Rumour has it that Canada’s smartphone maker is planning to bring its signature BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) platform to the open smartphone market.
In a widely replicated story posted to the Boy Genius Report blog Thursday morning, “multiple trusted sources” were cited as saying Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion Ltd. will soon make its eminently popular instant messaging app available to users of Apple Inc. mobile devices and smartphones running Google Inc.’s Android platform. RIM would of course not officially confirm this and the report said the company was still working out the details of timing and pricing.
Investors were initially quite pleased by the idea of RIM taking BBM to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS; RIM stock jumped more than 4% in Thursday afternoon trading following the unconfirmed report. However, the likelihood of rumour becoming reality depends entirely on the answer to the following question: what could RIM possible have to gain from handing over its most coveted feature to its fiercest competitors?
It could be planning to use BBM as a lure to convince Android and iPhone users to defect to the BlackBerry camp. By offering them access to only a bare bones version of the rich and gratifying experience that is full BlackBerry Messenger access, RIM could be employing the classic ‘grass is greener’ marketing tactic.
That strategy would make sense, were it not for the obvious risk of the exact opposite reaction being just as likely. Loyal BlackBerry users could actually abandon the RIM platform if they can use BBM on an iPhone or Android device.
“While it pains me to say, as a long time BlackBerry user, and faithful Canadian, I would gladly leave for an iPhone or Android device if I could get BBM on those devices,” said Savio Rodrigues, a product manager with IBM Corp.’s WebSphere Software division, in a post to his personal blog on Friday.
“Far more than push email and a physical keyboard, BBM is the key feature that keeps me a BlackBerry user.”
Not only is Mr. Rodrigues’ opinion a common one, but preexisting apps such as Kik Messenger — which offer a BBM-like service for Apple and Android users for free — makes the possibility of a stripped-down non-BlackBerry BBM app catching on with other platforms unlikely at best. It would have to offer them something novel they cannot get from the present cadre of BBM clones.
To really get iPhone and Android fans BBMing en mass, RIM will need to offer them all the same real-time action updates and file-attachment capabilities that it provides its own users. And to do that, it most definitely will need to make them pay.
Then the question becomes how much? With Kik offering a free BBM alternative and other paid apps such as WhatsApp Messenger costing less than a dollar, the answer is clearly in the neighbourhood of not very much. It would also need to make enough revenue to offset any losses due to defection of BlackBerry users such as Mr. Rodrigues: an extremely delicate balance to say the least.
Perhaps the best reason to believe RIM would never open up BBM is because the service is used as a key attractor to bring new customers into the BlackBerry brethren. The service figures prominently in nearly every one of the company’s marketing and promotional materials.
To give up that exclusivity makes about as much sense as Apple Inc. offering its FaceTime video conferencing technology to Android users, or Google allowing Apple to replace the native iOS version of its Safari web browser with the unquestionably superior Google Chrome browser.