best examples as they’re not necessarily ‘must have ecosystem fillers’ (although one might argue an amazing photo app is a must-have). What about LinkedIn? Why has no one ported LinkedIn to BB7 ye?

  • I just think no one has created the experiences of all the apps you mentioned on either platform. Once they do, I see it becoming a must-have. 
    Good question on LinkedIn.

  • Actually, I think it’s pretty safe to say that both Infinity Blade on the PlayBook and ad-supported Words with Friends wouldn’t break even.
    There’s what, a million PlayBooks out there? Let’s go crazy and say half of ’em buy Infinity Blade at $7 a pop. $3.5 million. RIM takes 30%. Down to $2.45 million. Publisher takes 30%. Down to $1.7 million. Two guys to make the port and keep it up to date, paid at say $100k each/year. $1.5 million. After marketing and overhead, there’s not a lot left, if anything. 

    Ads? Again, let’s say half of PlayBook owners get Words with Friends and plays once a week (on average). Let’s say you’re getting $10 CPM (which is pretty good). At 500,000 impressions a week, that’s $2000/month. It’s a casual game, so development cost is low – let’s say $20,000. At that rate, it’ll take 10 months just to break even. It’s probably more realistic to assume activity will taper off, and you’ll probably have to wait over a year. 

    Yeah, I’m pulling a lot of these numbers out of my ass, and I welcome better math, but it seems like the right ballpark to me. The fact is, the onus is on RIM to increase market share and provide excellent developer tools – not on developers to chew through shoddy tools and risk their business on an unproven platform. I think Microsoft has a leg-up on tools, and they can much better afford to pay off developers to port their titles to Windows Phone until market share increases.

  • First off (though I know that’s not really your point), there’s IS Instagram on BlackBerry it’s just called InstaPhoto and made by Smarter Apps (
    http://www.smarter-apps.com/instaphoto/). 

    To the larger point, the number of people who can develop an application on a particular platform is relatively small compared to the number of users so I’m not sure it’s fair to say “want it? built it.” It also takes time and/or money to build it and platform providers like RIM and Microsoft (and Apple, and Google) don’t make it easy to see in black and white how profitable an app is on their platform. However, if, for example, it would be profitable to bring Infinity Blade over to PlayBook… don’t you think EA would have done it since they actually have apps on PlayBook and can see their actual cost/sales ratio.

  • InstaPhoto and LensBoost for BlackBerry are cool and all but they’re missing what is arguably the best and most engaging part of Instagram which is the feed. It’s nothing like Instagram if it doesn’t have a feed.

  • I don’t get the Netflix thing. RIM has it in their power to fix the Netflix issue by integrating Silverlight into their browser, but have said they won’t. They claim that they offer a full web experience on the Playbook and support Flash, yet won’t implement Silverlight. Then it becomes a no app required proposition. But I’m sure some developer will figure it out eventually.

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  • PlayBookOwner

    Simon, 

    Your math makes sense. I don’t think some of your assumptions do, however. I don’t think you’d need two, full-time, developers on a “port and maintain” project (Infinity Blade) through the entire year. So your $200K/year labour cost doesn’t make sense. I’d say 1 to month port, max. Maintenance, I don’t know, but I doubt it would take more than 2 months time out of the entire year, for one of the guys/gals, in a worst case scenario. So, I say the actual (porting) cost would be less than $35K, and I’m pretty sure a top title would make that easily on PlayBook, whether they would sell it at $0.99 or $9.99.

    Marketing and overhead? Both insignificant numbers I would say – considering the amount of time that would be put into this porting effort, I don’t think you could assign a high percentage of either…

    I don’t know about the accuracy of your WwF ads example, but even if you are in the right ballpark there, you’re assuming that the number of addressable devices stays at ~1M, in both examples, which is wrong.

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