BlackBerry on Tuesday announced that this summer it will offer a free version of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) for Android and iOS devices. We've been hearing the rumors that BlackBerry had these plans for years, and it seems almost too little too late. Think about it: competing services such as WhatsApp, iMessage and others have had two extra years to mature. Still, BBM is a powerful chat tool that's loved by millions.
So, ultimately, is offering BBM for Android or iOS a good move or a bad move? Let's take a look.
There's certainly some positive that can come from this. For one, putting BBM in front of even more eyeballs means that, essentially, more customers are being exposed to BlackBerry's brand. Secondly, the company said that it's going to start by offering a watered-down version of BBM to users on other platforms. That means they'll only have access to messaging and group chat, but won't allow you to place BBM video calls, share your screen or other options.
This can go both ways, of course. First, customers might start off using BBM as some sort of gateway drug into the messaging platform. If all goes as planned, iOS and Android users might want additional functionality that's only offered on a BlackBerry and will make the switch. Or it could go the other way for BlackBerry: users might see that they're limited to functions that are offered on other platforms and simply skip BBM from the get-go.
If BlackBerry is smart, and I think it is, it could eventually charge users for extra features. BBM Video could cost $0.99, for example. That might seem like a small figure, but take this into consideration: BlackBerry Messenger has 60 million monthly active users that sent 10 billion messages a day to one another. That's a huge customer base and charging just a hair for services here and there could mean big money for BlackBerry in the long run.
BBM used to be one of my primary means of staying in touch with my friends and family. Now I don't really use it that much on my Z10 because those friends have gravitated towards iPhones and Android devices. It's kind of a bummer, too, because BBM is more powerful now than it ever was before.
Opening it up to other platforms could be dangerous because customers that would potentially move back to BlackBerry might do so only because they miss BBM. But if you offer it to people on other platforms it gives BBM fans of yesteryear the best of both worlds: a great chat application and the platform that already exists on their smartphone. They don't need to switch, in other words.
That brings up another problem.
BlackBerry is essentially giving competitors a branded tool that can be used on their platforms… for free. Why wouldn't Apple or Samsung or Google or any other competitor welcome it with open arms? It's almost like BlackBerry is saying "here, take these tools and let your customers use them also. We don't care." Choice is great for customers, and it's great for the industry, but it might be a bit risky for BlackBerry. Remember: this is a company that needs to regain lost market share.
My fear is that BlackBerry—to consumers—has been best known for two things, BBM and its keyboards. If it gives away BBM then it's only left with the great keyboards.
I don't think there's any correct answer to this question right now. I think it's definitely going to depend on how BlackBerry decides to execute on delivering BBM and its plans for future monetization on other platforms. If it does find a way to monetize across platforms then this could be free money in the bank.
I just worry that consumers may simply take BBM and leave BlackBerry with a warehouse full of devices.