How will BlackBerry fans feel when BBM becomes available on Android and iPhone?…Only one thing is for certain: BB phone sales will be negatively impacted.

Yes, pun intended. BlackBerry’s instant messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) will be available on Apple’s iPhone and Google Android in a few weeks.

On the face of it, making a service available on multiple platforms is a good move as it ensures cross-compatibility and helps to grow its user base. There is however an exception to every rule and in this case, I think Blackberry is that exception.

BBM is BB’s bread and butter. Sure many people buy their phones. But this is because it is the only way to access BBM by way of a Blackberry Internet Subscription (BIS) and Blackberry realises a lot of revenue from these subscriptions. BBM and BB phones boast one of the most secure instant messaging platforms available. So secure that the governments of countries like the UK and Saudi Arabia have had to strong-arm the company into providing them with backdoor access to the service for security and intelligence purposes. I am doubtful though if the secure nature of the service ranks high on the list of requirements of many of their casual users.

The decision to make BBM cross-platform raises some important questions.

What subscription model will be used?

Will it be free? Very unlikely considering that they make a lot of revenue from BIS subcriptions. But then again, they could make it free by including ads. If they do charge for it, it will be seen as an additional burden expense for users who have already subscribed to a data plan. In the case of BB phones, the BIS is the data plan. Charging for it will look onerous because the rival platforms are free. Even the $1/year subscription fee of WhatsApp is a token fee at best. I still like to think of it as free.

Will it benefit the company?

The move seems to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, there will be more users of BBM though how long the new users stay will depend on the subscription model employed. If it isn’t free, many iPhone and Android users might not even bother to give it a try.

On the other hand, the move could severely hurt BlackBerry’s phone sales. This is because many BlackBerry owners own them for one reason: access to BBM. If they can get this access elsewhere, many of them won’t buy a Blackberry. The only ones who might still buy are those who want a phone with a hardware QWERTY keyboard. – there aren’t many of those in the Android world. Even then, many users will likely ditch their BB phones for an iPhone or Android if the subscription model is cheaper or free.

Conversely, it is very unlikely that new users of BBM on iPhones and Android will switch to a BlackBerry phone if only to avoid the requisite blackberry internet subscription required for BlackBerry phones.

Partial Cross-Platform Availability’

You might have observed that I have been referring to the iPhone and not iOS. This is because there will be no BBM app for the iPad. The lack of BBM on the Playbook was one of its major sore points for BlackBerry fans. I do not know why they have chosen to repeat a previous mistake. More importantly, they have refused to provide a client for the PC. This kind of insular approach is what has brought many companies down. To be fair, BlackBerry is not the only guilty party here; WhatsApp is also culpable. What these parties need to understand is that convergence is key. Though they serve the mobile market, they should be aware that there are now different form factors and devices used for computing and as such, they should ensure convenience for their users. At least, Viber seems to have gotten the message.

The Naija Perpective

The Nigerian mobile market has proven to be something of a phenomenon. While BlackBerry (and effectively, BBM) has in the past two years witnessed considerable loss of users in many countries, the platform has enjoyed astounding success here in Nigeria. Though I have no formal statistics to mention, I can tell you that there is at least one BlackBerry user in every household. The reason for this is a bit antithetical. It is a reflection of the idiosyncrasies of the Nigerian mobile landscape where owning a BlackBerry is mostly perceived as being a high-powered individual. Of course, there are other overt ways of showing this but brandishing a BB is often seen as the first step towards becoming part of the jet set. The general excuse is that BBM is one of the cheapest ways to communicate. I wonder if they’ve heard of WhatsApp. But I digress.

How will BlackBerry fans feel when BBM becomes available on Android and iPhone? Will they feel indignant? Will they stick to their BB phones, or will they switch to an Android phone or iPhone? Maybe they’ll even dump BBM altogether. Seeing as BlackBerry makes a lot of money from BIS, I just can’t see how making the service free will benefit them. Perhaps they want to partake in the game of big numbers; they want to be able to brag that BBM has x millions of users.

Only one thing is for certain: BB phone sales will be negatively impacted. Of course, the fickle nature of us humans might make things go differently than as predicted here. We’ll have to wait and see.

Olawale Sanni Author

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