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BBM pre-installed: Will Android partnerships help get BlackBerry back in the game?


BlackBerry (formerly Research-in-Motion) seems to be serious in its efforts to relive its glory days at the top of the smartphone ecosystem. Newly-appointed CEO John Chen expects the company to be profitable again by 2016, and the new management is aggressive at pursuing partnerships with device makers in bundling its instant messaging app and network, BlackBerry Messenger.

Chen says the work will not be easy, but BlackBerry is taking things a step at a time. “My step one was to have the company financially out of harm’s way,” he told media earlier this week. “I can’t say I’ve done it today, but we are on a good path.”

A few weeks after BBM for iOS and Android officially launched, the company announced an install base of 20 million, which brought up the total BBM install base to 80 million. This December, BlackBerry said the total install base has been brought up to 40 million, bringing the total to about 100 million, including devices running iOS, Android and BlackBerry’s own operating systems.

Recently, BlackBerry also entered into a partnership with LG, which will bundle BBM with its Android smartphones, starting with the G Pro Lite and other models thereafter. This is seen as a big boon to the Canadian company, which is banking on its enterprise services and communications platform as a means to extend its reach across other platforms like iOS and Android.

Downloads vs. Active users

Speaking of numbers, however, while 100 million is a good figure for a company supposedly on the decline, some service providers have criticized the use of supposedly inflated figures in counting a user base. In particular, WhatsApp has lashed out at rivals (including, but not limited to, BBM), which usually cite their number of downloads as their primary metric when releasing numbers to the press. As of this week, WhatsApp says it has surpassed 400 million monthly active users, an increase of 100 million in just four months. It’s worth stressing here that this figure involves people who actually use WhatsApp to communicate at least once a month.

In contrast, WhatsApp says competitors usually use raw downloads as their main metric — some service providers would rather focus on how many people have downloaded the application, without necessarily considering if the app is being regularly used. It’s tantamount to padding their figures, and the metric would include apps that are bundled in with devices, but never get used anyway.

One step at a time

For BlackBerry, therefore, having BBM pre-installed on LG devices is just the first step. The company would also have to ensure that users actually activate BBM by signing up for a new account and regularly using the app to communicate. Perhaps LG and BlackBerry should offer incentives to users to actually activate and use BBM.

And then, of course, BlackBerry will need to get BBM prominently marketed across other brands, too. Samsung is probably the best target here, being the leading Android brand in terms of sales. But since Sammy has its own ChatON platform, it may not be likely that it will give that spot to BBM (although various chat apps could co-exist, of course).

Still, partnerships with Android device manufacturers are a good step — this gets BlackBerry’s foot in the door. What happens next will be important, however, in ensuring BBM remains an active chat platform and ecosystem.

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