RIM's risky bet: Porting BlackBerry Messenger to Android, iPhone

Although BBM on non-BlackBerry devices would be great for users, it may not benefit RIM's revenue

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With more than 95 percent of RIM's new revenue linked to devices sold or active on a carrier's network, why would RIM make it easier for users to leave the BlackBerry platfrorm?

RIM's plans for owing the smartphone messaging category appear risky

RIM may be hoping that the stripped-down BBM experience on non-BlackBerry devices could attract new users from the Apple and Android camps. This seems like wishful thinking, especially considering BlackBerry's lack of application parity, ease-of-use, and device functionality that would attract users to iPhone or Android devices. RIM must balance any potential upside of exposing BBM to competitors' users against the risk of losing existing BlackBerry users who are currently tied to a BlackBerry device because of BBM alone -- such as yours truly.

It's possible that RIM's strategy team expects users like myself to leave the BlackBerry ecosystem over time. At least this way, they may be able to make some money from similarly minded users by offering BBM on a non-BlackBerry device.

Perhaps RIM is hoping that making BBM cross-platform would allow it to own the messaging category, much like Google Maps owns the location and map application category across Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices. But even if RIM were to own the messaging category across smartphones, the burning question is "So what?" Does RIM intend to capture advertising revenue through BBM on non-BlackBerry devices? Good luck with that not ruining the user experience. Does RIM intend to charge a one-time or ongoing fee to access BBM from a non BlackBerry device?

I'd happily pay such a fee, but let's do some quick math: Based on its latest quarterly results, RIM nets about $300 from a new BlackBerry device purchase and about $60 per active subscriber per year. Over three years, RIM stands to collect $480 per subscriber, or about $160 per year. If I leave my BlackBerry behind for an iPhone or Android device, I'd probably pay about $20 per year for BBM access. (Keep in mind that a cross-platform BBM alternative, Whatsapp, costs $1 in the iTunes App Store.) So for each existing BlackBerry user that leaves, RIM needs eight new BBM users to generate $20 each per year in RIM revenue, either directly or through monetizing advertising -- just to break even. That seems like a tall order.

It's possible I'm missing something that RIM's strategy gurus see. In any event, for selfish reasons, I am hoping that RIM goes ahead with this plan, and that it's a net positive for RIM's business.

Continued pressure on IT for cross-platform mobile device support

If RIM does go ahead with this plan, IT departments can only expect increased interest in non-BlackBerry device usage requests to access enterprise systems and applications. Plan to adjust your enterprise mobile policies or face user complaints.

It's unclear how BlackBerry will offer security and management of BBM on non-BlackBerry devices. A lack of equivalent security and management options for BBM on non-BlackBerry devices could be a reason for enterprise IT to continue preferring BlackBerry devices for enterprise usage.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "RIM's risky bet: Porting BlackBerry Messenger to Android, iPhone," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Savio Rodrigues' Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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