BBM is huge among BlackBerry users. For many, it’s the reason why they choose BlackBerry in the first place (myself included). The messaging experience is simply the best you can get. It is almost instant. It’s very secure. It’s integrated into the entire BlackBerry experience. It is reliable. It comes with voice, video calling, and screen sharing. You can make groups where you can organize lists, pictures, calendar events, and more. It’s got designated channels for brands to engage with their customers. And best of all, its private. It’s more than just an instant messaging platform, it’s developing into a new type of social network. To this day, there is nothing else that comes close.
In the past, there was no hope that iPhone or Android users would be able to take advantage of this service. This limited BBM to only BlackBerry users, which prevented BBM from expanding as quickly as the smartphone market as a whole.
A few weeks ago at the BlackBerry Live keynote in Orlando, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) will be expanding to the iOS and Android smartphones platforms. While this is certainly big news, I feel that the biggest news is yet to be made, and here’s why.
Taking approximate numbers, where you have 60 million active BBM users out of 70 million total subscribers. That’s a huge 86% of BlackBerry users who use BBM actively. When we consider daily users, we have about 60% of users using it daily. Compare that to Facebook activity, which I’ve read has about 50% of its total subscribers as active daily, giving about 550 million active users. Not too big of a difference, but BBM does manage to achieve a higher daily usage ratio than Facebook. Not to compare the two so closely though, as they are both quite different beasts. Facebook is about sharing everything publicly. BBM is about sharing everything privately. This critical differentiation will be key to BBM’s success when going to multiple platforms.
I will go as far as to say that I believe that BBM will rival Facebook within a few years as the largest social network in the world on mobile. With such a high activity rate and 1 billion smartphone users (and counting) out there in the world, BBM may be able to dominate the peer-to-peer messaging space on the largest smartphone platforms. Doing a naïve calculation based on the BBM activity rate and the global smartphone user base, BBM could in theory reach the level of 860 million active users. And the market is only getting bigger.
Of course, this number has little significance without considering the multitude of factors that come into play. In any case, with even a modest uptake in BBM usage, BBM is poised to rival Facebook on the smartphone with only a few hundred million users once the Android and iPhone versions of the app are released. And it makes sense considering most people text message each other more than they want to share what their dog had for breakfast. It makes sense that the instant messaging/private social network market is larger than the social networking market when it comes to user base.
With simple, private content, BBM can offer an intimate and rich communication experience that is missing in other smartphone platforms with just simple text messaging. Make no mistake, the potential for BBM to dominate the smartphone market is very real.
On the desktop, Facebook is still king. Nobody is contesting that. But the desktop no longer enjoys huge growth in active users. In addition, BlackBerry has no current intentions of catering to the PC world. Mobile is where the growth is and will further help BBM expand. But BBM isn’t even competing with Facebook anyway. Facebook does have its own mobile app, but the two subscribe to quite different philosophies in social networking and can both co-exist to the benefit of each other.
It isn’t so straightforward though. I’m making some assumptions that may not turn out to be true. Will Apple allow BBM in their App Store? Will Android and iPhone users even want to use BBM? Will BBM run as well on other platform and deliver the same integrated experience? There are all questions that will affect the future of BBM, and I’ll quickly address them.
In my mind, I think it would be a mistake for Apple to deny their users BBM which isn’t in the same league as iMessage. The omission may just provide an incentive for iPhone users to hop to other platforms, which obviously isn’t good for Apple. But if Apple does block BBM, it would definitely affect the uptake of BBM as it wouldn’t be truly multiplatform without iOS. Overall, I don’t see this becoming an issue as Apple will likely take the smarter move.
Android and iPhone users will likely come to BBM in droves as many are ex-BlackBerry users and familiar with the service. The popularity of Whatsapp, Hookt, Google Talk etc. is indicative of the need for cross-platform instant messaging apps which millions of people use every day. Even Whatsapp has a massive 200 millions active months users. Perhaps BBM is not just another average competitor though, as it manages to best all the rival apps in features and integration (I think its safe to say this). With the better brand recognition and features, its more than likely you’ll see BBM surpass Whatsapp once BBM goes multiplatform. Plus, it’ll be free (unlike Whatsapp which is kinda free-ish to a point).
The last point on the experience is the most important and the one that I am less sure about. The reason for the high activity level on BBM is because it is heavily integrated into the BlackBerry operating system and notifications. This may be difficult to duplicate on a third-party platform. The question of whether the development tools of Android and iOS are sufficient to recreate the BBM experience is not something I’m too familiar with, but with such mature mobile platforms I doubt it will be an issue. If BlackBerry does manage to integrate BBM into Android and iOS with the level of sophistication we’ve seen on BlackBerry 10, I have the utmost confidence in the success of BBM on other platforms. It wouldn’t even be unreasonable to see BBM acheive 300 million users by the end of 2013. As smartphones and mobile communication becomes more and more prevalent, BBM could conceivably become the most preferred way communicate on any smartphone and the largest social network of all time.