BlackBerry Messenger: The End of Platform Specific Services?

BlackBerry Messenger, is about to launch on Android and iOS. BlackBerry Messenger used to be a feature exclusive to BlackBerry phones, and which was a major selling point for the Waterloo-based company’s devices. The smartphone market has changed a lot in the past few years, and BlackBerry Messenger has to either go cross-platform or become irrelevant. Taking it a bit further, any communications service which is not cross-platform will soon be irrelevant.

With users now doing work on smartphones, tablets, and laptops running on different operating systems, cross-platform compatibility gained growing importance. Looking at the top Internet Protocol communication tools, they are all cross platform.


The top two are WeChat and WhatsApp which both claim to have 300 million users. Both WeChat and Whatspp are available for Apple’s iOS, BlackBerry, BlackBerry 10, Google’s Android,  Microsoft Windows Phone and Nokia’s Symbian OS. In addition, WeChat is available from any desktop via a web app. At third is LINE which claims to have 230 million users. LINE has the same level of cross platform support, and has desktop apps for Windows and Mac OS X, but does support BlackBerry 10. Viber has not released any recent reports on number of users but it should be close to, or even exceed, LINE.

In-contract BlackBerry Messenger has 60 million registered users. Maybe more troublesome is that the BlackBerry Messenger 10 app only has 777 reviews on the BlackBerry App World as compared to 29,410 reviews for WhatsApp.

Now, not all registered users are active. For example, WeChat which claims 300 million registered users also reports that of this number, 236 million are active each month. Considering too, there are expected to be 1.4 billion smartphones in use by the end of the year, no one service really has cornered the market. Still, the usage of these apps are growing at an incredible rate. WhatsApp went from 250 million users in June 2013, to 300 million by August 2013. Similarly LINE went from 150 million users in May 2013, to 230 million users by August 2013. WeChat reports that the number of its active users have tripled in the past year.

You also have to consider Facebook that could convert its Messenger to a fully featured voice, video call and message service, leveraging its one billion users, or Microsoft which could leverage its purchase of Nokia to push Skype next year. Sooner or later, one of these services, will emerge as the worldwide de facto standard, with a few regional favorites in non-English speaking countries and a few serving other niche communities.

It is a rat race, and BlackBerry Messenger has to either go cross-platform to keep the service relevant. Really, it might already be too late.

Looking at the IP communications landscape, the only major platform which is still not going cross-platform is Apple iMessage and Facetime. The trend is not only with IP communications tools. Facebook took Instagram to Android, to the chagrin of many iOS users. If it did not, Instagram would be faced with a competing service with a larger user base by now. By going cross-platform, it multiplied its user base by a factor of five in a bit over a year and has retained leadership. Microsoft, which managed to maintain a near monopoly for two decades has started to make concessions with its vaunted Office Suite with Android and iOS clients.

Android users often wonder why Google makes apps for iOS rather than leverage Google Apps as Android exclusives. The answer is simple. The writing is on the wall. Keeping a service platform-specific, is the kiss of death.

Image Credit: WeChat