BBM on Android

Earlier this week Kevin ran an informal Twitter poll asking a question that has been on CrackBerry Nation's mind for a while. Should RIM stick with its walled garden approach and force people to buy a BlackBerry handheld if they want to use the awesomeness that is BBM? Or should they open up and port the app to Android and iOS?

Reading through the replies is pretty interesting. People definitely want to see RIM launch BBM on other devices, mostly so they can chat with their friends in other mobile camps. BBM group support is seen as critical. But at the same time, people think that RIM will be driving a nail into its own coffin if they open up BBM.

I think it's time we had a worthwhile discussion about this. It's easy to see how customers absolutely want RIM to open up BBM. These are people who love using the best mobile instant messaging tool on the planet, and feel bad for their friends who don't have it. They want to stay connected.

So if RIM believes that doing what's best for customers is what matters, it should port the app to Android and iOS.

But at the same time, a move like this would surely get elevated to a board of directors discussion. I expect that Thorsten would have to buy into the idea and sell it to the board. The board has a fiduciary duty to shareholders, so the argument would only pass if RIM and its board believed that opening BBM was in the best interest of the company's financial future.

When discussing this in the past, on the CrackBerry Podcast, I expressed my opinion on the matter. I said that I thought RIM should, at the very least, be doing all of the work required to support BBM on other platforms. They just don't necessarily need to go public with their work until they pull the trigger on a launch. Because, one day, they may decide they absolutely NEED to be on other platforms. And based on RIM's history of executing over the last 3 years, it would take them forever to get around to launching. So they need to get the work done now, and be ready to move fast should they decide to open up BBM.

Besides doing the work "just in case", should RIM open up BBM? I believe they should. I personally feel that it would be stunningly stupid not to.

There is no question BBM rocks. There is no question people on other platforms would use it. And yeah, there is no question that some people will ditch BlackBerry as soon as they can access BBM on another device. That would hurt.

But what RIM needs to do is architect a strategy that makes the benefits greater than the pain.

We've all got our own ideas on this, and I want to hear yours in the comments. Let's get a great discussion going. Maybe our ideas will help RIM see the light. Or maybe I'm dead wrong and you'll show me why.

My thoughts on why RIM can open up BBM and win:

  • Presumably, every new alternative-platform user of BBM would need to create a BBID and give up their email address. Boom! That's called list building in the world of marketing. RIM would build up a huge asset of smartphone owners who do not currently own a BlackBerry, but have shown clear interest in a major part of the platform. This list would be a goldmine for RIM to intelligently market to. Oh, that reminds me. RIM needs a Chief Marketing Officer, preferably one who gets this stuff.
  • It seems logical to me that off-platform BBM apps would not be as feature rich as the on-platform version. For example, group support is seen as critical. So allow group participation on iOS and Android but don't allow off-platform users to be group owners. This way the BlackBerry owners have a higher status in any group. Make no mistake, this would be a powerful psychological force.
  • BlackBerry BBM users could be given conversion coupons to share with their off-platform BBM buddies. For those who use the coupon, it could act as a sort of affiliate program where the referring BBM user earns credit that can be used on App World, BBM Music, or on the BlackBerry video store.
  • They could directly monetize the BBM app on other platforms (Kevin gets the credit for this one, not me). Want group access? Want access to advanced features? Want your messages archived? Video? It'll cost you a few bucks. If this fee was recurring, RIM could create a perceived automatic savings by using BlackBerry hardware instead.
  • Doing nothing means risking the development of another cross-platform IM app displacing the need for BBM. To date we haven't seen anything that comes remotely close to matching the features of BBM. But as time marches on, it's likely something will come along. I'm not so worried about WhatsApp, and the other newcomers to this space. I'm worried about Facebook and Google.

What's your stance?