RIM may port BBM to Android, iOS4

It’s hard to argue that Research In Motion Ltd. is doing any “winning” lately, especially after a new report which says the Waterloo, Ont.-based smart phone maker will be porting over its BlackBerry Messenger app to Android and iOS4.

A Boy Genius Report story on Thursday, which credits “multiple trusted sources,” indicates that RIM is developing a strategy to bring its flagship messaging platform to Android within the year. The iOS4 port is apparently a longer term project.

The report also indicates that RIM may only offer a stripped down version of the full BBM experience, which could mean that users will not be able to add photos or videos to their messages. The company is also unsure about whether the app will be a free or paid app, according to BGR.

My feeling is that as long as the app delivers a strong text messaging experience, many RIM users will be moving platforms on their next handset upgrade. BBM, which has been a focal point of nearly all the BlackBerry ads over the last year, is the reason that many BlackBerry business and consumer users have stuck with the company’s handsets over the last few years.

When I was purchasing a smart phone a few months back, I considered BlackBerry because some colleagues and friends use the device, but the allure of Android was far too strong. My only reason for looking at a BlackBerry price was because BBM.

I have a feeling many BlackBerry users are feeling the same pull toward Android and its deep app ecosystem.

If RIM launches a solid BBM app at a reasonably low price, BlackBerry will see a steady decrease in handset sales. I still think the company is in the smart phone selling business, so this whole move seems like bad news for RIM.

Of course, my argument is based on the assumption RIM is still interested in moving hardware.

If RIM is more concerned about being the de facto standard for smart phone messaging around the world (excluding a few Middle Eastern countries and maybe India) this could be a smart strategy. Wide scale adoption across all smart phones would also have a dramatic impact on SMS-based messaging.

I e-mailed an app developer friend of mine to get his take on this and he presented some good counterpoints to my argument.

BBM is unquestionably RIM’s flagship platform, and just like Apple releasing iTunes on Windows, and he said the company should make sure it’s not limiting the app to the decreasing number of people who own BlackBerry devices.

My friend also brought up the enterprise angle (which was his only wise point). He said RIM would be wise to start rolling out business ready versions of the device that would work on any smart phone.

I love this idea so much that I’m stealing it and taking credit for it.

RIM should offer a BBM for business app and make it compatible with a list of cross-platform smart phone devices. It would give them another service to sell to businesses and also keep in line with the whole “bring your own device” philosophy that many companies are starting to adopt.

If the blogosphere had blew up this morning about this news, I would have celebrated it, but I don’t see this being RIM’s vision. Opening this app up to all consumers will significantly hurt handset sales and I cannot be convinced otherwise.

Additionally, I see a huge impact on the “BBM alternative” market as well.

Scores of developers are launching BBM-like apps, such as WhatsApp and Kik. Earlier this week, Facebook acquired a messaging app called Beluga, which also falls squarely into the “BBM for non-BlackBerry users” sub-category.

If the new BBM app gains adoption, developers building these social media and messaging apps will have to find new ways to differentiate themselves. At this point, the only selling point for a popular messaging app like Kik is that it can bring BlackBerry users together with iPhone and Android users.

A year from now, these apps could be struggling to survive.

At that point, BlackBerry handset sales will probably be in a freefall. Then again, a massive amount of the world’s global text messages will be traveling through RIM servers…

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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