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Editorial: Blackberry Messenger (BBM) on iPhone and Android isn't the Cure for RIM's Woes

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Rumour has it that Blackberry Messenger (BBM) for iPhone and Android maybe coming. Given the growing dominance of platform neutral chatting programs such as WhatsApp, BBM has become irrelevant and is no longer the killer feature to drive sales of Blackberries. Instead, making a more consumer oriented phone like the iPhone, while still maintaining their strengths in the corporate environment is the way forward.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

Read follow up articles: Bundle BBM with Android to Sell More Handsets, iMessage is the BlackBerry Killer
Recent rumours have suggested that RIM is looking to launch a stripped down version of their popular Blackberry Messenger (BBM) on other platforms such as Android and iPhone. At present, only owners of Blackberry devices can use BBM.

In recent years, the Blackberry has become quite popular among home consumers such as students and other non-business people because of its chatting capabilities, with mobile service providers even offering chat specific packages for Blackberry owners.

In the years since BBM was released, cross-platform competitors have sprung up such as WhatsApp and PingChat. They offer everything that BBM can provide, along with the assurance that you can chat with your friends regardless of what phone they use, including Blackberries. RIM would be stepping into an area which it pioneered, but which is now saturated with competition and offers little differentiation in terms of chatting capabilities.

If a limited version of BBM is offered to the masses, consumers would still not understand what the full BBM experience has to offer, providing no incentive for them to purchase Blackberry devices. If anything, it could even lead to negative publicity as the limitations become an issue.

Then again, even if RIM takes this idea to its logical conclusion and offers the full experience of BBM to other mobile platforms, whether for free or for a fee, it would be like handing gold to their enemies. Why would a casual consumer need to buy a Blackberry when they can purchase an iPhone and still be able to chat with their friends?

BBM Doesn't Matter Anymore

But let's be honest with ourselves: the whole debate is irrelevant. BBM is simply no longer a main selling point for consumers to buy a Blackberry, given other alternative platform neutral chat apps.

Despite their growing consumer base, Blackberry still feels very much targeted towards the corporate environment. Even the Blackberry Torch, which had potential to compete against Apple's flagship mobile device, still feels very much like a business phone from the menu-intensive OS design to the lack of entertainment apps on Blackberry App World.

If RIM wants to put 100-million Blackberrys in people's hands, they need to focus on making their phones more consumer friendly and desirable without sacrificing functions that made Blackberries so popular in the corporate world in the first place, such as encryption and physical keyboards.With companies relaxing their rules on forcing the use of company issued Blackberries only, business people are increasingly bringing in personal iPhones where they can combine both business and entertainment, all in one device. RIM should take note.
Read Follow Up Article: Bundle BBM with Android to Sell More Handsets

Photo credit: qiaomeng

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  • Yang Li said:  

    Fair point about the desperation in such a move by RIM, though I do not agree with your point about WhatsApp. The regular consumer will not know about such applications that they have download manually in order to achieve something that comes natively with Blackberry devices.

    Thus their reasoning is probably that by giving a "lite" version of BBM will just act as an catalyst to further consumer demand. Non Blackberry OS users will get hooked and jump ship.

    Furthermore, I also think the next big thing will not be chat apps anymore, not even platform neutral apps. Sure they will have their market share but the hype will be about Group Messaging such as "Beluga" which just got bought by facebook.

  • Karn G. Bulsuk said:  

    Thanks for your comment Yang.

    Yes, I've heard the jump ship argument as well, but I don't buy it. I think the user experience of Blackberries are simply not on par with the other OSes on offer, especially on iOS. But then again, maybe people would jump ship if they don't know much about mobile platforms and if they only care about chatting.

    That said, if RIM were to partner up with mobile service providers and pre-load BBM straight to mobile phones, then that would be an amazing boost for them. I should add that to the article.

    I will need to read up on Beluga - it should be interesting if it was bought up by Facebook.

  • Anonymous said:  

    Having been a BB user for about 5 years I can say that BBM is not a selling point for RIM devices per se, noup, BBM makes sense when almost everyone you know has BB device and thus a BB PIN. Five years ago I got the first iPhone used it for a year before moving to Blackberry. Why? Well, by then SMS was the only choice for iPhone, not even MMS was available! So yes, back then you felt like you were missing out, bare in mind that in the very start Apple's app-store was a very lonely place, and you didn't have all those choices you have today, and the fact that Blackberrys had push email, encryption, international picture, text and voice note capabilities made them very popular, not to mention a camera with a flash ;).
    A month ago I decided to switch back to iPhone, the key things that got me to switch back are, 1- BB Devices after 5 years never got over their bugginess regardless of model (picture pull the battery out ritual once every two days), 2- RIM was left behind in the apps arena (lack of apps), 3- Messaging choices are now available for iOS devices that mimic BBM. 4- No more need to Jailbreak/free/unlock or whatever for the iPhone because apple now sells them unlocked (not cheap).
    That being said I would also like to leave here what I miss about BB and their BBM now that I've made the switch. For starters, and this is very personal but many people share my opinion, NO Messaging app is equal or better than BBM, granted they all have their highlights but BBM has some tricks still going for it, like for ex.
    1-Its there out the box, no need to download, install or register. 2)If you switch SIM cards your contacts will remain. 3)The delivered and read status indicator for each message, there a use for that feature in business, (think accountability). 4) BBM Groups where getting very feature rich. AND last but not least the fact that most of my contacts business and personal still use BBM… that means that I have to get them to manually download whatever app I'm using in their devices and add me to be able to communicate, and trust me they don't always want an additional chat app in their phones. If that doesn't sound complicated enough, there’s also the fact that I end up having to install 2 or 3 different chatting apps because not everyone I know with a blackberry uses the same app as an alternative chat app, for instance some use Whatsapp, others use Live Profile and so on. So basically you loose a lot of centralized communication, you no longer have that one neat place where you find almost everyone, now you have 3 chat apps where you have MOST of your contacts scattered in, I say most because eventually you loose contact with some people, especially when they’re on another country. Finally I have to say that BlackBerrys are meant to be unlocked (cheaply) so you can freely use whatever SIM you like when traveling abroad, but that’s a completely different subject. Other than that, not much, just the keyboard, intense messaging takes some getting use to in an iDevice, and I can’t see everyone enjoying that change.
    On the subject of RIM launching BBM for other devices I have mixed feelings, sure I would love it, but I’m not sure its THEIR salvation. I would like to see some numbers about market share in the messaging apps, I do know that Android and Apple control a vast share of the mobile smartphone market, but when it comes to chat apps I see a lot of fragmentation within those last two, and its there that I think that the right thing for RIM might be, that could mean a very different business for them, maybe even a complete rethink of their line of business, changing from a product to a service company. I mean, suppose that BBM is the most widely used messaging platform, that edge could be exploited, meaning that by finding a way to make money with new devices using their platform, they could become THE giant of mobile and even fixed instant messaging.

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