I almost missed 2 very important social events when I was in Bombay earlier this year. One of these with my childhood pals that I don’t get to meet unless I’m visiting. Boy would that have sucked.
What is BBM?
For those of you (like me) who live on the iPhone and are not BBM users, its Blackberry’s IM client that lets you engage with other BBM users on Blackberry devices. You can friend one another, create groups and share pictures and videos. There’s millions out there that don’t exchange Skype and Gtalk handles. They exchange their BBM handle.
What gained traction as a way to bypass costly SMS, BBM is now the preferred mode of text based communications amongst GenY-ers, team members and groups of friends. That’s how you arrange drinks at the local pub, partake in American Idol gossip and collaborate with teams at work. Think of it as Twitter with group functionality + a (very) light weight Yammer / SocialCast for business interaction. But all mobile, no character limits, always on and in real time.
Here’s a short Video
An interesting patent of Apple’s relating to a social networking app surfaced recently. Dubbed iGroups, the app aims to solve the pitfalls of traditional social networks, like Facebook, that require users be a member before being able to participate. Instead, iGroups creates a virtual social network based on proximity.
The thing is while Apple’s focus, for the most part, has been on hardware + data / applications RIM is quietly giving the rest of the world hardware + participation.
Threat: Mobile only folks
Granted that the Blackberry is no iPhone when it comes to overall experience but Apple faces the threat of being beaten at a game it invented: couple hardware with seriously useful software software to create simple, unmatched experiences.
Whilst the webs proliferation in the west started on a PC, there’s tens of millions of people out there outside the western world that skipped the web on a PC for the most part and went straight to a phone. Wireless access in these highly mobile parts of the world meant get a more powerful smart phone as opposed to a PC. These folks are not tethered to iTunes on their laptops, and use SMS as a primary form of text based interaction. Facebook, if at all, is experienced over the mobile phone but the primary interaction is conversations (as opposed to data access and even sharing). Conversations around where to hang out tonight, or debriefing after a sales pitch – all done via BBM and on their mobile device.
This group of people also have little appreciation for the App Store and all that it has to offer. Communicating with people they know takes precedence over consuming data and applications on a mobile device. And so iPhone apps that the rest of us are so very mesmerized by take a back seat. The network wins.
Apple needs to stem this land grab and stem it fast. Communication networks built off of Blackberry to Blackberry interaction are super sticky – as sticky as the networks many of us have created on Facebook. And that’s hard to replicate.
Opportunity: The gaping hole that Facebook leaves
Many digital socializers, especially GenY-ers using the desktop web are either just baffled by Facebooks shifting privacy policies, get disapproving stares at the office when they fire up Facebook or couldn’t turn down mom when she be-friended them. Also there’s nothing instant about Facebook. Its far too asynchronous, party because the metaphor still very much looks like this: post > wait > receive > wait > react. And its not set up to create quick groups that can converse on a social or business topic and disband. That’s the missing metaphor that represents a very common interaction amongst a lot of people. Whilst Twitter works well to consume broadcast from magazines and Aston Kutcher, it remains gobbldygook for those newbies looking to converse. BBM in contrast, has this interaction metaphor locked up, for now.
Most of us use one mobile device for both personal and business communication and that’s a Blackberry for many many users. Whilst a plethora of Enterprise microblogging vendors duke it out to become the ‘engagement system of record’ with features on their desktop, web based apps and lighter weight mobile siblings, BBM may well be the most convenient and killer Enterprise 2.0 app for the mobile masses. Ofcourse there’s a lot more to business collaboration than engagement, but for many, this might be just the missing component that compliments their existing process and document collaboration investments.
Enterprises don’t buy what’s best. They buy what’s good enough. BBM is a perfect example of light weight collaboration that’s always on, always with you, designed for mobile, wired into your company contacts folder, and with groups functionality to host private conversations.
Ofcourse, Apple is Apple and its highly likely that when they do come out with an alternative to BBM it will re-define messaging in some way or another. And that might well be the basis for the iGroup patent. That said, we’ve entered a world where The Network is the ultimate resource. And that can well be a powerful powerful antidote to any remarkable design Apple comes up with.
Lee Provoost: Generation Y and the iPhone-Blackberry dilemma http://ow.ly/1S9wY