Facebook (META -1.64%) is done with BlackBerry (BB -2.71%). The social network will no longer support its app for the Canadian handset giant's mobile operating system, BB10. This comes just a week after Facebook's mobile messaging service, WhatsApp, announced that it would stop supporting BB10 at the end of the year.
Facebook and WhatsApp are just two apps, of course, but they're two of the most significant. BlackBerry's operating system has been on life support for some time now, but without the world's largest social network, its fate appears sealed.
BlackBerry's app problem
BlackBerry announced its BB10 operating system early in 2013. It was a fine operating system paired with impressive hardware, but it never managed to attract the interest of third-party developers. By then, the ecosystems that had built up around Android and iOS were too substantial -- developers had little incentive to invest scarce resources in an unproven platform. BlackBerry scored some support, but not enough -- crucial apps and services, including Netflix, avoided the platform altogether.
Without the apps they desired, it's not surprising that consumers showed little interest. By the third quarter of 2013, BlackBerry's share of the global smartphone market stood at under 2%. In the quarters that followed, it continued to decline. In the third quarter last year, it fell to an almost undetectable 0.2%.
BlackBerry's management is well aware of its problem. In 2014, it made a deal with Amazon to bring its Android app store to the BB10 platform. Amazon's app store isn't as good as Google Play, but it gives BB10 users access to several hundred thousand apps they wouldn't have otherwise. Last year, BlackBerry's CEO John Chen went further, urging lawmakers to consider passing legislation that would, in effect, force app developers to support its platform.
"...if we are truly to have an open Internet, policymakers should demand openness not just at the traffic/transport layer, but also at the content/applications layer of the ecosystem. Banning carriers from discriminating but allowing content and applications providers to continue doing so will solve nothing," Chen wrote in a blog post.
BlackBerry has had other issues -- disputes with carriers, lack of marketing -- but in an age of mobile apps, BB10 will never succeed without the support of developers.
More than 1.44 billion
Facebook had more than 1.59 billion monthly users at the end of last quarter, of which 1.04 billion checked the social network at least once per day. Almost all of them are using a smartphone or a tablet -- more than 1.44 billion of Facebook's users access the site from a mobile device. For its part, WhatsApp boasts about a billion active users.
Facebook and WhatsApp are two of the top three most popular free apps on BlackBerry's BB10 app store, BlackBerry World, and Facebook Messenger is the seventh-most popular. Pulling its app from BB10 could cost Facebook a few million users, but Facebook seems to have come to the conclusion that continuing to support the platform is more trouble than it's worth.
It's more likely that they'll turn to a phone powered by a different operating system -- maybe even one made by BlackBerry itself. Last year, the company took the unprecedented step of launching its first device running a different operating system: the Android-powered BlackBerry Priv. The Priv received fairly positive reviews when it made its debut last fall, and has picked up steam in recent weeks, expanding to additional carriers. But we don't know how successful the device has been. BlackBerry's management should shed light on demand for the Priv when it turns in its earnings report next month.
By adopting Android, BlackBerry's management appears to be preparing for the inevitable death of BB10. Although Chen has paid lip service to his company's homegrown operating system, he has said the company plans to devote more resources to Android, and is currently developing another Android handset. Meanwhile, BlackBerry has been buying its way into enterprise software. Still, about 40% of BlackBerry's revenue came from hardware last quarter, and as users flee BlackBerry 10, they could flock to the iPhone, or to Android devices made by other firms.
Facebook's decision to pull its support from BB10 won't kill the platform -- it's been dead for some time already.