First came cross platform BBM in 2013, and in early 2014 it looks like the stakes have been raised once again in the mobile messaging space. The release of BBM 2.0 upped the ante for our friends on Android and iOS, providing them options such as Glympse interactive location sharing, Dropbox integration, expanded group sizes, BBM Channels and perhaps the most important option of them all, free BBM to BBM calling worldwide; this changes the landscape for major competitors like Viber, WhatsApp, and Skype, who happen to also be on BlackBerry Legacy and/or BB10.
The Blackberry faithful don’t need to be reminded of Viber’s backtracking on support for BB10; check the history of their posts in the forums of another hugely popular fan site where they provided regular updates to BlackBerry users that Viber for BB10 was in development; unfortunately they pulled their support and BBM eventually went cross platform without BBM voice and video features, which BB10 users have enjoyed since launch. When BlackBerry announced the decision to open up BBM to Android and iOS, they made their intentions clear that voice, Channels and video calling would be included at a later date. Could this be the reason they pulled support; could it be that they didn’t think BB10 was a viable platform to develop for? Unfortunately I don’t have those answers, but given that with the recent announcement to release BBM for Android devices running gingerbread, and even without a BBM client for WP and Symbian, I would estimate that roughly 90% of the mobile market is covered. Let’s also recall that BBM added over 20 million Android and iOS users soon after launch. I have used BBM voice and the call clarity is superb; add in the new features and the upcoming video calling and the value proposition only gets better. I won’t deny that Viber’s recently added features such as Viber Out- the ability to call non-Viber users’ mobile and land line numbers – and the launch of Viber for Windows Linux and Mac computers, Viber is going squarely against Skype and Hangouts. What does this mean for BBM?; in terms of mobile calling, BBM is pretty much on par, but Blackberry needs to roll out video calling, and a standalone desktop client, or alternative solution, and maybe even the ability to call phone numbers to go head to head on features. Once the full BBM roadmap is publically released, we’ll have more insight as to what features above video calling will arrive. While Viber looks to generate additional revenue through the introduction of their sticker market, BlackBerry will look to Channels for a monetization strategy, as they’ve stated that cross platform voice and video calling will remain as free features.
With respect to WhatsApp, much was said about their push to talk like voice notes feature when cross platform BBM was first released; BBM also has the option to send voice notes but I have never really subscribed to that use case for continued conversations; I don’t doubt that it is useful for some or many but I see the two features as equal. BBM is the better communications proposition on the basis of functionality, not to mention security. BBM voice and messaging are running through the BlackBerry network infrastructure and given recent incidents of Whatsapp being compromised, there is no comparison here. I will admit, WhatsApp has at least 4 times the number of users and is truly cross platform as all the major platforms are supported, as well as platforms with minute market share. Once support for WP, and cross platform video calling is released there is no comparison. At this stage, WhatApp remains more of a pure messaging service, as it lacks voice and video features. It’s reach is huge, it’s feature list is short, and the security is suspect. Users don’t seem to mind the mining of their contact lists for the convenience of contacts being added automatically and the vast cross platform availability.
So where does this leave BBM in the messaging space? Skype and Viber seem to be on par with their feature sets and currently provide features that BBM does not. However, today we saw a leak of BlackBerry Blend software which appears to be a multi device solution for BBM; time will tell what exactly this functionality will offer but one has to think that BlackBerry understands the need to have BBM at least on the desktop, if not on tablets as well to close the gap. Given the constant media bashing, trolling, weak sales of bb10 devices, and some stability issues in the initial release of cross platform BBM – not to mention nuances of the particular OSes that also required a bit of a learning curve – BlackBerry won’t be able to convince everyone. I challenge mobile users to put aside their perceptions, misconceptions and any pre conceived notions about BlackBerry and install BBM and take advantage of all the features. I have no doubt you will appreciate this awesome service, irrespective of the name on the product. Even though there is stiff competition in the messaging space from cross platform competitors like Google Hangouts, Skype, Viber etc., this is BlackBerry’s first foray into the world of cross platform messaging, and new features are on the horizon. If you value secure communication from a provider that made its reputation on security and communication, I recommend going to Google Play or the Apple App Store and downloading BBM if you haven’t already.