Netflix Illustrates BlackBerry's App Weakness


Back when BlackBerry launched its new BlackBerry 10 platform, the company made headlines by touting that it had 70,000 apps at launch -- the most for any first-generation smartphone platform. However, if you looked beyond the headlines, you'd find out that an incredible 40% of these apps were little more than Google Android apps that were "wrapped" for BlackBerry 10.

Excessive reliance on wrapped apps is a major weakness for the platform and represents strategic challenges for when BlackBerry inevitably tries to transition toward native apps. By trying to piggyback on Android's success, BlackBerry is putting itself at risk of turning its entire platform into a wrapper, unless it can persuade developers to invest the extra time and money into developing native apps instead of porting existing Android apps.

Count me out
One important developer is decidedly not on board. AllThingsD reports that Netflix has "no current plans for a BlackBerry app." This comes after BlackBerry said it was "in talks" with the online video streamer, among several other high-profile names. Netflix supposedly sees little incentive to develop for BlackBerry 10, since it likely wouldn't translate into additional subscribers.

Additionally, Netflix's subscriber base is still mostly in the U.S. The company had 27.1 million domestic streaming subscribers at year's end, compared to 6.1 million internationally. The U.S. is a weak geographical segment for BlackBerry, with its share falling to 0.9% recently. Little incentive, indeed.

That certainly doesn't bar the possibility, but BlackBerry 10 will need to prove itself before Netflix has any reason to embrace the platform.

How to turn your new Z10 into a 2-year-old Android
On the other hand, it's not as if determined BlackBerry loyalists can't get a Netflix app at all. The enthusiasts over at CrackBerry got Netflix running on the new Z10 shortly after launch, but it's worth noting that the process itself requires manually sideloading an older version of the Android app on to the device, and there are obvious performance issues.

The Android emulator found within BlackBerry 10 runs version 2.3 Gingerbread, which was originally released just over two years ago, although the company has announced that it is working on updating this to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean at some unspecified point in the future. As it stands, it seems like a lot of work to get a fancy new Z10 to function like a 2-year-old Android device.

Count us out
Netflix isn't the only one, though. Even Skype, which was one of the headliners at the BlackBerry 10 launch event, is actually just a ported version of its Android app. Although Skype did say that it was collaborating with BlackBerry to "ensure the Skype for Android app runs great in the BlackBerry 10 environment." That's better than no support at all, but it's still not as good as a native offering would be.

Since Microsoft now owns Skype and is also actively trying to steal the No. 3 smartphone spot from BlackBerry, it's not too surprising to see Skype subtly undermine BlackBerry 10's odds of success. For what it's worth, Microsoft pulled ahead in the U.S. market with a 3.2% share as of January.

Popular photo sharing service Instagram, which was recently bought by Facebook , also won't develop a native app. That's in contrast to its parent company; BlackBerry did score a native Facebook app since the platform integrates numerous social networks. A native BlackBerry 10 app from online music streamer Pandora Media is also nowhere to be found. Third-party ports of both Instagram and Pandora are available, but again performance leaves a little to be desired.

Mobile platforms these days live or die by content availability, including apps. A big name like Netflix passing on BlackBerry 10 is certainly a setback, but the real issue is that BlackBerry's choice to rely heavily on ported apps as a shortcut has put it in quite a predicament.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Google, and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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