BBM Shutting Down – The End of An Era

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A month ago, a surprising (yet unsurprising) news arrived in my Google News: BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is shutting down on May 31st, 2019. That brought me immediately into a nostalgic mood. BBM was the first mobile messenger I’ve ever tried, and it even brought me the first experience of using a smartphone, which then turns me into a technology enthusiast like today. So yes, I had a bit of history with BBM.

Today, I think I’m going to pay a tribute to BBM by telling what I know about what used to be the only mobile messenger.

What Made Me Use BBM

When I was in high school (probably around 2009), Indonesia was hit with BlackBerry fever. The brand suddenly skyrocketed and everybody had one. Even those who hadn’t a single interest in the platform was forced to use it, because everybody used BBM at the time. Even until some time after Android and iOS have hit the market, many people still clung to BlackBerry.

BBM was easy to use. Even senior people can pick it up quickly.

At the time, BlackBerry Messenger wasn’t available on other platforms yet, and it stayed that way until 2013, a few years after Android and iOS exist. It became their key strength point, just like iMessage for iOS in certain countries today. Sharing PIN was also a thing, and was a big hit among Indonesian teens and adults alike. The presence of BBM groups also marked the beginning of the earliest form of online shops.

Later version of BBM adds free voice calling, while maintaining the simplicity of the platform.

BBM was fairly simple and easy to use. What’s not so simple was… their hardware. But hey, that’s a story for another day.

Then… There’s WhatsApp

In around 2010-2011, if I remember correctly, a new messenger gained traction: WhatsApp. The new messenger was available on every platform then, even Symbian and BBOS. The messenger promised no ads, though there’s insignificant fee of $1 per year, and offered an easy way to register: phone number. WhatsApp will automatically scan your contacts for WhatsApp account. You no longer had to export/import contacts or remember someone’s PIN. Just save their number into your contact, and you’re golden.

WhatsApp was the beginning of the end for BBM.

Again, if I remember correctly, it took WhatsApp quite a while to gain enough popularity because at the time, both Android and iOS were still popular among higher-end segment of the market because not only they were expensive, but lower-end Android phones were painful to use at the time. That’s why most people still stuck with BBM.

Rise of Messengers and Mobile OSes

Android was growing rapidly, while iOS kept receiving modest updates while maintaining the platform’s stability.

As years go by, Android and iOS kept innovating. There was also Windows Mobile. With that, new cross-platform messengers such as WhatsApp and Line also grew in popularity.

Two BlackBerry phones with OS 7.

On the other hand, BlackBerry seemed to stay stagnant. Yes, they updated their mobile OS with more colorful scheme, but their hardware remained painful to use. They were slow and expensive, and phones with older OS cannot be updated to OS7, the latest version at the time. BlackBerry users started adopting WhatsApp, while still using the platform’s titular messenger, as many people were still using it.

Fighting A Losing War

In 2013, along with their new, modern mobile OS, the BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry announced that BBM will finally available on its biggest competitors: Android and iOS.

BBM was available to iOS and Android in 2013. Too little too late?

In my opinion, this move by BlackBerry was too late then. By that time, WhatsApp was already popular, along with other messengers such as LINE or KakaoTalk. Apple users have been sitting cozily on iMessage for a few years then. Android and iOS have gained traction and they were even better than before.

BlackBerry OS before BlackBerry 10 was still as slow and seemed like dinosaurs compared to their more modern counterparts. Maybe BlackBerry felt that if they didn’t expand, they would lose completely. This could be their last attempt at saving their business.

Beginning of The End

In 2016, Emtek Group, an Indonesia-based company, acquired the licensing rights to use and develop BBM. Basically, they acquired the APIs and would continue the development of BBM. Meanwhile, BlackBerry still actively maintains BBM Enterprise (or BBMe), which targets enterprise users and a paid service.

Emtek acquired licensing rights for BBM Personal in 2016.

The new BBM continuously tried adding new (monetizing) features into the messenger, by adding features like custom PIN, stickers, and integration with local services. In Indonesia, for example, there is an integration with e-wallet service DANA for sending money and payments. There’s also integration with Bukalapak, a popular e-commerce platform (backed by the same Emtek Group), and more.

However, unfortunately, it was already too late to save the dying messenger platform. It already lost traction compared to other messengers like WhatsApp (which has gone free), Telegram, and LINE. Most people I know ditched BBM for at least one of those. Only older people use BBM now, and probably those who have been selling online since the early days of BBM.

On April 18, 2019, Emtek announced that they would discontinue the BBM service on May 31, 2019. The reason in their blog post is quite clear: The technology industry however, is very fluid, and in spite of our substantial efforts, users have moved on to other platforms, while new users proved difficult to sign on.

BBM will be replaced by BBM Enterprise, still maintained by BlackBerry themselves.

If it makes you feel any better, users can move on to BBM Enterprise, which is a paid service. But should you decide to do so, you may have to start over, as BBM will delete all data from their servers 7 days after the service has shut down, as mentioned here.

Conclusion: A Farewell To BBM

Goodbye BBM. Though you’re no longer with us, you will always be remembered
as the pioneer of mobile messaging platform.

To be honest, BBM has been a friend I’ve grown up with. It accompanied me during my high school, and until a point in college. I had so many memories with it.

But when I realized that I fell in love with Android (I still am), I had to ditch BBM. If only BlackBerry wasn’t late to open up their platform and innovate, I don’t think it would end this way.

So, I have these mixed feelings with the BBM’s shutdown. At one point, I’m sad because I’ll be losing an old friend, but on the other hand, I know that I had to move on. BBM was losing traction (especially in the consumer space) and business is business; if it isn’t profitable, there’s no use keeping it around, right?

Well, unless BlackBerry goes crazy and open-sourced the application, which I highly doubt. That might save BBM. Might.

Okay, so I guess that’s all for now, Folks. Sorry if this article is a bit long, because I’m having this nostalgic feeling of BBM. In fact, I’m planning for a follow-up article about BlackBerry hardware. Stay tuned. Oh, and feel free to discuss this article in the comments section below. The facts may not be accurate, as I stopped using BBM 5-6 years ago and have not been paying attention to its development. Finally, as usual, thanks for reading and I look forward to your next visit.

Have a nice day! 😀

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