I’ve recently joined millions of others in moving to an iPhone.  But late and reluctantly…….because, like so many others, I love the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.  My experience has prompted me to look at some of the issues around the mobile device market’s failure to develop the multi platform instant messaging service that their customers crave (or at least my friends and I do!). What might be done about this and the wider business perspective on instant messenger applications.

There is no question that Research in Motion (RIM) customers love the BBM service.  It allows instant communication, privacy, is free of charge and notifies the sender when the recipient has read their message.  It’s no accident that it was last year’s London rioters’ preferred method of communication.  Some 45 million people around the world use BBM and it was only last July that RIM launched its latest version (BBM 6).

But the wider BlackBerry service has lost competitiveness, in particular to the iPhone with its stunning versatility and range of applications.  Despite this, and the fact that the BBM service is only available to BlackBerry users, many customers are remaining loyal to BlackBerry because they love the BBM service.  One frequently hears “when your friends are on BBM, you can’t move to an iPhone.” I personally asked my friends on BBM why they liked it so much, “It is much more intimate than other instant messaging services” often comparing to the cross platform App “What’s App”.  In certain industries, particularly in banking, almost everyone has a Blackberry and BBM therefore is the main way to communicate.  It is perhaps this exclusivity that is actually embraced by certain realms of city society.

BBM of course has its competitors – the Kik system that works on the iPhone and Android; GroupMe, which simplifies the sharing of messages between user groups once created; and Beluga, which does this as well as allowing easy photo exchange.  These competitors have sometimes been challenged by RIM, notably the Kik system which RIM have sued and removed from BlackBerry App World.

What’s app that works across iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows phones is perhaps one of the biggest competitors to BBM.  It has suffered however from privacy issues from its use of individuals’ mobile phone numbers for ID as opposed to the more intimate BBM pins.  It doesn’t actually inform you of when the recipient has read the message , although it alludes it’s users it does with the green ticks. From personal experience it also suffers from performance issues.  Colleagues of mine have dubbed this app as “outdated” and “sooo 2010.”

Most significantly, last October Apple launched its new iMessage system that allows seamless, free and instant messaging between the users of any Apple device (iPhone, iPad, iPod etc).  The new system also sends messages to non-Apple users but charges for doing so because it sends such messages in an SMS format.

While the iMessage system perhaps comes closest to the holy grail – a free instant messaging service that works across all platforms – it isn’t there yet and “platform constrained solutions” look set to remain a continuing (negative) feature of the instant messaging scene as providers put their own commercial interests before those of their customers.

One solution to this might lie in regulation, the introduction of rules that require new applications (or a subset of the most important ones) to work seamlessly across platforms.  There are precedents for this in related areas; for example Sky has recently been required by its regulator to make its Sky HD Sport content available to other television service providers so, for example, SKY HD premiership football matches are now available on Virgin cable TV.  There is much to support the drawing of such clear distinctions between service provision and application development.

More generally, it’s clear that major businesses are recognising not only that they need a mobile presence but a mobile presence across all the main platforms.  Many are looking to build their own “cross platform mobile framework” using code written in a single language that will work on all platforms.  The goal is reduced development costs and avoiding the cost of employing different developers with expertise in each of the individual platforms.  Security measures could also be enhanced.  Perhaps these benefits will initiate a truly functional, intimate and cutting edge cross platform instant messenger.

What have I done?  Well I’ve moved to an iPhone but kept my BlackBerry for its BBM capability.  Not ideal, but for now that seems the only way I can get what I feel I need………..