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Can BBM’s new channels and voice features keep users engaged?

BlackBerry has updated BBM with voice calling, channels and Dropbox integration. Will this move be enough to keep users engaged?

BBM Voice for Android

I must admit I was one of the many iOS and Android device users who got all excited when BlackBerry announced an official release of BlackBerry Messenger for these platforms. I was once a BlackBerry user myself, and I missed the fast and feature-rich messaging service the company offered. The thought of again using BBM to chat with friends and colleagues around the globe was a novel idea for me, never mind that a lot of my contacts have long since moved to other chat platforms like LINE, Viber and even Facebook Messenger.

Cross-platform BBM did launch with a bang, and it brought up user numbers well beyond what a BlackBerry-only setup could offer. Now there are reportedly over 100 million BBM users globally, which means BBM is still a viable contender against other chat apps that have popped up out of the blue.

Now, BlackBerry has released version 2.0 of the cross-platform app, which comes with the promised features previously found only on the native BlackBerry application. These include voice calling, channels, and Dropbox integration, among others. This comes right at the heels of BlackBerry offering a Find Friends feature, which does away with the need to share your BBM pin with friends. The feature makes BBM more popular among social media-savvy users who are used to their networks being automatically populated with users already in their address books.

With BBM Voice, the app competes head-on against the likes of Skype and Viber. With Channels, BBM also competes against apps that offer forum-type functionality. This should rekindle interest in the application, especially for users who find the previous iterations too limiting in terms of social capabilities.

But will these features keep BBM relevant among Android and iOS users? It’s a matter of user uptake — in particular how many of your friends continue to use BBM for chatting and participating in channel discussions. BBM’s Find Friends feature will ensure you have a big enough network of friends to talk to. The new channels and video calling features might help keep users engaged enough to remain active on the service.

As for me, after several months of BBM sitting on my smartphone mostly unused, I decided to uninstall it a few weeks back — and that was right before BBM launched its Find Friends feature. I didn’t find the need to run BBM as I rarely used to to chat, anyway. Most of my contacts preferred talking on other chat apps. In fact, since the app is quite heavy on resource usage (even when sitting idle), I found the need to keep it Greenified.

So it’s a question of resource use versus utility. If I mainly used BBM to keep in touch with my contacts, I probably would consider it as an essential app. However, that not being the case, I think the value for me here is the occasional check on the BBM channels for good content, references and discussions. At least for me, BlackBerry has succeeded in keeping the app relevant in terms of engagement and interest, but not enough to make it a primary means of communication.

This is the challenge for BBM. The division that builds and maintains the app has now been folded into BlackBerry’s Global Enterprise Solutions division, which means the company is likely to focus development with the enterprise user in mind. This might be seen as a step back — BBM was popular in the enterprise setting before, but the BlackBerry attempted to popularize it among the consumer market, as well, with the cross-platform app. Perhaps enterprise users are a better market to target, due to their need for collaboration, better centralized control and secure messaging.

It’s not as huge a market as the hundreds of millions that were willing to pay LINE more than $300 in 2013 for in-app sticker purchases. But it seems BBM won’t go down without a fight, and it’s probably going to find its niche in its home turf, the entrprise market.