John Paczkowski and Mike Isaac

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Native Instagram App Is Not Coming to BlackBerry 10

Instagram_cropBlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins says the company has a clear shot at turning BlackBerry 10 into the “No. 3 mobile ecosystem in the world,” but to do that, the company needs a critical mass of native apps, particularly big-name ones. And while BlackBerry did better than many expected — debuting BB10 with native apps from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Foursquare — there are still a few holdouts. And recently, a crucial one decided against natively supporting the platform: Instagram.

Sources close to Instagram tell AllThingsD that a native version of the photo-sharing application is not headed to BlackBerry 10 — not anytime soon, at least. “There will be no [native] Instagram for BB10 for now,” said one. “Frankly, I’m not sure there will ever be.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that Instagram is ignoring BlackBerry 10 entirely. The company is working on a port of the Android version of the app, as others have reported. But Android ports obviously don’t offer the same sort of experience as those developed on BlackBerry’s Cascades SDK. They don’t feel native and, as has been widely reported, they often perform sluggishly and generally appear divorced from the rest of the operating system. There’s no question that BlackBerry would much prefer Instagram for BB10 not to be a wrapped Android app. But sources say that’s the best it’s going to get.

And, at the moment, we’ve heard that the code being worked on for that Android port presents significant technical challenges in getting the ported app to work in the first place. While BlackBerry and Facebook do have a relationship and are trying to work something out on the ported version, it’s not likely that you’ll see anything come of this in the short term.

Part of the issue here is that Instagram and Facebook have final say over whether or not the company approves BlackBerry’s ported version of the Instagram app. If BlackBerry can’t get it’s ported version up to snuff, Facebook won’t give the app its stamp of approval.

Asked to respond, BlackBerry offered a neutrally worded statement. “We have a strong partnership and are actively engaged around Instagram support for BB10,” said Martyn Mallick, BlackBerry’s VP Global Alliances, “but we do not have an availability date at this point.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

This is bad news for BlackBerry. Instagram, which was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion in cash and stock last April, is a wildly popular app on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. More than 90 million people use it on a monthly basis. The absence of a native version for BB10 leaves a gaping hole in the platform, and raises questions for smartphone users and developers both.

Why, then, doesn’t Instagram build a native BlackBerry app? Well, it may have something to do with the small size of Instagram’s team (which remains only aboout 20 employees). There are just not enough folks to go around and devote resources to yet another platform.

Not to mention the fact that as of today, BlackBerry 10 isn’t a sure bet. It’s probably not worth it for Instagram to put in additional work on a platform that has yet to prove it has legs. In that vein, Instagram hasn’t even pushed out a Windows Phone app yet, and there’s no reason to believe it will.

For smartphone users who’ve been holding off on their Z10 purchase until native support for app holdouts like Instagram is announced, it’s potentially one less incentive to go BlackBerry; for millions of Instagram users it’s a dealbreaker, and for developers it’s one more reason to wonder whether it’s worthwile to build a native BB10 version of their app. If an outfit like Instagram doesn’t see a good reason to be on BB10, then why should a smaller independent dev? Which is not to say there isn’t a good reason — just to say that for many developers with limited resources, Instagram’s decision to forego BB10 leads to that inevitable question.

More broadly, Instagram’s move is another reminder that mobile platforms are only as strong as their app ecosystems. In the smartphone market, application development is a leading indicator of success. That some developers like Instagram are unwilling to allocate resources to BB10 suggests that BlackBerry’s bid for “No. 3 mobile ecosystem in the world” may be more challenging than its “more apps than any first-generation mobile platform” claims suggest.

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