updated 08:30 pm EDT, Fri September 6, 2013
Encrypted messaging app still has following, but no longer king of privacy
A BlackBerry executive revealed a final version of the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) app for iOS in a tweet this afternoon, mentioning that the app was submitted for approval two weeks ago and using the hashtags "#waiting" and "#BBM4ALL." The move, first confirmed last month, is part of the company's plan to diversify its offerings onto other platforms, as a huge percentage of the company's former base have moved on, following BlackBerry's thus-far unsuccessful attempt to play catch-up to its rivals.
BlackBerry Messenger, with its encrypted chat function, was once the main selling point of the BlackBerry smartphones before -- and for a while after -- the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. Ever since Apple was able to match and surpass BlackBerry's security for BBM for its iChat (now Messages) service, however, enterprise and other customers have flocked to the platform. The US DEA even produced a memo warning its agents that because Apple's iMessages bypass normal cellular SMS networks and are encrypted, the agency could not decode or intercept them. Although BlackBerry and Google Hangout communications are also encrypted, the DEA has not issued any warnings that those communications are impervious to interception.
Like BlackBerry's other efforts, a BBM app for iOS and Android will likely be seen as "too little, too late" for most users, though the service may catch on with fans of the classic BlackBerry offerings -- including President Obama -- who have since switched to another platform. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide, however, use Apple's Messages app, the popular WhatsApp texting service or other alternatives -- with a certain small percentage of users knowledgable enough to know the level of security employed and how best to keep their communications private.
BlackBerry says it still has some 60 million active monthly users worldwide, with 51 million using BBM on their devices daily, sending and receiving 10 billion messages every day. The risk for BlackBerry is that the freedom of having BBM on other platforms may increase the "flight" away from BlackBerry hardware, but the company has little choice but to offer its software where the customers are -- particularly as it contemplates selling itself, potentially to one of those major rivals.
What is causing the delay in Apple's approval of BBM for iOS wasn't revealed in the tweet from BlackBerry mobile app developer Alex Kinsella. Apple normally approves almost all apps within five business days, suggesting the company may feel the BBM app encroaches on its own Messages app. It could reject the BBM program, or request some changes -- a number of other messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Skype, AIM and many others -- have not seen any difficulties in being approved.