Wednesday, 15 May 2013At the BlackBerry Live conference in Orlando, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), the popular service that has long allowed BlackBerry users to chat and share voice notes, images and video, will now be cross-platform with free apps for iOS and Android.
Heins reportedly called it a “statement of confidence.”
There are certainly some trade-offs in this decision, but I call it a smart move to keep BlackBerry users from defecting. Even though Heins has been bragging about the success of the company’s current line of phones
and its new operating system, BlackBerry is no longer the behemoth it once was. So one problem with the old BBM model is that there has been a shrinking pool of people for BlackBerry users to chat with via BBM. Now, with a cross-platform product, BlackBerry users will have plenty of iOS and Android users to communicate with.
There are already competing cross-platform apps including Whatsapp, Skype and — to a certain extent — Facebook FB -1.74%.
The first version of the Android and iOS apps, available this summer, will include the following features, according to a BlackBerry blog post.
- Live BBM chats
- Multi-person chats
- Voice note sharing
- BlackBerry Groups, where BBM users are able to set up groups of up to 30 people and share calendar, photos, files and more
The obvious risk in making BBM available to other platforms is that it means that BlackBerry users who love BBM more than BlackBerry itself are now free to abandon the device and switch to an iPhone or Android device. That could cause BlackBerry to lose some customers, especially young people in the U.K. and other countries where BBM is quite popular. I don’t think it will have much of an impact in the U.S. (I rarely see young people with BlackBerries these days) and even where BlackBerry is strong, it could also serve as an incentive for some to stay with BlackBerry because their BBM product just got a lot more useful.
One thing it does do is make BlackBerry more relevant. People are talking about it and thinking about it and BlackBerry users can now use BBM to reach out to their friends who are Android and iOS users.
BlackBerry claims to have more than 60 million active BBM users with “more than 51 million daily active users who are connecting with friends or colleagues an average of one and a half hours every day.” BBM users send and recieve more than 10 billion messages a day, which, according to the company is “nearly twice as many messages per user per day as compared to other mobile messaging apps.”