RIM's BlackBerry Messenger under fire: How important is BBM?

Summary:Research in Motion's multi-front war continues and now BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)---one of the company's most defensible positions in mobile---is under fire from the likes of Apple.

Research in Motion's multi-front war continues and now BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)---one of the company's most defensible positions in mobile---is under fire from the likes of Apple.

Following Apple's introduction of its WWDC goodies---Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud---much of the sentiment swirling around RIM went from bad to worse. Why? Apple touted its iMessage, a system that allows anyone with an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch send unlimited free text messages to another iOS device. Apple's iMessage is a direct assault on BBM, which is arguably RIM's most marketable item.

Related: A look at iOS 5 (photos)

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said:

The two mainstays of RIM's sales have been corporate email users and consumer BBM (Blackberry Messenger) users. While Apple lacks RIM's NOC/node infrastructure that allows for BBMing without a data plan with some carriers, iMessage otherwise is a direct competitor. The launch of a low-cost iPhone in the Fall targeted at prepaid and emerging markets will only further undermine RIM.

Wharton marketing professors have noted that RIM's BBM could be heavily marketed and should be the company's defining sales pitch. Instead, RIM suffers from Apple envy and doesn't play up BBM nearly enough. To its credit, RIM did outline plans to open BBM up to iOS and Android recently.

Should BBM falter, RIM will have yet another big hole to plug. Raymond James analyst Steven Li previewed RIM's first quarter, which is already known to be weak, and called it a form of water torture. Li argued that RIM could be Nokia-ed---caught in the crosshairs of the competition without new products.

Li said RIM's product portfolio has aged another three months and new devices may not appear until September. That timeline would mean RIM will miss the back-to-school selling season.

Add it up and RIM faces the following challenges:

  • Getting through 2011 until its QNX-based "superphones" allegedly save the day in 2012.
  • Defending the enterprise as consumerization takes hold.
  • Fending off Android as well as Apple's iOS.
  • Keeping margins and service revenue humming as companies look at management tools other than BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
  • Making a dent in the tablet market.
  • And now defending BBM from Apple.

Nevertheless, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie on June 16 is likely to be as optimistic as ever even as the company reports weaker-than-expected first quarter results. What's unclear is whether the Balsillie show will have much of a believability factor.

Also:

RIM updates PlayBook with BBM, Video Chat, and Home screen bookmark shortcuts

Topics: Mobile OS, Apple, BlackBerry, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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