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With major apps in the bag, Instagram could be BlackBerry's next big score

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How BlackBerry nabbed big apps like WhatsApp and may soon have Instagram, too

BlackBerry Z10 BlackBerry 10 (800px)
BlackBerry Z10 BlackBerry 10 (800px)

One of the surprising stories from today's BlackBerry 10 launch was just how many apps the newly-renamed company landed: over 70,000. More importantly, it managed to snag important, big-name apps like WhatsApp and Skype. It's an essential metric for BlackBerry — a lack of apps hobbled Windows Phone out of the gate and continues to keep users from switching. The story of how BlackBerry got the support of so many large development houses is a mix of tenacity, courtship, and perhaps a little bit of muscle. As good as that story may be for BlackBerry's developer relations team, there's still one app in particular that is usually name-dropped when discussing whether a platform truly has the apps it needs for a successful launch: Instagram.

Instagram seems to already be in development

The Verge has seen a version of Instagram running on a BlackBerry Z10, and it looked very much like Instagram on Android — in fact, it likely was the Android version of the app running on the custom runtime that BlackBerry created. Speaking to reporters at today's event, VP of Global Alliances and Business Development, Martyn Mallick told reporters that BlackBerry was "in talks" with both Instagram and Netflix to launch on BlackBerry 10. Those talks are ongoing. Presumably that will still happen, and in Instagram's case the key decision will be whether the Android experience will be good enough or if it should be switched to a fully-native app. In our review of the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry 10, we saw that Android apps don't feel native or work especially well on the platform.

Other apps made it though the processes necessary to launch on BlackBerry 10 more smoothly. A good example is WhatsApp, the incredibly popular messaging service that's available on every other major smartphone platform. WhatsApp originally had demurred from supporting BlackBerry 10, but WhatsApp vice president Neeraj Arora tells The Verge that a combination of user demand and courting from BlackBerry changed that. "We finally realized that there's a lot of effort being put behind the new platform, there's a lot of demand from the existing BlackBerry userbase that we have, [and] a lot of demand from the carriers as well."

"We decided we needed 'x, y, and z' and RIM said 'we will make it happen for you.'"

The next part of the WhatsApp story on BlackBerry 10 is where we begin to get some insight into how BlackBerry negotiated with big-name app makers. Arora says that "we decided we needed 'x, y, and z' and RIM said 'we will make it happen for you, whatever it takes to give a really, really good native experience." Back at CES, BlackBerry (then RIM) said something along similar lines: "If there's an obstacle in the way, we try to remove it," Mallick said, "Whether that's technical, so be it. If that's business, so be it." Arora wouldn't get into the specific details of WhatApp's negotiations with BlackBerry, but both companies characterized much of their discussions as being of a technical nature — with BlackBerry working closely with WhatsApp on how best to create apps for the new platform. WhatsApp plans on offering a beta on BlackBerry 10 within a a few weeks.

BlackBerry has pulled out all the stops to land high-profile apps

Whether the barriers are "technical" or "business," BlackBerry has pulled out all the stops to land high-profile apps like Skype, Rdio, Kindle — all of which point to a company that still has some muscle to flex in the global smartphone market. Despite shrinking marketshare — especially in the US — BlackBerry is a company with lots of connections and, apparently, a surprising amount of leverage when it comes to working with app partners. That's even more surprising when you consider that Microsoft didn't do quite as well at launch — but should theoretically ought to have had just as much clout as BlackBerry. The two companies are now locked in a heated battle for third place.

Last but certainly not least, BlackBerry 10 has native apps for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. As we discussed last October, these apps were largely developed independently of those social networks, though BlackBerry has told The Verge that it used some outside development help on the apps rather than doing them completely in-house. BlackBerry says it worked closely with both Facebook and Twitter to develop the apps — and indeed, at least in the case of the Facebook app, it looks almost identical to Facebook's apps on other platforms.

Big name companies aren't the entire app story, however, and what we're hearing from smaller, indie developers should give BlackBerry pause. While the company has worked very hard to support and build its own community of App developers, convincing iOS and Android developers to create native apps may be a bigger challenge. Sonico Mobile's Alexander Marktl, the maker of iTranslate, tells us that he's taking a wait-and-see approach, "Ultimately indie developers need to allocate their resources wisely and therefore we will wait for actual sales numbers to make a decision whether or not we'll develop for BB10."

"BB10 basically needs to be a miracle."

That's a sentiment we've heard from other developers. A Flipboard spokesperson told us that "We'd love to be on all devices and platforms in the future but for now we're staying focused on iOS and Android. Being a relatively small team still requires us to stay focused," while Phill Ryu — the developer of the very popular Clear app on iOS — puts it more bluntly: "RIM is hopelessly lapped in this race, so BB10 basically needs to be a miracle. I'm getting the sense that it's nice, but far from miraculous. They'll have my attention if I start hearing otherwise."

The story of apps on BlackBerry 10 on launch day is simple: the company did better than most people expected at getting support from big-name companies. However, there are still a few stragglers like Instagram and Netflix that haven't (yet?) come on board and convincing the indies to support the platform is going to be an uphill battle. BlackBerry has checked a lot of important and absolutely necessary boxes when it comes to apps, but there's one more that's still open: sales.

Ellis Hamburger contributed to this report.