Today BlackBerry resumes the launch of its highly anticipated BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) for Android and iOS. While that’s great news for a lot of Indonesians who can now communicate with their BBM-using friends on Android and iOS, the same cannot be said for the fate of BlackBerry’s hardware.
BBM can retain crown
Despite its late arrival cross-platform and many other setbacks, I still believe BBM can retain its title of Indonesia’s king of messaging apps. The three reasons are simple:
- First, BBM is still the number one messaging app in the country, and that can still draw in new users from the ‘network effect’ 1.
- Second, BBM is used by many merchants in Indonesia to conduct transactions with thousands of their BBM contacts, so moving away from BBM would be very difficult for them.
- And third, local handset manufacturers will start pre-installing the new BBM app onto their Android phones, which indirectly promotes the usage of BBM as well. The newest handset from Indonesia’s Cyrus is a good example. Called Cyrus Chat (pictured right), the Android phone has a physical QWERTY keyboard and comes, as it advertising blares, with BBM pre-installed.
All of the above reasons point toward a positive trend of more BBM usage in Indonesia in the near future.
Even without key features, BBM will still be used
Of course, BBM for Android and iOS doesn’t offer some fun features like stickers, social games, free calls, and video calls – unlike WhatsApp, Line, KakaoTalk, and many other fast-growing messaging apps. But it’s very typical for Indonesians to use multiple chat apps at the same time. If it’s not number one, BBM can still be one of the main chat apps in Indonesia.
The main issue for BBM is its consistency. Up until the time of writing, there are a lot of BBM errors and outages happening because the servers cannot withstand the surge of today’s new users.
Gloomy future for BlackBerry handsets
Whatever happens in the long term to BBM depends on BlackBerry and its uncertain fate. So while the BBM app/service is on the verge of revival in Indonesia, its handsets are still on course for some gloomy days. Here are four reasons for that:
1. No more exclusive features on BlackBerry handsets
The three things that made BlackBerry hugely popular a few years back were the handsets’ push-email feature, physical QWERTY models, and BBM. These three features are no longer exclusive to BlackBerry.
More and more handset manufacturers will emulate Cyrus – pre-installing the BBM app onto Android phones and marketing them as BlackBerry replacements. This encourages users to move on from their BlackBerry phones.
2. Bad handset experience
BlackBerry doesn’t have the same luxury appeal it had a couple years ago in Indonesia. Many people can buy a BlackBerry now for as little as IDR 2 million ($184). Even the newest BlackBerry legacy handset, the BlackBerry 9720, is just IDR 2.8 million ($257).
Without the luxury cachet, BlackBerry is left quite naked.
Plus, BlackBerrys lag a lot, frustrating many users. That has forced a lot of people in Indonesia to carry two phones with them: an old BlackBerry handset and a second phone, usually an Android. With BBM no longer exclusive, there’s less reason to cling on to old BlackBerry phones.
3. Bad resale value
BlackBerry handsets face a new danger as their price keeps dropping worldwide. The firm’s flagship handset, the BlackBerry Z10, saw a huge price drop from IDR 6.9 million ($609) to IDR 4.7 million ($415) in just half a year in Indonesia.
That is a huge blow for existing Z10 users. There’s no way that they can resell a Z10 at a reasonable price without losing a lot of money. The ones buying Z10s are the early adopters of BlackBerry’s newest OS, and they will not take this huge drop in resale price lightly.
The Q10 and Q5 models have retained stable prices so far.
4. Low confidence in BlackBerry OS
It’s looking gloomy for BlackBerry right now. The company recorded a $1 billion loss last quarter and fired 4,500 workers just days after the Z30 launch. And don’t forget that BlackBerry also recently reached a preliminary agreement recently to be acquired for $4.7 billion.
BlackBerry says it will retain all of its employees in Indonesia, but one can’t help but wonder if there’s really a future in developing apps for BlackBerry or any point in buying its phones.
While BBM can still live on, its BlackBerry OS might not have much life left. The safest bet for developers – both in Indonesia and worldwide – is to migrate to either Android or iOS.
So that’s it. If BlackBerry doesn’t have an ace up its sleeve for BlackBerry OS, then the Canadian company might be better off focusing on BBM and other web services. Will there even be BlackBerry phones for sale next year? Maybe Lenovo has something to say about that.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff and Steven Millward)