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CIO - Just over a week ago, BlackBerry finally started rolling out its BBM messaging app to iOS and Android users. The initial launch of the app was planned a few weeks earlier but was foiled by the unofficial distribution of a faulty beta software build for iOS, which gunked up the BBM works, at least according to BlackBerry.
This time around, BlackBerry wisely instituted a waiting-list system to limit the number of users who could employ the app until the company was sure it could handle the influx of new messaging activity. The system wasn't well received by the people forced to wait in BlackBerry's digital line, but it seems to have worked well. Now anyone can download and immediately start using the cross platform BBM service.
Today, BlackBerry announced that in just a week it had added 20 million new BBM users, which brought the total number of active BBM users to around 80 million. Those are some big numbers, and the BBM launch was an undisputed success - a success that BlackBerry needed.
But what do those numbers really mean? And are they just a flash in the pan?
First of all, I like the app and service. I'd been using BBM regularly on a BlackBerry for a long time, when, about two years ago, I started looking for an alternative that let me communicate with my friends and relatives on other platforms. I quickly found Kik Messenger and WhatsApp, and I started experimenting with each of them. Over time, I gravitated toward Kik, because, for whatever reason, that's the app that more of my connections chose to use.
Ultimately, that's the true value of messaging apps like BBM, Kik and WhatsApp: The ability to quickly connect and have meaningful interactions with the important people in your life. In order for this to work, the important people in your life need to download - and actually use - the same messaging apps as you.
That's BBM's major challenge: Moving users from other messaging apps and then motivating them to convince their messaging contacts to not only switch to BBM but continue using it. The way to do that is by offering unique and valuable features that other messaging apps don't have.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to come up with compelling features that are unique to BBM, which is the main reason why I'm not yet sold on cross platform BBM.
BBM Privacy and Security
BlackBerry has always prided itself on security. And BBM is no different; the company is trying to set BBM apart from other messaging apps by stressing its security and privacy advantages.
From an Inside BlackBerry blog post:
"BBM is set apart in the mobile messaging space by offering immediacy and a feeling of connecting and collaboration that mirrors the feeling of a face-to-face conversation, all within a simple and easy user experience&We also put control back into people's hands. Let's not underestimate the importance of deciding who will have access to you and your information and how you will build a community of those people."
That's a clear knock on the popular WhatsApp messaging service. WhatsApp has garnered attention in recent days for privacy issues. That app requests access to your device contacts, which could put sensitive information at risk. But the access also enables features related to those contacts, such as the ability to quickly determine who uses WhatsApp and then add them to that app's contacts.