Research In Motion (RIM) is scared of Facebook Messenger. I’ve seen the fear first hand when I worked at the company last year. Thankfully though, the Canadian firm appears to be getting over it, or at least it isn’t in panic mode anymore as everything turns full throttle towards starting fresh with BlackBerry 10.
BlackBerry has only one killer software feature (nothing beats that QWERTY keyboard): BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). Over the last few years, I’ve seen people switch to BlackBerry (yes, that still happens) because the BlackBerry is cheap, and because their friends use BBM. I’ve also obviously seen people ditch BlackBerry, and the only thing that makes them hesitate is losing BBM.
Increasingly though, they just point to Facebook Messenger, and then happily go buy the latest Android smartphone or Apple iPhone. After all, Facebook Messenger does everything BBM can do, and more.
Yet there’s something few people know: while RIM only built the Facebook app for the BlackBerry, Facebook Messenger is available on its platform too. In fact, it’s been available since October 2011. There are two big reasons why this isn’t common knowledge.
First, Facebook released Messenger for Android and iPhone initially in August 2011. When it updated the app two months later, a BlackBerry version was quietly released. This brings me to the second reason why this was so poorly known, and arguably the more important one: Facebook Messenger has not been available on BlackBerry App World until this week.
That’s right, when I wrote the announcement post those 11 months ago, I offered Facebook Messenger download links from what was then called the Android Market, the Apple App Store, but I couldn’t find a link for BlackBerry App World. I just figured RIM was behind, which isn’t much of a conclusion to jump to. It quickly became apparent, however, that RIM had no plans to offer the app in App World.
That all changed this week as first reported by CrackBerry on Wednesday. For the first time ever, BlackBerry users don’t have to launch their browser, navigate to facebook.com/mobile/messenger, and download the app manually. Indeed, when I fire up App World on my Bold 9900, I clearly see the text “Released: 9/25/2012.”
So, what happened? It seems to me that someone at RIM, maybe even CEO Thorsten Heins, finally realized that keeping Facebook Messenger from users was hurting BlackBerry more than it was helping them. I want to make a very important distinction here: Facebook Messenger may be killing BBM, but it certainly hasn’t killed it yet.
It’s not as if users were uninstalling BBM the second they got Facebook Messenger. Granted, many of them likely find themselves using BBM less if they have Facebook Messenger, because it’s that much more flexible, but BBM still has an active user base of millions. I would argue BBM is the de facto messaging app for BlackBerry users wanting to communicate with BlackBerry users. For everything else, there’s Facebook Messenger (especially as more and more people switch to Android and iOS). If all else fails, there’s always texting.
RIM has a relationship with Facebook like it does with many companies. As Facebook continues to grow, especially in mobile and especially with RIM’s competitors (see Facebook promises to update its mobile apps every 4 to 8 weeks), the Canadian company can’t keep shunning what Facebook produces. Mobile users really want to use Facebook (Messenger).
Yet it goes deeper than that. RIM’s killer app is still BBM, but as the cross-platform Facebook Messenger (it’s also available on Windows, and soon for Mac) keeps growing, that is becoming less and less of a selling point. RIM wants to sell BlackBerry 10 for its various innovations, not just because it comes with the latest version of BBM.
In fact, the company is so serious about finding the next killer app for BlackBerry it is willing to pay developers to make a successful one, not to mention to fund the production of this awful music video. If BlackBerry 10 is going to succeed, Heins knows third-party developers can’t point to RIM denying apps into BlackBerry App World because of its own agenda. Only Apple is in a position to do that.
Image credit: Abdulaziz Almansour