That’s what I tweeted out as news of BlackBerry Messenger moving out from only on BlackBerry phones to two competing platforms exploded. The reaction from most people on Twitter, plus journalists and media across the world, was singularly conclusive. BlackBerry(BB) had lost their mind, the only reason people bought BB phones was for BBM. Now those who were being loyal to BB for BBM would also move away. This was what BB should have done three years ago, now it was way too late. This stank of desperation from a company that was seeing the writing on the wall. This would go down as the biggest mistake, ever, by any tech company and of course the final conclusion – this was the final nail in the BB coffin!
Whenever I see complete harmony of opinion in the tech world, it gets me nervous. Conventional wisdom would say that setting BBM free from its BB hardware confines was literally like opening a Pandora’s Box. This wasn’t a gamble, it was surefire death. But was it really? Would a company like BB do something as enormously foolish if it was that obviously foolish? If it was obviously wrong to everybody then wasn’t it obvious to them? There had to be more to it than just a brash, rash and crash plan to destroy BB forever! Here’s my take on why I think opening the BBM platform to the rest of the mobile world is actually a very smart tri-fold strategy.
Smart Strategy 1: A Confident Move?
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said that BB10’s start has been “so strong that we are confident that BBM can become an independent messaging solution.” Let’s take that statement with a pinch of salt and add some hidden spices to it. Yes, the BB10 OS is good and sales of the Z10, Q10 and the forthcoming Q5 seem strong, but what if the sales are strong due to BBM on them? Would you thus give up on your one and only ‘strong sales’ trump card? The only reason you would do that would be if you are sure that BBM isn’t the main reason for those better-than-predicted-sales.
Could it be that the BB10 OS, combined with the still best in its class email, fantastic typing speeds, the only real Qwerty keyboard phones (Q10 and Q5) that can give you notebook-level typing speeds, the sheer joy of discovering things that just work, the fact that BB10 eschews complexity and keeps it simple and easy – maybe BB discovered that people are buying BB10 phones for all of that. Thus they were quite sure that they would keep selling BB phones quite well.
Smart Strategy 2: The Killer App
Instant Messaging is the killer app of this decade. And BBM is the king of it all. Yes, there are many more out there and yes, there are many that have a larger number of users (Whatsapp has about 200 million users to about 60 million on BBM). But once you do a real hand-on-your-heart-honest-shoot-out of features and usage – BBM still wins.
Its biggest trump cards are the fact that it’s easily the most robust, is very secure, is reliable, has very intelligent group chats and message broadcast capabilities, gives you control over who you want on your contact list, has free video and voice calls with your contact list, can do a real- time screen share, is adding BBM Channels and BBM Money, and has an easy-to-use user interface. Now get this great IM platform out of its BB chains and unleash it onto the rest of the world. It already has 60 million active users and building on that base, it can easily become the number one IM system in the world. It can monetise this, it can leverage its user base power and it can dominate this field. To own and be king of the instant messaging space – now that’s a great place for BB to be.
Smart Strategy 3: The Double Addition
Once they have the momentum behind an open BBM platform, let’s take a look at what could happen next. An instant messaging platform is only as good as the number of people on it. Once BBM has the largest base, a few things will happen. Stage One: The growing user base will stop people from leaving their own BB phones as all the people who had left will come right back into their contact lists on their Android and iPhone BBMs. That’s a huge advantage as it stems the tide.
Stage Two: Give all the fantastic features that BBM currently has to all the platforms but always keep one feature exclusive to BB phones only. Thus, people all over the world using the all-platform BBM get a taste of it, like it, use it but also get seduced by the fact that BBM on BB is always one step ahead. Some may then buy a BB phone as a second phone and some may just switch entirely based on either the Qwerty keyboard advantage or previous BB user nostalgia. Either way, that adds millions to the BB phone user base.
Playing devil’s advocate is always the best way to get egg on my face and that’s exactly what I am doing here. This is how I see the open BBM platform play out. But do remember, this is the cruel, unfaithful world of tech where almost nothing is assured. Is the open BBM strategy a risky one? Yes! But is it a fatal mistake? Absolutely not! All of us will know whether this was a Pandora’s Box that was opened or the Holy Grail – in about three months from now.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, May 26
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