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.