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Blackberry Game Changer: BBM Coming to iPhone & Android?

Mario Tama | Getty Images

This may be a game changer: Reports are circulating that BlackBerry Messenger is coming to Apple's iPhone and Android smartphones. The original report, which surfaced this morning on BGR is generating a lot of buzz—because it could change the competitive landscape of the mobile phone industry.

Blackberry Messenger, or BBM as it is frequently called by its devotees, allows Blackberry owners to communicate with other Blackberry users regardless of which wireless carrier they use.

So what's the big deal about BBM—and how does it different from regular text messaging?

Well, there are a few key differences:

First, it's really fast. The recipient receives the message almost instantaneously, eliminating the vast majority of annoying delays that plague ordinary text messaging.

Second, it allows users to exchange rich data, such as photos, video, and location information with minimal delays.

Third, it provides excellent delivery notification. When you send a message via BBM, you can see when it's been delivered—and also when it's been read. This may not sound like a big deal —but once you've had it you immediately see the shortcoming in regular text messaging.

(As a New Yorker I'm passionate about this. Ever get off the subway—which is effectively a communications black hole—and get a text message which reads: "Change of plans: Can u meet us uptown instead?" Trust me: Delivery notification is important—and once you've had it you never want to go back.)

The debate has already begun: Why would Blackberry open up the feature that arguably confers upon them their greatest competitive advantage?

The short answer is because if they're clever they can find a way to make money from it—and open up a great feature to a much broader audience.

There was some discussion in the BGR article about RIM, the manufacturer of Blackberry, providing only a limited BBM feature set for iPhone and Android.

Which makes me wonder: What's the point?

If an iPhone owner is serious enough about messaging to pay their hard-earned money for an application that is available in a lesser form for free, they are serious enough about messaging to be annoyed by limited functionality. Conversely, if they're serious enough to pay for it in the first place, they are likely serious enough to pay a little more for a broader feature set.

I'm well aware that some analysts will say that if RIM allows other devices to use BBM they will be committing corporate hari kari.

But does any business want customers to buy their products reluctantly and resentfully – because they want a single feature?

Here's the bottom line: If RIM's unique value add and competitive advantage in the marketplace is running messaging servers better than anyone else so be it.

RIM should simply devise a pricing structure that allows them to profit from the services they provide best.

And forget about trying to lock their users into a platform that they don't want to be on in the first place.

If RIM allowed BBM on the iPhone I would happily be their first paying customer.

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