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Remember BBM? That once iconic acronym stood for BlackBerry Messenger, one of the world’s most used chat apps. But that legacy has long since come and gone.
During BlackBerry’s torrid few years in the early 2010s, the company sold the app’s development rights to Indonesian-based company Creative Media Works (owned by Emtek).
It’s a complicated situation for the non-informed consumer still plodding away on older BlackBerry devices, but essentially, the new Android and iOS app is not the BBM you once knew.
That doesn’t mean much has changed though.
It’s still a chat app, and BBM CEO Matthew Talbot is adamant that the app has a future in South Africa and other key markets in the world.
At present, BBM has around nine million registered* users in South Africa, with 2.1-million using the app monthly. Around 4.2-million people are using the app in Nigeria. Those numbers were once a lot higher, Talbot tells Memeburn.
“We did get hit quite a bit by the BlackBerry era of handsets,” he explains, referencing BlackBerry’s diminishing market share around the world.
Talbot: BBM has ‘enough critical mass to be in the one of two top players in the market’
BBM’s current developers aren’t in command of the older versions on legacy BlackBerry phones. Its primary focus is Android. Around nine in ten smartphone users are running Google’s OS, and Talbot explains that this is where the app’s future lies.
“We’ve seen numbers start to climb since December, since our new UI launched,” Talbot adds.
With the new UI, BBM has also launched a number of social features in a bid to be an all-in-one solution to service countries with lower bandwidth allowances, devices with lower RAM figures, and storage space. Talbot explains that turning BBM into a unified entertainment and social solution is ideal for its goals.
“Other parts of Africa like Nigeria are still key markets for Africa for BBM,” he explains.
“In most countries the average user has three messaging apps installed on their phone. We know they use WhatsApp, WeChat, and BBM. But it’s all about the network and the contacts that you have on the network.
“If you look at the top stats of what people do on their phone, number one is always messaging and then games.
“We’re following a very similar model to what WeChat did in China,” Talbot notes.
‘Messaging remains the core’
Users are also seeing this change in current builds of BBM. Games, coupons, entertainment options like DiscoverTV and its bill payment and top-up features. Shopping and travel features, polls and more are also set to launch imminently.
At present, BBM isn’t just a chat app. However, “messaging remains the core” of the app, Talbot insists.
“We are focusing on a handful of core markets, that includes South Africa,” Talbot notes, including Nigeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Canada, the USA and UK are also mentioned as important markets.
“We’re not trying to be in every market. That’s where we’ve built teams. In those countries, we’ve got enough critical mass to be in the one of two top players in the market,” he states.
But the competition is perhaps one of the two biggest biggest hurdles for BBM en route to this goal.
“When it comes to pure chat, WhatsApp has a billion users out there today. From our research, people still find WeChat very complicated,” Talbot explains.
“We don’t really look at WeChat as the key competitor, we look at WhatsApp.”
But can BBM really be a player in South Africa and the key market’s chat app space? While Talbot’s answer was an emphatic “yes”, he is cognizant of the other challenge.
“Part of the challenge is letting users know BBM is still alive.”
*Edit: clarified usage figures by differentiating BBM’s registered users and monthly active users.