BlackBerry Attracts 20M New BBM Users on iOS and Android in a Week

3 minute read
Chris Knight avatar

In just one week, 20 million new users signed up to use BlackBerry's BBM service through a free app available on the iPhone and Android stores. 

But even that good news has a caveat for the struggling Canadian handset maker, which is pivoting to software and services and still looking for a buyer. The app rates only 2.5 stars on iOS and garnered a reportedly suspicious four stars on the Android store.

A Boom for the BlackBerry Community?

Blackberry has added more than a third to its existing user base — which has jumped from 60 million to 80 million — since introducing the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) app on Oct. 25. The app, which allows private, secure social media between friends and groups, immediately shot to the upper reaches of free download charts in both the iOS and Android stores.

Using a PIN-based contact service, BBM lets users connect without giving away email addresses or other contact details. That made it a useful app for informal groupings and off-the-usual-social-networks chat, but has also made it a tool of choice for those up to no good (notably the London riots, if the tabloids were to be believed).

While this new drive will do little or nothing to boost sales of BlackBerry smartphones, which have yet to disappear from store shelves, it's positive news. Anything to boost the brand will help in its efforts to find a partner/saviour for the business. 

Low Handset Sales

The company has promised improvements to the app to answer early critics, which it insists will make it comparable to rival services like Skype, Viber and device-native apps. These will include BBM Video calling, BBM Voice calling and BBM Channels — a new community building service to connect BBM users even more broadly — to Android and iPhone users. 

Expect BlackBerry to monetize those Channels through the use of advertising, marketing, sponsorship and other elements, bringing in revenue from the app and providing yet another tempting feature for investors. 

Learning Opportunities

The company claimed no involvement in the appearance of hundreds of identical five-star reviews on the Android store as the app was downloaded 10 million times in the first 24 hours. That growth will naturally slow over time, but 20 million in a week is an impressive figure and a community that potential investors will be keen to leverage. 

BlackBerry may be hoping for a sales surge, as recently witnessed by Nokia's stellar rise in sales of Windows Phone 8 devices. But it lacks a marketing power, a wide range of devices and unique features like high-end camera components. It is also suffering as a wounded brand. It had nothing to show in the recent run of device launches, and with Apple (selling 33 million devices in a quarter) and the many Android partners racing ahead, it can only continue to lag behind. 

Its last set of results did nothing to help its image. All the recent negative news and it's inability to find a buyer despite its debt-free status isn't helping matters. The other players have are moving too far ahead for it to compete and its once bankable friend-of-the-enterprise (and government) status has been eaten away by Android, Apple and Microsoft. 

So will BlackBerry end up forgoing the hardware market to become a software and services player or will its eventual buyer have another shot at reviving the BlackBerry hardware brand? That would be good to see, but it would also be a very expensive play.