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BlackBerry takes a gamble by opening up BBM to Android, iOS...

Many who just invested in one of BlackBerry's new Z10 or Q10 handsets could be forgiven for being puzzled. Not necessarily because they're experiencing buyer's remorse.

Just that they're bewildered by the mobile phone giant's decision to give everyone membership to their restricted chat club. Until now, only those with BlackBerry devices could converse using the firm's popular instant messaging service, better known as BBM. But last week, the smartphone maker announced plans to make its popular instant service available to users of iPhones or Androids.

On the one hand, it's a great move. The more the merrier, right? It's what many people have wanted for years.

But to the BBM faithful, the popular chat software is a major part of why they've been hanging onto their BlackBerrys.

"You mean I could have bought an iPhone or Samsung and still had BBM," seems to have been a popular sentiment in recent days.

BlackBerry boss Thorsten Heins acknowledged that some would see his firm's new strategy for BBM as something of a risk.

"You might ask the question why is BlackBerry doing this now," he conceded at the firm's annual developers conference in the US last week.

"It's a statement of confidence. The Blackberry 10 platform is so strong and the response has been so good that we are confident the time is right for Blackberry Messenger to become an independent multiplatform messaging solution," he said.

But from our discussions with budding smartphone buyers in the UAE, it seems some may now simply look to avail themselves of the service on another device.

In an informal straw poll of 7DAYS readers, almost two-thirds said if they could have a BBM app on a rival device, they would not buy a BlackBerry.

However, around one-in-three said they would still plump for a BlackBerry despite the firm throwing open the gates to BBM.

Our snapshot of the UAE smartphone market found 75 per cent of users said they were likely to upgrade to a new handset some time in the next 12 months.

Tech-savvy consumers mentioned camera quality, screen size, price, data plans and chat as factors likely to dictate their decision as to which phone to plump for. Most said that the availability of a wide variety of apps is their most important consideration.

But the actual chat messenger service available on a particular phone didn't feature at all in our survey of smartphone user 'must-haves'.

Perhaps that's not surprising, because at the end of the day customers aren't loyal to one service or another. It all comes down to where their friends are.

Eighty per cent of messenger users said most of their friends were on WhatsApp. Only 20 per cent said they had more friends on BBM. However, many said once BBM became available on iPhone and Android devices, they would probably stop using WhatsApp.

"This was really the only thing I missed about having my BlackBerry," one user, who defected from their trusty QWERTY keyboard handset three years ago, admitted.

According to BlackBerry, the app has around 61 million active users a month, with 51 million of them using BBM every day.

But now that it's cross-platform, BBM will face extremely difficult competition. The real-time messaging market is already congested with some 200 million users already on WhatsApp, millions more on WeChat, not to mention facebook messenger's huge user base.

Despite the competition however, the opportunity for the struggling phone giant to grow its user base still exists.

If nothing else, having their logo installed on the devices of their rivals is a great marketing move for BlackBerry. For now though, it seems, while we may have a favourite messenger app, most of us are content to switch between Whatsapp, BBM, Twitter, Skype and others to stay connected.The industry itself is starting to get the message.

megha@7days.ae

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 19, 2013
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