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BBM launches social integration, but are you chatting with anyone yet?

BBM-for-iPhone-and-Android

BlackBerry has launched an update to its BlackBerry Messenger for Android and iOS. The latest update includes support for the iPad and iPod Touch, plus additional features for both platforms. Perhaps the biggest update to this release would be social integration — BBM now lets users share their PINs on their social media accounts straight from within BBM. Previously, users would have to manually share these as screengrabs. BBM even launched this initiative along with its #BBMme hashtag, making it easier to discover other BBM users on social media.

Beyond simple social sharing, integration into social networks also means easier discovery for BBM users. When you share your PIN on Facebook, for instance, you can easily see who among your friends are also sharing their PINs, and you can  invite them from within BBM’s Facebook application.

A few weeks after launch, BlackBerry claims that BBM already has an install base of more than 20 million across iOS and Android platforms. This brings the total user base to about 80 million, including the 60 million or so BlackBerry users who are already chatting on BBM. While there had been an initial hype over the cross-platform launch of the chat client, the bigger hurdle now is how to grow the network beyond its existing fan base of loyal BlackBerry users and curious iPhone or Android smartphone users.

Here is where BBM is both at an advantage and disadvantage. BBM has been lauded for its security and privacy features, having originated as an enterprise application. Unlike other chat platforms that espouse openness and accessibility, it is not as easy to add a friend on BBM as it is on, say, WhatsApp, Viber or LINE. While most popular messaging apps would automatically add friends based on their mobile numbers, BBM would require you to share your PIN. And whenever you invite someone as a friend, that person would have to manually approve your request before you can start direct messaging on the platform. The same goes with group chatting.

You even have the option of quietly ignoring a request or politely declining with a response saying so. This underscores how much the platform values privacy. However, it does not bode well for growth. Automatically adding friends based on their phone numbers is a good way to jumpstart growth and to initiate engagement among users. Viber, for one, would automatically notify you once someone from your phonebook installs the app and gets into the network. But on BBM, this is not the case.

Are you on BBM with your friends yet?

Again, here lies the importance of social integration. Because users are already starting to share their PINs on BBM, and because the Facebook app itself would give recommendations of friends already on the network, it’s now easier to find friends already on the chat network.

But this begs the question: even if it’s now easier to invite someone into BBM, aren’t you already chatting with that friend on another cross-platform app? How about Facebook Messenger itself? Or perhaps another chat app? What would encourage you to move over your existing conversations to a platform that’s not as active as the others?

Then there’s also another big limiting factor: a BBM account only works on one particular device. This means you cannot easily jump from your smartphone to your web browser, to your tablet, and then another smartphone, unlike with Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts. Sure, you can move your BlackBerry account to another device — along with your PIN, in the case of iOS and Android — but it is not without some friction.

I, for one, am one of the millions of curious users who have jumped on the BBM bandwagon even ahead of its official launch  on Android and iOS. I used to be a BlackBerry user, and BBM was one of the things I missed, apart from the physical keyboard. When BBM officially launched across platforms, I tried setting up BBM groups in place of existing ones that I have with both family, friends and colleagues. In my experience, however, user uptake is not as good. Sure, I had friends. Yes, we established groups. But we ended up gravitating toward other messaging platforms. Again, there is friction.

Still, there is promise in BBM. Once BlackBerry launches its Channels, voice and video, and other features previously exclusive to BlackBerry devices, then perhaps users will become better engaged. For now, sure it’s easier to find friends on BBM. But the question is whether there is an incentive to actually use the platform for chatting when most of your friends are talking elsewhere.

BBM is a free download on Google Play. BBM this writer at 7BCF9AD0.

3 Comments

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  1. In regards to your delivery status issue: Kik had this problem too about a year ago. It actually does get delivered to the iPhone, but until the phone is unlocked the message is not downloaded which is why you do not see the “D”. I have tested this with multiple iPhones and the result was the same. You could see the message in the lock screen but it would only show a tick on my Android for the sent message. Kik resolved this by using a soft “D” (almost see-through) when the message has notified the iPhone user that it is ready to download.

    I hope BBM will resolve this soon as it was Kik who has surpassed this issue and the company was founded by a RIM co-op…

    Still, I love BBM and am an avid user, despite having a relatively small active user base within my friends/family.

  2. I, too, notice quite a few issues, including slow performance on iOS. These are likely to be due to bugs that can be resolved in future fixes. What I would like BBM to have is easier discovery, either through mobile numbers, social networks or even proximity (as with WeChat). Again, if the “approval” system is retained, then perhaps privacy is not breached. Take WeChat, for instance, which gives users the option to require approval before being added into someone else’s user list.

  3. They need to fix those minor bugs on IOS (eg, animated GIF not displaying with animation on iPhone 4, customizable ringtones). Blank white screen when launched (Nexus 4) requiring to close & relaunch to display the screen. Sending the same message to iPhone and Android phone. Delivered to android only but not the iPhone. Sent same message via Whatsapp to same iPhone and it’s delivered (double tick) but BBM shows only a tick and not ‘D’. This rules out internet connection. Why is BBM taking hours to deliver to iPhone but seconds to deliver to Android phone which received the message via Whatsapp?
    All these issues are really confounding users. Is it a server to server connection problem or BBM IOS client ? Some are minor issues but they are very irritating and adds to user frustrations.
    BBM can add phone# to BBId to cross check and update the phone book with BBM availability status similar to Whatsapp or Viber. BBM can make use of this info for invite/accept to create the contact within BBM. No privacy or security breach as the invite/accept process is not bypassed, just more convenient.

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