Why Apple’s ‘iMessage’ Repeats BlackBerry Messenger’s Mistake

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At WWDC today, Apple unveiled its long-awaited iMessage – a real-time instant messaging service that’s essentially its version of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) – to polite clapping. Great news for iOS fans; bad news for RIM, which is probably the biggest understatement ever, today.

BBM’s unique properties (instantaneous texts, photos and videos; group chats; and delivery receipts) have long been key to RIM’s promotional strategy, even in spite of its dwindling marketshare. Apple’s iMessage will even support iOS’s new push notification system that’ll allow users to swipe into their app of choice from their lock screen, among lots of other new features (which you can read about here).

And while BBM has outlasted similar messenger services like Kik (which, in poor taste, BlackBerry chose to ban outright from its app store, App World) and PingChat (does anyone even use this?), Apple’s late move with iMessage will likely sound the death knell for BBM, which RIM has reportedly been looking to develop into apps for Android and Apple devices.

But iMessage is slated to work only across iOS devices (iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch) which, while giving Apple users the proprietary messaging service they’ve always wanted, may very well turn out to be a big mistake. In choosing to keep iMessage iOS-only, Apple is allowing third-party companies – like the wildly popular WhatsApp – to stay one step ahead by working across different platforms.

Why is this? It can’t simply be a case of Apple hubris, can it? I don’t think iMessage is even a top 5 selling point for the iPhone – not by a longshot.

RIM’s big mistake with BBM was that it used the instant messaging service to hang on for dear life, rather than playing to its strengths and expanding BBM across different operating systems early on. Here, Apple appears to be repeating RIM’s folly by not giving its customers the easy benefit of cross-platform communication, unless it makes an iffy decision like, say, banning WhatsApp outright from its App Store (which it probably won’t do).

In short, Apple is leaving its iMessage system vulnerable to third-party developers, which could quickly class the shiny new messaging service in unfamiliar territory: second place.

iMessage is a gut punch to RIM, for sure, but as for Apple? It’d be better served keeping its guard up.

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