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BBM for iOS and Android delivered amidst more BlackBerry layoffs

Bridget Botelho, News Director

BlackBerry has continued its cost-cutting strategy by reportedly eliminating more jobs this week, just days before rolling out its Z30 smartphone and delivering BlackBerry Messenger to Apple and Android  devices.

BlackBerry Messenger

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(BBM) will be available as a free download in Google Play and the Apple App Store this week. No word on BBM’s availability for Windows devices.

BBM offers business users advantages over other instant messaging platforms because chats are done on a private network and users can choose how information is shared. The application also uses a PIN rather than a phone number, so employees don’t have to give anyone their phone number or email address.

But IT industry insiders say BBM's privacy perks probably won't be enough to entice users.

"It has been a while since someone said, 'I won't switch from BlackBerry to iPhone for XYZ reasons,' and even back then it wasn’t because of BBM," said Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple solutions provider. "Most business customers left BlackBerry and its associated platforms a long time ago."

However, for companies that still use BlackBerry devices, having BBM for Android and iOS may be useful  for allowing iOS and Android users to communicate with BlackBerry users, Oh said.

BBM for iOS, Android faces stiff competition

BBM's availability for iOS and Android devices comes after dozens of platform-agnostic chat options that business customers have become accustomed to in recent years,  many of which  offer more than just chat, said Chris Hazelton, a mobile analyst with 451 Research, a tech analysis firm based in New York.

"It makes sense for BBM to be available for [iOS and Android] because for a messaging platform to be successful, it has to run across all the platforms that people use," Hazelton said. "BBM is a real strength of BlackBerrys, but the network has become less valuable as fewer people use those devices. The BBM contact list has shrunk."

BlackBerry claims there are more than 60 million monthly active BBM customers on the company's devices.

The challenge is that there are already traditional SMS tools built into Apple and Android devices, plus many well-liked third party platforms, Hazelton said.

One popular choice is Jabber, which is built into many email platforms, including Google. Many of Oh's clients also use Podio from Citrix with  built-in chat and social collaboration functions. There's also Google's Gchat, Apple's iMessage, Microsoft's Yammer and of course, AOL Instant Messenger.

"All the places that BBM had relevance in the enterprise have been marginalized by other options," Oh said. "There isn’t room for it anymore."

Some industry watchers see BBM as too outdated to make a name for itself in this space.

To use BBM on an iPhone or Android device is like "buying a laptop and using it to send faxes," according to enterprise technologist Andi Mann.

But BlackBerry does plan to update its messaging platform; BBM Video calling and BBM Voice calling are due in future versions, for instance.

Making BBM interoperable with the iOS and Android platforms that are widely adopted in businesses is a necessary move, Mann added.  The latest version of BlackBerry Enterprise Service management software also supports iOS and Android. 

In addition, BlackBerry plans to launch Secure Work Space for iOS and Android devices, but competition in the workspace arena is also strong.  

"BlackBerry is moving from an environment they control to the bigger application market," Hazelton said.

BlackBerry Z30 delivered amidst layoffs

The new BlackBerry Z30 all-touch smartphone -- which runs the BB10 operating system -- also became available this week. The device is the company's second touch device designed to compete with smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note II.

Companies are still buying BlackBerry devices, but the number is in a downward spiral, Hazelton said.

Next quarter, 28% of companies plan to buy BlackBerry devices, down from 33% the previous quarter, according to an August 2013 survey of over 1500 enterprise IT respondents conducted by ChangeWave Research, a service of 451 Research. Meanwhile, 63% of respondents said they plan to buy iOS devices, 43% Android, and 9% Windows devices. (Overlap is due to multiple choice options.)

While Windows device purchasing plans are the smallest, that percentage has been consistent whereas BlackBerry buying plans continue to fall, Hazelton said.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry is continuing its cost-cutting strategy to keep the company afloat. The company this week laid-off more employees, according to reports, and layoffs are expected to continue.

In July, 250 employees from the company's Waterloo, Ontario product-testing facility were terminated, after 5,000 company-wise cuts the in 2012.

BlackBerry did not confirm the latest round of layoffs, but it has laid out its staff reduction strategy in the past, saying that layoffs are part of BlackBerry's turnaround plan to increase efficiencies and scale the company for new opportunities in mobile computing.