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BlackBerry Banking Heavier on BBM
An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that beleaguered smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry is considering spinning off its profitable BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service or positioning it as a separate subsidiary. This is in line with the announcement a few weeks back that the company's Board of Directors would be looking at "strategic alternatives" for the company going forward. The company has already confirmed its intention to support iOS and Android devices on the BBM service later this year.
As BlackBerry's footprint has shrunk, the number of BBM users has shrunk with it. At its inception, BBM was a pioneering service that got BlackBerry users off traditional SMS messaging with delivery confirmations, group chat, embedded images, and lots of other cool things--all of which Apple incorporated into its iMessenger. Of course the other thing the two services had in common was the fact they were "closed systems", BBM for BlackBerry users and iMessenger for iOS users.
The latest twist with iMessenger is that it is now supported on OS X 10.8 ("Mountain Lion") as well as on iPhones and iPads, so you can send and receive messages on all of your Apple devices. BlackBerry is reportedly talking about a desktop capability as well, though a company spokesperson would not confirm that.
BlackBerry would not be alone in offering multi-platform enhanced mobile messaging. Mountain View-based WhatsApp has been offering an enhanced IP-based wireless messaging solution that connects iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and even Windows Phone and Symbian devices. The company claims more than 300 million active users, compared to BBM's 60 million.
From a unified communications standpoint, texting or "IM", typically in conjunction with presence, is one of the core communication modalities. However, those platforms operate independently of the mobile IP texting solutions, and most don't even interface with SMS. Each of the UC vendors touts a mobile UC client that includes a texting capability, but as we've said many times, user adoption of those has been close to nil. So those UC users may be using UC-based texting in the office, but they are using some other option on their mobile device.
While each of these UC texting solutions is vendor specific (though they may interface via XMPP), start-up NextPlane is offering a cloud-based UC federation service they call UC Exchange. UC Exchange can interconnect IM and presence capabilities from Microsoft Lync, IBM Sametime, Cisco Jabber, Google Apps, and Jive OpenFire, as well as Skype, Yahoo!, Facebook, and virtually any XMPP-capable presence and IM system. Of course, iMessenger and BBM aren't on that list, so if we are going to have intercompany, multiplatform mobile messaging, the choice seems to be WhatsApp or a mobile app from Skype, Google, Facebook, or one of the other consumer platforms.
Given the gulf that separates desktop from mobile messaging solutions, BlackBerry may have found a valuable niche to fill with an enhanced multiplatform BBM offering--particularly if they can tie in the desktop IM and presence offerings. That's not much of a stretch given that BlackBerry already has its own Lync client. Further, unlike the rest of the mobile universe, BlackBerry does have a focus on the enterprise. Whether they choose to go it alone like WhatsApp or partner with someone like NextPlane, the use of IM on both desktop and mobile devices is booming; the only option that seems to be shrinking is the hopelessly overpriced SMS.