BlackBerry has announced at its annual Live conference for developers that its popular BlackBerry Messenger aka BBM will soon be coming to Android and iOS. The company said that the apps would be free on the two platforms and that in the initial phase it would be supported on devices running iOS6, and Android 4.0 aka Ice-cream Sandwich and higher.
The Android and iOS apps will allow users to have multi-person chats, and the ability to share photos and voice notes, and engage in BBM Groups, which allows BBM customers to create groups of up to 30 people.
BlackBerry also announced the beta launch of BBM Channels, a new social engagement platform within BBM that will allow people to connect with the businesses, brands, celebrities and groups they are passionate about. The company hopes to BBM Channels option to to iOS and Android users as well, though of course it will depend on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store’s approval.
BBM with BBM Channels is currently in beta for BlackBerry 10 smartphones, as well as BlackBerry smartphones running BlackBerry 5 OS through 7.1.
BlackBerry has not given details of whether features like Video Calling and Screen share on BBM will be coming to BBM for Android and iOS. The fact that BBM is making an Android and iOS debut is obviously big news. BBM was the exclusive privilege of free messaging at a time when BlackBerry was the leader of smartphones. With the rise of the iPhone and Android devices, free messaging apps that can be used across mobile platforms have grown in popularity.
The fact that BBM is now coming to Android and iOS is being seen as a decision that was inevitable, given that the mobile messaging has changed so drastically in the last two years. So who will be BBM’s biggest challengers? We take a quick look some important contenders which are available across platforms :
WhatsApp: Recently the WhatsApp CEO had revealed that the app has more than 200 million monthly active users, which is more than Twitter. WhatsApp also generates an average of 8 billion inbound messages and 12 billion outbound messages per day, according to the CEO. In terms of sheer numbers WhatsApp is very, very big right now and its popularity is going to grow.
Compare this to BBM’s numbers which stand at 60 million monthly active customers. BlackBerry says that more than 51 million people are using BBM for an average of 90 minutes per day, and obviously by launching BBM on Android and iOS, they are hoping these numbers will grow.
But WhatsApp is available on even the cheapest smartphones. Even the newly launched Nokia Asha 501 phone, which is a cheap device, and aimed at emerging markets like India, has WhatsApp. BBM is only coming on iOS6 and Android 4.0 thus limiting its scope as there are a lot of low-range Android smartphones which still run on Gingerbread.
Facebook Messenger: Facebook generates an average of 10 billion messages per day. The Facebook Messenger app also has an option logging in via your phone number and without a Facebook account in countries such as India, South Africa, etc.
Let’s not forget the latest Android update that was rolled out to Facebook Messenger, which brought chat heads to all phones. In essence Facebook Messenger is now in users’ SMSs as well should they opt for that and those chats heads are always floating around on your screen. You can’t miss Facebook Messenger.
Facebook’s mobile stood at over 680 million monthly active users as of 31 December, 2012 and this number is likely to grow.
Viber: Another cross-platform free app this lets users call, text, send photos and video messages. The app is one of the top apps in the Android Play Store and is available for iOS, BlackBerry and Windows Phone as well.
Viber also has a desktop app which was launched recently and reached 200 million users in May 2013. Again this is as big as WhatsApp.
Clearly BBM on Android and iOS will have its task cut out.