Study shows the future is bleak for BlackBerry

There was a time, not that long ago, when the ONLY phone you could have in the corporate world was a BlackBerry. In the world of corporate banking, using an iPhone for work pretty much meant that you were an anarchist (although many of them had one for personal use). The perception was that BlackBerry was secure, where other phones were not. However, that perception has been slowly changing. In spite of some malware warnings (usually from security software providers) there are many tens of millions of Android and iPhones out there with little evidence of security issues.

According to a new study, BlackBerry’s recent outage will considerably damage the company, with many of their users switching to other smartphones. YouGov’s smartphone survey (SMIX) found that in September most BlackBerry users rated the company between 8 & 10 (out of 10) for satisfaction. However, following last week’s problems, the overall satisfaction dropped by a massive 8 points. This was particularly marked by the number of users who would consider buying a BlackBerry again. Just 42% of users said they would get another BlackBerry, a drop of 11% on the previous study. Another recent study by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) found that only 16 percent were “completely satisfied” with their BlackBerries, compared to 44 percent of iPhone users.

Of course, conducting a study immediately after such a major outage will reveal customers at their least dissatisfied. RIM still retain a high level of customer loyalty and currently there is nothing that directly challenges BBM for both cost, ease of use and security. Now, if Apple were to develop a secure messaging function then maybe BlackBerry’s future then maybe the corporate world will switch to the iPhone.

More on the study here

Blaming the messenger: is BBM fueling the London Riots?

The first blog about the relevance of BBM was on urbanmashup – follow this link for more information.

Following the weekend’s riots in Tottenham and elsewhere in London, the police, other authorities and The Daily Mail (of course) were quick to blame ‘social media’ for fuelling the unrest. Steve O’Connell of the Metropolitan Police Service was quoted (by Bloomberg) as saying: “The bad guys were using these sites to target areas quickly. Small bands of ne’er-do- wells were descending on high-quality stores to loot.” he also said:  “The police are ahead of the curve in information technology and would have experience of the use of social- networking sites by troublemakers,” Ahead of the curve? Really? Throughout the day, it has become obvious communications are not happing on Facebook or Twitter but rather that BBM was the communication tool of choice for young, urban rioters.

The Guardian has reported that the evidence of an organised social media campaign is pretty scant. As far as Facebook goes, most of the activity related to the death of Mark Duggan and the subsequent vigil and peaceful protest. In fact, the fan page was set up on Saturday night after the peaceful protest took place. Whilst posts on Twitter were a little more inflammatory, the main target was a festival in Hackney which was cancelled as a result.

There is growing evidence, though, that the choice of communication for many of those involved in the unrest is BlackBerry’s instant messaging system BBM. Messages have been flying around in this channel since Thursday, shortly after the fatal police shooting. For those of us who study our handset demographics, this isn’t a great surprise. iPhones are the choice of the middle class, aged 25+. Android, on the other hand, appeals to a younger, male audience. But that appeal is to a more techie demographic, than an urban one. The choice of BlackBerry and BBM is, in part, a highly practical one: BBM is free and largely anonymous – you don’t need phone credit to use it. You can quickly create groups and forward messages anonymously. A trend in BBM is also to use status updates as the conversation itself turning BBM into a kind of Twitter (without the hashtags), speeds up communications further.

But the choice of BlackBerry is more than a cost/practical one. After all, why did they not Tweet (although some have re-tweeted BBM messages), or checked in on Foursquare? The reason is that those social media channels are just too middle class and lack the urban appeal (and I don’t see Foursquare ever creating a ‘looters’ badge). I have often said, that the choice of the phone you have is as much about fashion and identity as practicality. BlackBerry is the choice of rappers (Dizzy Rascal even promoted his album through BBM) and the choice of poorer, younger, urban dwellers. Mark Duggan, for example, sent a BBM message to his fiancé shortly before the incident in which he was killed.

However you want to name it – ‘criminality’, ‘greed’ or ‘revolt’  – the causes of the current unrest go way beyond the technology itself. There will be inevitable calls for the censoring or banning of BBM, just as there were calls to end the purchase of anonymous SIM cards after the London student riots. The police have already threatened to pursue and prosecute those who are making ‘inflametory’ comments in social media. Whilst BlackBerry have offered their help to the authorities, at the end of the day, the UK riots would have happened regardless of BBM. It just so happens to be the choice of communication channel for that particular group. But blaming BBM for it is simply blaming the messenger.

If BBM is so popular, why isn’t everyone doing it?

It’s a question I’ve been asked quite a bit recently. Blackberry is THE handset of choice for teenagers and early 20s. And the reason is BBM. Why BlackBerry messenger? First and foremost it’s free without a contract. It allows group conversations, it allows anonymous forwarding of messages. That’s the main reason why teenagers use BlackBerry, but there are a few other reasons. BlackBerrys have buttons. Touch screens are slow and hard to use on the move. Buttons can be used with two thumbs making it much faster to type. And BlackBerrys are cool. Maybe you thought the iPhone was cool? It is if you are over 25, but not if you’re a teenager. Just as BBM started to catch on, the BlackBerry was paraded around by the likes of Paris Hilton, various rappers and in Gossip Girl.

Of course the thing about BBM is that it’s adoption is the same happy accident as SMS. It was clearly invented as a business tool, but teenagers liked it because it was fast and cheap. Before BlackBerry knew it they were the teen object of desire.

So why wasn’t it MSN? After all teenagers were already using MSN on their PCs? The primary reason is one of cost. You needed a data tariff on the handset before you could use it. BBM is free. Both handset manufacturers and operators have tried to introduce something similar. In the UK there is Orange friends. Nice idea, but it’s not going to work. Firstly, operator-based communication channels have a history of failure (dare I mention Vodafone 360?). Teenagers don’t mind being tied to a handset, but they don’t like being tied to a particular operator. Operators aren’t cool. Handsets are.

So what about things like Skype, iChat and other messenger services? The short answer is that it’s simply too late. BBM has stolen the market, and it is nearly impossible to catch up. If all your friends are on BBM, switching to another channel is akin to social suicide. There are also a few usability issues to throw in. If you want to use MSN or iChat you need to keep the app open. BBM is already there.

Will BBM see the end of SMS?

There is no evidence that BBM will see the death of SMS. True, teenagers are switching away from email, but they are still using SMS to communicate with those who don’t have BBM (they’re called adults). One key issue is that the last time teenagers adopted a cheap, fast messaging system it was SMS in the 90s and look what happened to that. We are now at a point where more people use SMS globally than make phone calls. SMS also brings massive revenues for the operators. But BBM will not necessarily have the same rate of adoption for a couple of reasons. Firstly, unlike SMS it isn’t universal. It’s only Blackberry and they have little over 5% of the global handset market. SMS was built into every GSM network as standard. Secondly, there’s no significant revenue opportunity for the operators. The value of BBM is in selling handsets. True, the operators make money on their handsets, but their primary source of revenue is in subscriptions – making money from voice, SMS and data (maybe).

From a brand marketing perspective, this means that SMS is still significant. It is still very much the call to action, the thing that more than 90% of people use, more than 90% of text messages are read and more than 90% of people remember what a brand message said. BBM has a long way to go before it can catch that up.