We're now just past the one week mark in the cross-platform BBM rollout and things are clearly going well. They've added 20 million new monthly active users in this time, and the numbers keep rising as indicated by the fact that BBM still ranks as one of the most popular free downloads on iOS and Android across dozens of countries.
I've been very active in pushing people to download the app, and so I feel a bit like a salesperson. Sometimes people buy. Sometimes you get rejected. Sales people call it the "sea of rejection". When this happens I'm always interested in the reason behind the rejection. Keep in mind I've spoken to dozens of people, not thousands. So this is not a vast set of data on which to draw conclusions, but my overall sense is that the real competition is SMS, not other IM applications.
Other services like WhatsApp have come up in conversation, but they are usually the second or third reason for rejecting my BBM sales pitch. Almost always, the person starts by telling me they're perfectly happy with either normal text messages or iMessage.
But here's the thing: Among most of my iPhone-toting non-tech friends, they don't distinguish between the two services. They see iMessage as an SMS app, and many of them don't realize the app defaults to SMS only when the other person isn't on an iPhone too.
Among Android users there is no iMessage, and the most common response is "Why do I need BBM when I can already send texts?"
In the long run it seems obvious that a true cross-platform IM app will beat out SMS. And nothing would please me more than to see BBM become that app
The reality is this: SMS is the biggest and most well-known text chat service available on a cross-platform basis. People are totally fine with the idea of having to text, being limited to one device, and since they often don't know what they're missing (speed, delivery and read confirmation, groups, and much more) they don't see the value. Yet at the same time, it seems totally obvious that SMS will die. It's ancient technology. It's not getting better in any appreciable way. It will never compete with a real IM service.
In the long run it seems obvious that a true cross-platform IM app will beat out SMS. And nothing would please me more than to see BBM become that app.
Apple has it right with iMessage. I don't mean by keeping the IM features closed inside of Apple, but by combining the SMS app and the IM app together in a single interface. That was absolutely smart. Google's Hangouts app is doing the same thing, making it one step closer to an all-in-one solution for mobile messaging, SMS and video. It only stands to reason that BBM should be upgraded (and fast) to include SMS support.
SMS is like the ship that's very slowly sinking. All the passengers on that ship are going to move to another ship eventually. BBM is competing to attract these passengers onto its ship. The best way to do this is build a bridge, invite them to move, and let them go back to that pesky SMS ship whenever they like, for as long as they like.
SMS is like the ship that's very slowly sinking
Does BBM really stand a chance? I think so. Look at this survey from iMore. The question asked was "Which messaging systems do you use?" Multiple answers are permitted. The biggest winner in the survey is iMessage (29%), obviously, since iMore is an Apple-oriented site. And remember iMessage is also SMS. In second place with 17.6% is SMS. Then we have a tight cluster of Facebook Messenger, BBM, WhatsApp, where between 9.8% and 12.4% of voters use these apps. Every other app on the list got votes from no more than 5% of those surveyed. Obviously if the demographics were different we'd probably get more people voting for Line or WeChat, but in this mostly Western audience it's clear that BBM is very much in the fight.
Bottom line - there are going to be billions of smartphone users around the world, and right now the penetration of mobile instant messaging is quite small among all players combined. It will naturally grow. It will naturally kill off SMS. It will take a long time for this to happen, and BBM is certainly in this fight.