Last night, BlackBerry announced that BlackBerry Messenger would soon be available for Android and iOS users. This was BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins’ biggest "one more thing" moment. In the tech2 Round Table, we discuss why BlackBerry chose to make this announcement now. Does the move have any implications beyond the obvious? Join the discussion by posting your views in the comments section below
I feel this is a desperate move by BlackBerry to stay relevant in the instant messenger space. With WhatsApp being a de facto messenger service for anyone with a smartphone, and Google all set to unveil its unified messaging system dubbed Babel, BlackBerry is feeling a bit left out. Releasing BBM for iOS and Android for free does not seem to have any immediate gains for BlackBerry. It's not as if BlackBerry is hoping to sell more handsets with this move; in fact, this could very well be the final nail in the coffin. The only reason one would still hold onto their BlackBerry device is for BBM. And soon, that exclusivity will cease to exist, so what's stopping users from ditching their BlackBerrys and buying a cheaper but more powerful Android? I feel BBM won't replace any of the current messaging services, but it will help users manage their personal and business contacts without the need to carry two phones.
BBM coming to Android and iOS
BBM was one of the few things that I missed when I moved away from BlackBerry a couple of years ago. And not having access to my BBM buddies initially did prove to be socially isolating. But BB 10 wasn’t around, and there wasn’t much to hold on to, so I migrated. Imagine, what would’ve happened if BlackBerry would’ve made BBM platform agnostic a year or two ago, without the BB 10 OS and the UI experience on its new touch phones there as tent poles? All its hardcore loyal fans would’ve jumped ship too. It would’ve been precipitous, going by the rate at which defections were occurring to Android back then.
Making BBM platform agnostic makes tremendously more sense now than it would have ever before. I’d happily move over to BBM if it is made available on Android today, because the experience of the BlackBerry messaging app is still far superior to anything else I’ve used. I think BBM will gain many more loyal users who are on other platforms!
I also think this is a very smart marketing move – introducing a new user interface to more users without having them buy your phones. Full marks here! Because the BBM experience on Android or iOS will get you used to the swipe left-right quick-flick UI trick, and you may (just may!) end up liking that UI touch. If that does occur, then there is a sliver of hope that you may consider the full Blackberry OS 10 experience. The marketing ploy is also playing to BlackBerry’s core strength, on the back of a proven messaging product that has real pedigree, very different from software gimmicks that some other manufacturers tend to use as hooks.
As a smartphone pioneer, BlackBerry’s place in history is confirmed. But after the company let BlackBerry Messenger out of its walled garden last night, one gets the feeling this is a desperate attempt on its part. In all likelihood, this is not going to change the fate of BlackBerry in the market, which is still struggling in the light of Android and iOS domination. Without meaning to sound the death knell, BBM’s arrival on rival platforms looks like a last-ditch attempt by BlackBerry to remain relevant in the new scheme of things. BBM was the original IM juggernaut and BlackBerry cultivated its legion of fans on the back of the app. While the likes of WhatsApp, hike and WeChat have stormed the market, the arrival of BBM will be seen as the return of an old flame The general opinion is that it’s too little, too late and it’s hard not to agree. The arrival of BBM on other platforms only serves to make them more attractive. If BlackBerry is hoping that getting a taste of BBM will make users consider the newer BlackBerry experience, then they could be in for a rude shock.
BBM for Android and iOS was ''one more thing'
I remember toying with the idea of buying a BlackBerry a few years ago. They were pretty cool in an unconventional sort of way, and everyone at the time was hooked onto BBM. Friends who had BBs seemed to be part of a little secret social circle; more in touch with each other than with outsiders. I’m sure that a lot of people bought into BBM because of social pressure—it was either get in or get left out. When BlackBerry (then RIM) launched low-priced phones, BBM really took off as a social network. The company sold millions of phones by holding on to its control of BBM.
But it’s important to remember that no one bought those phones for BBOS, secure email or corporate management features. Those things eventually became a liability holding the platform back. BlackBerry never fully embraced its new youth market, and as BBM users started defecting to Android and iPhones, the power of the network diminished. Cross-platform apps like WhatsApp largely replaced BBM’s functionality, killing the only real selling point those phones ever had.
So it’s clear that BBM isn’t all that attractive anymore, and it seems to me that opening it up to competitors at this point is an admission that its phones will never be as popular as they once were. If BBM on Android/iOS is snappier and easier to use than WhatsApp, it will definitely catch on. It might even become the preferred IM app for many users. But what good does any of that do for BlackBerry? It isn’t making any money from the app. I believe that the company has accepted that BBM will not sell hardware anymore, and is now planning to monetise BBM. Channels might be the first step in this direction—brands might pay to engage users, and BlackBerry just opened up that audience.
It will be an uphill battle against entrenched competitors (and Google’s upcoming Babel project), but I think a lot of former BB owners will give it a shot. Maybe it’s already too little, too late, but I give BlackBerry credit for being willing to let go of its legacy advantage and take a gamble on the future.
Published Date: May 15, 2013 16:57 PM | Updated Date: May 15, 2013 16:57 PM