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If BlackBerry can’t convince Netflix to make an app, does it really stand a chance?

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After years of mistakes and missed opportunities, BlackBerry 10 is a credible release from the beleaguered Canadian company formerly known as RIM. We can imagine how BB10 might revive the company and make it competitive in the smartphone market once more. Early reports of how well it’s going down with consumers are mixed, but there is one issue that keeps cropping up: the apps. Last week, we heard once again that Netflix has no plans for a BB10 app. This could be a major sign of trouble.

We wondered during the launch whether BB10 has the apps it needs to take on Android and iOS. Plenty of big names made the launch list, but the high profile omissions have been generating headlines. Netflix is merely one name on a list that includes apps like Instagram, Spotify, TripIt, YouTube, Temple Run, Google apps, Yahoo Mail, Seamless, IMDB, Flipboard, Nike+, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, eBay, PayPal, Square, and many others. BlackBerry 10 does have over 70,000 apps on offer, but it’s missing some of the actual apps people want, and it may not be getting them anytime soon.

The Netflix problem

There are now over 33 million subscribers to the Netflix service worldwide and since one subscription serves an entire household we can safely assume user numbers are several times that figure. We don’t have exact figures for the number of Netflix apps that have been downloaded, but on Android it is between 10 and 50 million and there are over 350,000 user reviews. On iTunes there are well over 200,000 reviews so it’s a safe bet that there are several million people using Netflix on the iPhone and iPad, as well. According to research by NPD Group (shown below) 13 percent of tablet owners and 8 percent of smartphone owners in the U.S. access Netflix on those devices.

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This isn’t just about the Netflix users who may be discouraged from choosing BlackBerry 10 because there’s no dedicated app, it’s about the lack of clout that BlackBerry has. In the summer of 2012 RIM’s VP of Developer Relations, Alec Saunders, answered a couple of questions from fans by saying “If Netflix asked, we would have a team of developers at their site within 24 hours. #myth #busted.”

BlackBerry PR spokesman, Alex Kinsella, recently told AllThingsD, “At this time, it’s in Netflix’s court to join the excitement around BlackBerry 10 — we hope they choose to bring a BlackBerry 10 experience to their customers. We’d love to have them.”

How hard could it be?

Why it isn’t Netflix developing a dedicated BB10 app? Speculation suggests that there is simply no incentive. But more likely, Netflix has come to the conclusion that developing and maintaining a BlackBerry 10 app would not be cost effective, even with BlackBerry’s help.

Netflix is something of a special case, when compared to other popular apps. Its mobile apps do not reel in new customers; they simply extend the usefulness of the movie streaming service for existing subscribers. The vast majority of Netflix subscribers use their HDTV, laptop, or computer to watch content. The implication is that Android and iOS customers demand Netflix service on their devices and, because there are millions of them, Netflix must oblige. That suggests that Netflix doesn’t believe BB10 currently has, or will have in the near future, a user base big enough to bother with. For a service that is usually on new platforms (see: Wii U) when they launch, that lack of confidence is the worrying thing for BlackBerry, and it may be having an impact on the wider development community.

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Changing perceptions

People don’t care about having hundreds of thousands of apps on a platform. Most people use a small set of apps and they use them frequently. If you drew up a list of the top hundred apps across all platforms, apps like Netflix and Instagram would certainly be on it. The fact that they aren’t on BB10 looks like a vote of no confidence in the platform. If these companies can’t see a reason to develop for BB10 despite the relatively low cost for them then why will other major developers create BB10 apps? It’s not just miss out on some of the top apps of today; it may miss out on the top apps of tomorrow, as well.

BlackBerry has been seriously battered in the tech press over the last few years. With BB10, it is finally doing the right thing to the best of its abilities. The problem is that success is driven by perception, and it looks like a lot of people expect BB10 to fail. If BlackBerry can’t do something to change that perception then it has no chance at all.