This weekend marks a new beginning for BlackBerry Messenger (popularly known as BBM) as it becomes available on iPhones and Android smartphones. With an addressable market of a billion users, BBM has the possibility of becoming much bigger than it could have ever been were it to be stuck with BlackBerry smartphones, sales of which have fallen so rapidly that the company is investigating “strategic options” (read going private or a sale). With just 60 million BBM users and increased competition from services like WhatsApp, WeChat, Line and others, can BBM still be relevant?
A few things I hear regularly from existing BlackBerry users is how their BBM contacts have shifted to WhatsApp and how most of the conversations have moved on from BBM. Then there are also some users who keep a BlackBerry just because of BBM. “I cannot wait for BBM to come to Android. I want to move from BlackBerry but cannot do that right now,” a journalist friend who works for a newswire told me earlier this week brandishing his old BlackBerry smartphone.
While many BlackBerry users have moved on to an iPhone or an Android smartphone and have moved to WhatsApp, they miss BBM. “Unlike WhatsApp, where anyone who has my number can ping me, I find BBM more private and secure. I also miss the whole charm about sharing your BBM PIN with someone so that they could add you,” says a producer for a television news channel.
BBM has the legacy. There are millions of former BlackBerry users who have now shifted platforms and miss BBM. There are hundreds of millions more (yours truly included) who have had friends raving about BBM but could never think of shifting to a BlackBerry smartphone to experience it. Now they will be able to see what BBM is all about. Whether they would stick to BBM or continue with WhatsApp and others is a different matter, they will download BBM once at least. Is BlackBerry late in introducing BBM for iOS and Android? Probably. Is it too late? Probably not.
Don’t be shocked or surprised if your Facebook and Twitter feed is full of people sharing their BBM PIN over the weekend.