BlackBerry Messenger key differentiator for RIM

Smartphone maker has committed to making tool integral for BlackBerry users, says analyst who notes such efforts and desire for exclusivity are reasons why RIM has no plans to make Messenger available on other platforms.
Written by Tyler Thia, Contributor

Blackberry Messenger (BBM) is a key differentiator and keeps the mobile device popular among the youth, especially in emerging markets such as Indonesia, Latin America and Africa, observes an industry analyst, who adds that for this reason, Research in Motion (RIM) is unlikely to make the application available on other platforms.

Canalys' principal analyst, Daryl Chiam, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that the BlackBerry maker has invested in building a sound hardware and software infrastructure for the Messenger platform. "RIM has got excessive control over the message flow and that means they're able to create a very good user experience," he noted.

Chiam also observed that RIM has constantly worked on improving the usability of the messaging app, referring to how the latest upgrade allows BlackBerry users to share postings on social media sites with friends in their contact list.

The analyst shared that RIM is trying to integrate more of the BBM functions with other apps sitting on the smartphone's operating system (OS), thereby enabling a more "social" user experience.

These improvements keep customers attracted to the device, and perhaps why the manufacturer has no plans to make the application available across other platforms, Chiam noted.

Rumors had surfaced late-March that RIM was planning to make BBM available on other platforms including Apple iOS and Google Android. Company executives later stepped out to deny such efforts were in the cards, with RIM's director of developer relations, Mike Kirkup, noting in an interview that BBM was essential to keeping customers on BlackBerry.

When contacted, RIM's vice president for South Asia, Hastings Singh, reiterated that the messaging app "is not available to users of other smartphone platforms".

Asked if the company had plans to develop apps to facilitate communications with other platforms, Singh told ZDNet Asia that BlackBerry users could already do so via third-party apps such as Gtalk, MSN/Windows Live and WhatsApp.

He declined to comment if the company had plans to develop a BBM for other devices.

According to CrackBerry, a tech site focused on smartphones, a BBM look-alike instant messaging (IM) app, called Cnected, is available for download on Android, iOS, Symbian and BlackBerry devices, allowing users to chat with friends across other platforms while retaining some of the "favorite features" they are familiar with on the RIM platform.

Cross platform only if performance not compromised
BlackBerry users that ZDNet Asia contacted said they would welcome cross-platform support for BBM, but only if performance remains uncompromised.

Legal counsel Kenneth Lim, 30, noted that the messaging tool has a fast response time, adding that this could be due to the fact that it runs solely on the BlackBerry platform, thereby allowing the app to deliver "optimal compatibility and performance".

"It would be good for consumers if BBM can be used across different operating platforms, provided performance will not be compromised," Lim said. "If other operating platforms can ensure the same high level of efficiency, I believe consumers will take to it."

He noted that since BBM is a proprietary app for BlackBerry devices, RIM was unlikely to allow the messaging tool to be available on other platforms for the fear of losing market share.

Shipping analyst, Kelvin Chow, 30, agreed.

"BBM is an exclusive messaging system, but it is not 'restrictive'. It is a very reliable messenger system and its downtime is minimal, compared to other cross-platform messengers," Chow shared, noting that these cross-platform apps are "usually buggy".

New devices crucial for RIM success
According to research firm ovum, the new slate of BlackBerry smartphones launched this week might prove to be the "most important devices" in RIM's history.

Following a recent slowdown in shipment and industry doubt over the Canadian company's growth strategy and leadership, Ovum's principal analyst Tony Cripps noted that the latest BlackBerry 7 OS and an improved browser "seem to offer a compelling device-side user experience".

However, RIM will need to spend more effort on promoting these devices, he said in a research note released Thursday.

Cripps explained: "Smart devices are increasingly sold to consumers as much on a promise of what those devices can deliver in terms of applications and services, as they are on their design.

"Success in this endeavor could prove crucial in deciding the fate of RIM's latest devices, and maybe its longer term future," the Ovum analyst cautioned.

Chiam shared Cripps' view. The Canalys analyst said he was impressed with the improved hardware and OS that came with the two new BlackBerry Bold and three Torch models, adding that these new devices had the ability to help the Canadian manufacturer regain market share.

According to a Canalys report published this week, RIM's market share in North America fell to 12 percent from 33 percent a year ago, but its global shipment grew 11 percent year-on-year, making it the top vendor in Latin America with a 28 percent share.

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