Flood of BBM rivals forces RIM to loosen IM stranglehold

The growing number of companies developing instant messaging apps competing with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) may be forcing Research in Motion to open up its much vaunted messaging system to other mobile operating system, according to a Canadian technology analyst.

Earlier this month, it was reported that RIM is planning to make BBM available to Android OS users later this year. According to the Boy Genius Report site, BlackBerry Messenger for Android will likely be a limited service that includes text messaging, but no photos, location or video.

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“If this is happening, it would be a smart move for RIM. If they don’t open up their services, they would suffer the same fate as Nokia in two years,” says Mark Tauschek, director of research at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

Tauschek said reports indicate that BBM for Android could be a free service initially and that a one-time payment or small monthly subscription fee may be charged later. There may be plans to make the IM app available to iPhone devices as well.

The other day, Tauschek said RIM is opening up the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to other devices. “There are reports that RIM is looking at the possibility of managing other devices on BES.”

Yesterday, RIM has announced a partnership with Microsoft Corp. that will result in the Canadian phone company giving its corporate customers an opportunity to move back-office management of email and other BlackBerry services off-site. This move, said RIM will save customers money, boost the deployment of BlackBerrry services and improve security.

RIM will be supporting what Microsoft calls Microsoft Office 365, a major cloud-service initiative of the software company.

Currently BlackBerry corporate customers typically maintain one or more BlackBerry Enterprise Servers on company premises. The servers enable IT personnel to provision and manage services and features such as calendar and contact updates, video services and others for the company’s BlackBerry smartphone users.

With the new arrangement, these companies will have the option to move this back-office infrastructure to off-site data centres that will be managed by RIM. This will provide substantial savings to RIM customers because paying for cloud services will be cheaper that buying and maintaining BlaskBerry Enterprise Servers.

Tauschek said these moves are aimed at “gaining more mindshare as other devices such as Android phones, iPhones, and Windows 7 Phones eat up its market share.

“The only way for RIM products to retain relevance is for the company to allow people on other handsets to enjoy some services formerly exclusive to BlackBerry users,” the analyst explained.

For instance, in the case of the BBM, the application is generally viewed as a enabling reliable and secure texting, audio, and video exchanges between BlackBerry devices. What sets it apart from other IM services is that the BBM does not requier a data plan.

RIM gives Kik the boot

Although RIM came up with the idea of fluid, real-time instant messaging for smartphones, the BBM concept has since been duplicated on other platforms by Kik and WhatsApp. And with BlackBerry losing market share in North America to the iPhone and Android, a platform-specific messaging system no longer makes a lot of sense.

“If RIM wants to keep their faithful clients happy the company needs to enable open IM communication with friends of these people who may be using other brands of phones,” said Tauschek.

Research in Motion, however, can be protective of its proprietary technology.

When Canadian company Kik’s instant messaging application for BlackBerrys, iPhones, iPads and Android devices garnered more than 2.5 million hits last November, RIM accused Kik of “breaching contractual oblications” and pulled the app from its BlackBerry World app store. RIM later filed a lawsuit against the company, although today Kik is still available to Apple and Android devices.

Tauschek said of all the contending IM apps Kik was “closest to home.

“It was pretty good. It was very much like BBM,” he said.

Some BBM alternatives

For non-BlackBerry users or people who want to break their crackberry addiction here are a few IM alternatives to the BBM.

Kik: This app is widely described as BBM for non BlackBerry devices. It is a free barebones service but is said to be very fast.

When you download Kik, the app asks you to create a username which you will use when communicating through the app. The app immediately opens to an ongoing chat or gives you the option to initiate one.

A favourite feature among users is that chats are organized and represented as “box bubbles” like text messages on an iPhone. Users also know if a message has been sent or received because a initial (R for received, S for sent) appears beside the message.

WhatsAPP: An SMS replacement enables users to send text, pictures, video or audio messages to other WhatsApp users. The tool also makes it easy to share a location on a map. Unlike BBM. WhatsApp works across multiple platforms.

The app scans a user’s address book and compares the phone numbers with those in WhatsApp’s list of users. When someone in your address book installs WhatsApp that person’s phone info will be added automatically to your WhatsApp contact list. No need for screen names, user names of PIN numbers to identify users.

FaceTime: An Apple tool for video chatting app. Users love the fact that that it integrates into their address book allowing them to launch it directly from their iPhone contact list.

Fring: This free mobile app that enables video calls, voice calls and live chat with fellow users of Fring or other Internet services such as MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Facebook, Twitter and others.

Skype: Another free video chatting application for online and mobile users. Voice quality is better than most IM systems. File transfers are fast. The service has call forwarding options and allows voice conferences for up to five people.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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