BlackBerry Messenger’s last stand is good for everyone

When BlackBerry announced its popular messaging platform, BBM, would be snaking its way on to iOS and Android handsets this summer, the reaction was understandably mixed.

Many users decried its lateness –- where was it two, even four years ago? – tacitly acknowledging its declining importance in the hugely popular and potentially lucrative messaging ecosystem. So what if BBM users send 10 billion messages daily; who cares about 60 million users? WhatsApp boasts 20 billion daily discourses and 200 million active users, an enviable number for any service.

More importantly, though BBM’s siloed nature worked in its favour during the height of BlackBerry mania, it has since been supplanted by companies willing to develop for multiple operating systems. Again WhatsApp comes to mind, but Waterloo’s own Kik is making remarkable strides in net users on just two platforms, BlackBerry not being one of them.

Indeed, the two most important places to be on mobile these days are iOS and Android, and by building for them BlackBerry is saying two things. First, it is admitting its place in the hierarchy; even if BB10 finds success it will likely never unseat Android and iOS for market share. Second, it is attempting to eke value from one of two remaining consumer brand images that still engender loyalty, the other being the company’s iconic QWERTY keyboard. BlackBerry 10, responsive and feature-filled as it is, doesn’t tower over the competition for features or performance, and while its security promises afford it a level of trustworthiness and reliability, the average consumer either feels adequately safe loading apps and sending emails on iOS and Android or he doesn’t care either way.

BlackBerry still has an edge in the enterprise market, but as we’ve seen from the Pentagon’s recent policy changes, that star may not shine as brightly a year from now, either.

So here we have BlackBerry 10, a fantastic little OS with some big plans for mobile computing – five or ten years from now. At the moment, though, the company needs a success story, something to show investors that it’s still worth caring about. BlackBerry Messenger for iOS and Android is an important step in realizing the company’s potential as a services provider, a trusted envoy not only for backend network infrastructure but consumer-facing brands people care about.

BlackBerry Messenger needed to launch on other platforms to stem the tide of users defecting to other apps. WhatsApp for BlackBerry 10 is currently the only cross-platform messaging app I’d even consider using, but give me BBM over another any day of the week. It’s still the fastest, most reliable data-based communications tool, period. BBM Calling and Video will eventually come to the iOS and Android clients, too, making it a competitor in the VoIP space, too.

Most importantly, a multi-platform BBM doesn’t undermine BlackBerry handsets as a viable consumer choice. Ironically, the fact that we’re no longer in the age of BBM as a device-selling feature is the very reason for its impending success on other operating systems. A person buying a BlackBerry 10 handsets is doing so not just for its superior messaging capabilities, which it shares with the iPhone and high-end Android devices, but for the integrated Hub, solid developer tools promising excellent apps, attractive form factors, quality build materials, and consistently good performance.

In other words, having BBM on iOS and Android makes me more, not less, likely to be a BlackBerry customer going forward. I have so few friends still using BlackBerries that the attraction for me, and many others potentially upgrading from legacy devices to BB10, is knowing that I can adopt a Z10 or Q10 and not worry about having a small selection of messaging tools. Or at least knowing that, if I choose BlackBerry, it’s less limiting than it would be if BBM was still siloed.

And that, along with BlackBerry’s newfound flexibility as a services provider, is good news for me, you and everyone we know.