Thursday, August 29, 2013

Can BBM become the LinkedIn of mobile messengers?

I read the latest news about Blackberry in today's Mint that there are probably going to spin off BBM as a separate service. Now, this is something that I had alluded to in one of my posts, almost a year ago! Anyway, so it seems that BBM will be available on iPhone and Android pretty soon (no mention of Windows in the news but I hope there is one for Windows too). This reminds me of the infamous Blackberry Boys advertisements that ran earlier, trying to introduce the exclusively executive Blackberry phones for the common man. There is a similar attempt now with the BBM as it used to be the exclusive messenger for the Blackberry guys. Only, this time they are more desperate.

Is BBM late for the party?
It is no secret that RIM really missed the boat on the smartphone explosion. Now that they are opening up BBM to other operating systems, they will find themselves in a crowded place. WhatsApp, Kakao Talk, Line, WeChat, Google Hangout, Apple's Facetime etc are already there with a pretty huge user base. And as we all know, the thing with these social networking apps is that once you have all your friends on one, you don't need / want to go to another app. Once I got on WhatsApp and found all my friends there, I didn't really have the need for any other messenger. So, with BBM coming in pretty late to this cross platform party, will people want it? It will be tough for BBM, to say the least, as people already have their networks established. An interesting fact is that mobile messengers popularity seems to be country based; Kakao Talk seems to be popular in South Korea while WeChat is popular in China; Line is popular in Japan; WhatsApp is popular in India while US market share is distributed across a number of messengers. Having said that, WhatsApp seems to be the most popular overall.

So, where does BBM fit in?
Now, as I said earlier, I am on WhatsApp and so are all of my friends. Given that all of us are here, I don't need to go to another messenger. UNLESS, it has something really different and is good enough to get me as well as a lot of other people who I would like to talk to. If I were to take a loose analogy and compare mobile messengers with the full blown social networking sites, it seems that WhatsApp has become the Facebook of mobile messengers where we all connect with friends. In that world of full blown social networking sites, there is no other social network that seems to match FB but there is another network that does matter - the professional network, LinkedIn. So, what if BBM, given its professional lineage, is positioned as a professional mobile messenger?

Everyone knows people mostly share jokes on WhatsApp and other generally informal information. I am not quite comfortable adding my boss or other professional colleagues to WhatsApp. This is where BBM could fill the gap. Given that people do a lot of reading/chatting on their mobile, people would love to catch up with their professional contacts through a slightly more professional medium. Its Blackberry lineage only helps it establish itself as a professional medium. But BBM will need to offer something more than just chatting to appropriate the value it creates. I understand that BBM is working on bringing video chat and even a desktop version. There is also news about BBM channels which will be something like Twitter to "allow brands and celebrities to more closely interact with customers and fans". Here are some ways that I believe one could use BBM if it does take the "professional mobile messenger" positioning.

1) Instead of personal information, emphasis would be on professional information like place of work, field of interests etc.
2) There could be general professional groups, similar to LinkedIn, for people with similar interests to share some snippets
3) Instead of jokes, you could share inspirational quotes or snippets about better work life etc.
4) You could share HBR articles and the like with your professional friends; it would probably need some sort of reader / browser app also but I am sure BBM can use some of Blackberry's other apps for this
5) BBM could go for a tie up with LinkedIn to get a "BBM me" icon on everyone's profile
6) You could send live updates from a conference to your professional group through one liners and get their inputs as well  - all on the go.
7) You could share news about your companies
8) There could be official Dilbert jokes every day delivered to the BBM (there is an existing app for Dilbert jokes to be delivered on your smartphone daily but I used this to show the kind of updates people could share here)
9) When people install BBM, it could also install plugins that would allow them to share the stories they read on the web through BBM

These are some thoughts on differentiating BBM as a professional messenger. BBM has always been one of the good things about Blackberry until recently; if Blackberry wants to revive some of that good old shine, they need to ensure it focusses on the right user base and creates a niche for itself.

In my opinion, BBM should try to become the LinkedIn of mobile messengers; if it doesn't capture this space, maybe LinkedIn could try for a mobile messenger for its enormous user base? Or better still, continuing with the last post's question about who should buy Blackberry, maybe LinkedIn could buy BB or at least BBM - what are the odds of that happening?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sent from my Blackberry - Please buy me :(

How is this for an advertising slogan for Blackberry: Sent from my Blackberry; DO NOT excuse typos.

We are all used to this ubiquitous line at the end of emails when people respond using their smartphones (Sent from my smartphone, please excuse typos). I thought this was a perfect line for Blackberry when it tried to make a come back recently. As someone said, customers don't buy the product, they buy a story. So, this line might have been a good one!

I started this post as a come back for my blog after almost a year of absence. I had started drafting this before the news of Blackberry being on sale came out. The news says that Blackberry is considering strategic options, including sale. I was already half way through some options that I was writing here. So, let's see if any of these gets materialized in the near future!

What could have Blackberry done? It is now trying to become a completely private company so that it can do some changes, like Dell, away from the public scrutiny. Now, there are a host of things that the company can do. Here are some based on my reading of the mobile market.

Blackberry - The Super Android
It is becoming increasingly clearer that the devices are a gateway to the stores which house applications and content for users to consume. Now, Blackberry has some pretty neat devices, especially with the latest OS and design, but they lack an application store that can match what iPhone, Android and even Windows Phone have. So, one thing they could do, and I believe this was being talked about earlier as well, is to tie up with Android and basically have BB users use applications from Android. But in this case, as I mentioned in an earlier post, why would users buy BB and not some Samsung Android phones? That is where BB would need to create a differentiation with the fact that it has more secure email and then add some other bells and whistles to the product to make it a Super Android. A Super Android that would communicate the same sort of air that a Blackberry used to before the iPhones.

Another option could be to tie up with Windows given that they have the image of a business phone, they could work out a deal with Microsoft to create some applications that help the business user effectively manage the documents, most of which are in MS software. Also, given that a lot of people access their emails between meetings (on the go), and a lot of these people just need to provide comments on the documents, it would make sense to create an application that helps users review the document and embed comments to send the document back - all via the Blackberry. I am not sure if there are existing apps that are good at this but it seems to be something I would like on my phone.

The obvious issue with tying up with Microsoft is that its own app store is not something that is a super hit (yet), so if they tie up with Microsoft, we will all have the same question we had when Nokia went for Windows Phone - "why didn't they go for Android".

Having said that, the apps for documents and stuff that business users have to do on their phones can still be done on Android, so that really seems to be the best bet for Blackberry. I had mentioned in my earlier post that Blackberry could work out a way to provide its secure email technology to other smart phones. A BB email app that connects to its servers and keeps the smart phone users happy that their emails are secure. I am sure a lot of corporates would love to have that. This option, of course, changes the company from an integrated handset maker to probably just an app development company. But I believe they could very well take both options and over time if they do a good job with their Super Androids, people would probably want to buy their handsets rather than use their app on other phones.

A friend of mine asked "Who would buy Blackberry" on his facebook wall; the options above suggest that Motorola (a Google company) may be a good suitor to create the Super Android phones. What say?