So BlackBerry Messenger is finally going cross platform, eh? For quite some time now most of you at CrackBerry Nation have believed this should happen. In fact during 2010 (when the stock was still around $60), CrackBerry ran a poll asking you all if the company should take BBM cross platform.
Guess what? A whopping 71% of you said yes, it should go cross platform. Our own fearless leader, Kevin, is clearly on record saying BBM should be opened up. Here’s what he wrote in November 2010:
”So should RIM do it? Personally, I think they should. I get the reasons why they wouldn't. RIM makes money from selling smartphones, and right now BlackBerry Messenger is one of those hooks that keeps people on BlackBerry and actually attracts some people to BlackBerry (I've heard stories from carrier reps where individuals walk into the store and ask for the phone that does BBM). But I don't think this reasoning holds up long-term. As soon as a cross-platform BBM-style client emerges in the smartphone space and attains critical mass (ie. Kik or another), even if not as fully-featured as BlackBerry Messenger the hook of BBM starts to diminish.“
Almost two years later, in October 2012, I wrote a piece talking about the same thing, having come to the same conclusion. The only difference between 2010 and 2012 was the competing messenger that prompted the discussion. In 2010 it was Kik. And perhaps because Kik didn’t gain enough momentum, the BlackBerry folks dismissed it. But in 2012 we saw big growth from WhatsApp. And perhaps this is what finally caused management to get on board with the idea of opening up BBM.
Side story here - last week I was in St Maarten on vacation for my brother-in-law’s destination wedding. I was sad to miss BlackBerry Live, but hey ... I had a great time in the sun with my family. I bring this up because the last two times I’ve been in the Caribbean (Dominican Republic in March and St Maarten last week), I’ve noticed that BlackBerry is dominant. But when you ask locals what apps they use on the device, WhatsApp gets mentioned a fair bit.
Anecdotal evidence tells me WhatsApp has been growing over the last 6 months while BBM has not. BlackBerry has used the same “60 million users” metric during that time. The company needs to grow BBM. Inviting iOS and Android to the party is the best way to make this happen.
The folks who don’t think BlackBerry should open up BBM tend to focus on the singular argument against doing so. There is a risk that some BlackBerry users will switch to iPhone or Android if they know they won’t lose their BBM contacts. That’s absolutely true. But I think that risk is pretty small. People’s BBM contact lists have already been shrinking in markets like Canada and the US, and I think those who were going to leave the platform have already done so.
And there are many good reasons to open up the platform. Most importantly, I think that the world of mobile messaging is in need of consolidation. There are too many players and none of the alternatives to BBM appear to be as reliable.
Take this comment from CrackBerry reader T_C, “Before saying anything else, I have to say that I hate WhatsApp, It just lags a lot. And no matter how good WhatsApp is, if BBM goes on other platforms, it will kill WhatsApp instantly, I'm pretty much sure of that.” If BBM on iOS and Android is responsive, I think this comment makes a ton of sense. BlackBerry has a chance to consolidate this market and be the #1 player in mobile IM.
Before saying anything else, I have to say that I hate WhatsApp, It just lags a lot. And no matter how good WhatsApp is, if BBM goes on other platforms, it will kill WhatsApp instantly, I'm pretty much sure of that
What happens then? Vertical integration in various market. Consider the healthcare market. Doctors and nurses are communicating with their mobile devices and hospitals need to make sure that this communication is secure. if BBM can be this secure communication, operating over BES 10 infrastructure, then opening up BBM creates a huge monetization opportunity for the company’s enterprise software & services.
BlackBerry Messenger has a chance to become the #1 consumer messaging app and the #1 secure enterprise messaging app. But to do this it needs to be open. It needs to exist on iOS and Android.
BBM Channels is also a clever way to expand people’s interest in the app, and offers up something that WhatsApp, Kik and other messaging apps don’t have. Again, if BBM is efficient and responsive on iOS and Android, I think it starts growing quite quickly.
If the BBM user base can grow tremendously by non-BlackBerry users, then I think there exists a real possibility that people consider BlackBerry hardware for their next device upgrade. The BBM experience is always going to be better on a BlackBerry, and the new features will always land on BlackBerry first.
Yet I still see the risk this poses in the short term in emerging markets. As CrackBerry reader sk8er_tor said in the last post on this topic, “I actually like that idea [of cross-platform BBM] but it only works in the US. I think having BBM on other platforms outside the US would have hurt sales drastically...”
I understand that risk. I mean I don’t think I can quantify it, but I conceptually get the argument and think it may be correct. And so in the short term it’s possible the emerging markets users could be tempted to move to cheap Android handsets if they knew they’d be able to keep using BBM. Perhaps this is why BlackBerry waited to make the move until it had the low cost Q5 device ready to launch. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Q5 hits the market around the same time as BBM hits other platforms.
What do you think, CrackBerry Nation? Let us know in the comments. Do you agree with what BlackBerry is doing? Do you think it’s too little too late? Do you see other risks or opportunities that we haven’t yet discussed? Chime in.