At BlackBerry, we believe messaging is the most important mobile app: communication and connection are the foundation of mobile’s utility, no matter what else you’re doing. And it shows in all the great features we’ve been adding to BBM this year to make it the platform of choice for connecting to your world.
Now, it seems like everyone else is coming to the same conclusion. Of course, Facebook turned heads when it bought WhatsApp for $19 billion earlier this year. Social networks Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest all added messaging in the last year. And Evernote just added messaging to its apps in November.
Winners and Losers
The profusion of messaging options has many of us wondering how it will all shake out. And, as you might imagine, experts don’t agree on what the future looks like. Instead, they offer competing visions.
Some say there are too many apps, and that we need a worldwide monopoly-like solution to simplify what has become a fragmented market. Some suggest many different apps, but a single inbox. Some say there will be winners and losers. Some say there’s plenty of room for everyone, that this isn’t a “war” so much as a land grab, and that different apps serve different needs, much like different social networks do today.
I don’t think a worldwide monopoly is likely, or desirable, or in the nature of the Internet or mobile. I believe there’s room for more than just one messaging app, but also, that a few of the most popular will emerge as leaders. They’ll win with consumer and business trendsetters for the best feature set, and then grow exponentially due to the network effect.
The Right Features
Here is my list of things that make a messaging app worthy of longevity:
This almost goes without saying, but any app that aims to connect people on a massive scale should be cross-platform. (iMessage, I think you’re the last holdout on this one.)
- Privacy and security
While chatting with friends, we value privacy. Not that everything we do is top-secret, but in our you-can’t-ever-delete-a-picture-from-the-Internet world, it’s important to be able to keep some things to yourself — like you can in BBM.The same goes for messaging at work. Businesses need to keep communications and proprietary information secure. Messaging apps have become part of our day-to-day at the office, and we need to know we can trust them. BBM Enterprise (formerly known as BBM Protected) offers that extra peace of mind.
- Enterprise features
Building on that, messaging apps can and should offer enterprises more than just chat: enterprise-grade encryption, group chat, mobile video conferencing, screen sharing, and more. BBM Meetings is paving the way.
- Fun stuff
Life isn’t all business. Games, stickers, and other virtual goods make messaging more fun. Social media, like messaging apps, provide a great way to share the music you’re listening to with contacts, and discover new acts from them as well.
- Commerce capability
Mobile payments and mobile shopping are becoming increasingly popular, and messaging can make both of these easier for consumers. BBM Money lets users send payments to their contacts, top-up prepaid mobile accounts, and even pay utility bills. Brands are already using BBM Channels to connect with customers. A few pioneers have enabled one-click commerce — and consumers are responding.
- A business model
As many messaging apps are free for users, they have to sell advertising, stickers, sponsored content or add-on services. If a messaging app doesn’t have a business model yet, introducing one in the wrong way could spell disaster.
- Keeping functions separate
One reason there are so many options for messaging is that each of us has different identities at different times of the day. At work, we’re workers. At home, we’re parents, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. Out in the world, we’re consumers. I think the messaging apps that will survive long-term are those that are either distinct in one of two ways: providing the best features for their particular purposes (work, friends, shopping), or catering to all of our different needs, while allowing us to keep the separate parts of our lives separate.
So, what does the future of messaging look like? It’s the new way to participate, the new way to connect, and the new way to share. It’s also becoming the new way to market and sell directly to consumers. Social networks and other apps have recognized that communication is the foundation of everything we’re doing on mobile, and messaging is the way to do it.
That’s why there are so are many business and consumer messaging solutions now. We’ll continue to see new ones appear and old ones add new features. Only time will tell who can bring it all together with a private, secure, cross-platform, enterprise-focused, consumer-friendly solution with a sound business model.