BlackBerry on why you should give BBM a chance (Q&A)

BlackBerry tells CNET that 2.5 million people have pre-registered to download the app, which is coming to iOS and Android devices.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
4 min read
BlackBerry insists BBM is more than a messaging service -- it's a social platform. James Martin/CNET

BlackBerry Messenger finally makes its debut on iOS and Android devices this weekend. But will anyone care?

BBM takes its first step across different mobile platforms at a dark time for BlackBerry. The company on Friday released early fiscal second quarter results, warning that it would close to $1 billion. It was also cut 4,500 jobs and retreating from the consumer market as it refocuses on the business world.

For many, BBM is a forgotten relic of an older smartphone era -- one that BlackBerry dominated. It was a favorite feature of BlackBerry phones, but its usefulness waned as people moved on to other devices.

BlackBerry, for its part, still insists there's plenty of life in BlackBerry Messenger. It still boasts 60 million users around the world. Andrew Bocking, who oversees BBM for BlackBerry, told CNET that 2.5 million people have already pre-registered to download BBM for either iOS or Android on day one.

CNET chatted with Bocking and got his take on the appeal of BBM. The following is an edited q&a.

Q: Why is BlackBerry bringing BBM to Android and iOS again?
Bocking: When you look at the messaging world, it's clear there's no dominant player in the mobile messaging space. BBM is a trusted service, and one of the top requests of our users is to add support for Android and iOS. This allows our fans to engage with their friends on iOS and Android.

So I'm an iPhone or Android user. Why should I download BBM?
Bocking: For those who have used it, they all know why. If you look at BBM, it takes a different approach to messaging. Instead of linking to a phone, we use a unique identifier solely related to BBM. That privacy, as well as the immediacy that comes from the Ds and Rs (delivered and read notifications) that makes it feel like the most active real-time conversation.

The way our BBM user base is engaging in the product base, they're talking to people on a daily basis more so than on other messaging platforms. We're unlocking that engagement to a much larger base of users for that audience to speak with. We think that's just unprecedented.

How many people are on BBM now?
Bocking: It's still 60 million people (the same as when BlackBerry disclosed its BBM user base in May).

My friends used to use BBM, but have long since quit. How is BlackBerry going to get that "social" part of social networking going again?
It's unprecedented having 60 million people using the product regularly that will pull their connection into the fold. We've had well over 2 million people pre-register for access on day one. We've seen positive response leading up to the launch. That's an indication for what we've seen so far.

What's the coolest feature that lets BBM stand apart from some of the other messaging services?
Bocking: The most iconic feature are the Ds and Rs. That's the one most users appreciate. It's not just the fact that we do them, but the immediacy of how it works. It makes it feel like a completed loop.

It's not the raw feature; it's how they work together. It's the fine details that make it seem like a conversation. Almost half of all messages are read within 20 seconds. It's an amazingly powerful metric to show the engagement of the experience.

Anecdotally, there are many users looking forward to using BBM over WhatsApp when we launch.

Another difference that BBM has over other messaging platforms is that most of the platforms pin it to a phone number. There's the iMessage problem ... when you leave the iPhone, a person can't be texted because it's pinned to the number. If you're in a prepaid market or do a lot of SIM flopping, pinning to your phone number doesn't work.

With BBM, you don't have to give up your phone number just to chat with a person. We have this PIN number that's a unique identity in the BBM universe.

How do you add a friend again?
Bocking: You can invite someone through email or SMS. You have to accept, so it's like a handshake. You can do barcode or QR code scanning. You can do NFC tap to connect. There are multiple ways to do it, and it's completely within the user's control.

As an iPhone or Android user, what features won't be available to me that are only on BlackBerry phones?

Bocking: We're initially launching with the core feature set of BBM, which includes groups and messaging. We're going to add features throughout the rest of the year. Video chats, voice calls, and BBM Channels will launch eventually with BBM for iOS and Android.

BlackBerry phones are built for BBM, so it's integrated into things like the Hub and the keyboard. We can do the best integration possible, and that's integral to the end-to-end messaging experience.

Will BBM go to Windows Phone?
Bocking: Our focus is on largest addressable market. We will continue to evaluate that as time goes on.

Great, anything else we should know about BBM?
Bocking: Only that you should download it this weekend!