Mobile

Why Instagram needed Android to make the Facebook acquisition happen

android-instagram

After spending a few hours talking to Facebookers about the company’s mobile strategy, I can safely say that Instagram’s move to Android probably had a lot to do with the $1 billion price the startup fetched in this morning’s acquisition news.

Unless you’ve spent your morning under a rock, you’ve probably heard by now that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s acquisition of Instagram, the popular photo-sharing service.

What he didn’t announce, but what VentureBeat knows from multiple Facebook conversations and campus visits, is that the company sees iOS as just one piece of the mobile platform puzzle. And while the company has acquired iOS apps in the past, none have had the global reach — or astoundingly high pricetag — of Instagram.

Instagram recently opened its doors to Android users. Previously just an iOS app, the photo social network had collected 30 million users. However, that one platform only accounts for half the total smartphone market, give or take. In moving over to the Android platform, Instagram showed that it cared about acquiring the other half of smartphone users, as well.

iPhone users were the first to complain about the move, snobbishly whining that the influx of Android users was turning the app into some sort of plebeian visual ghetto. The complaints earned iPhone Instagram fans a polite “shut up” from the VentureBeat team.

And the complaints fell on deaf ears at Instagram HQ, as well. “We’re really excited about Instagram for Android as the next big step for our company,” Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told VentureBeat when the Android app launched. “This release brings us closer to the idea that we can help every person on earth share their lives and discover the world through a series of beautiful images.”

“Every person on earth” — did you notice that choice of wording? Can you think of any other apps aiming for a userbase of “every person on earth”?

Facebook itself is rapidly climbing toward the 1-billion-users mark. Already, the network claims an astounding 845 million monthly active users and counting. And it didn’t get there by sticking stubbornly to iOS and iOS only.

Facebook has long had a multi-platform focus on mobile. In conversations with the company last week, we learned that Facebook sees mobile as a three-headed beast. Acknowledging that Windows Phone and RIM do account for a small percentage of Facebook’s mobile audience, the company places a huge emphasis on iOS, Android, and the mobile web. And among Facebook’s global audience, which includes 425 million monthly active users, Android and iOS are pretty much neck and neck in terms of how many users come from each platform.

“This is an important milestone for Facebook because it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired a product and company with so many users,” Zuckerberg wrote in this morning’s announcement. “We don’t plan on doing many more of these, if any at all. But providing the best photo sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook, and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.”

Would Facebook have bought Instagram as an iPhone-only app? Sure. But I don’t think the price would have climbed as high as $1 billion without the Android app — and the resulting larger potential audience.


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