May 14, 2013
This move has been rumored for over a year yet it was a surprising news. BBM will come to iOS 6 devices and will work on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and higher. The app will be free and bring cross-platform messaging between BlackBerry, iOS and Android users.
BBM has 60 million active monthly users — certainly nothing to sneeze at — but in the years since it reigned supreme, the messaging space has drastically changed. Apple’s BBM copycat service iMessage boasts over 140 million users. Other services, including MessageMe, GroupMe and Facebook Messenger boast equally large and growing users bases.
And then there’s WhatsApp. More than 10 billion WhatsApp messages are sent each day and its user base is easily in the hundreds of millions. The service is widely successful in emerging markets — exactly the markets that BlackBerry cites as its core BBM user base. WhatsApp is also on a ton of platforms — including Windows Phone, Symbian and, yes, BlackBerry 10.
BlackBerry will argue that BBM is more than just chat — it has groups, the ability to send files and more — but, for users on other platforms, that might be just a semantic difference.
The proposition of bringing BBM to iOS and Android was something that made sense — and was potentially disruptive — back in 2009 or even 2010. In 2013, the onus will be on BlackBerry — and, really, BBM users — to convince other users to switch and use the app.
At a press session after the announcement, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said that he believed a core differentiator between BBM and WhatsApp is that BBM is free. Of course, there are other free services out there, including Facebook Messenger. Still, Heins has a point about free being a potentially big driver in adoption.
One area where BBM could improve its cross-platform experience is around the idea of the PIN. Remembering and finding user PIN numbers can be difficult. WhatsApp and iMessage are so successful in part because these services employ a user’s existing phone number. In the case of iMessage, the experience is actually seamless with SMS, working in the same application and the same way.
Regardless, the crowded messaging space just got a bit more crowded. Let us know what you think about BBM coming to iOS and Android in the comments.