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BBM mystery: Why is it so much more popular on iOS than Android?

Published Nov 22nd, 2013 4:35PM EST
BBM iOS Android Analysis

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It’s been more than a month after BlackBerry Messenger debuted for the iOS and Android platforms and it is still doing remarkably well on the iPhone. On November 22nd, BBM was a top 5 iOS app for downloads in no fewer than 50 countries, including important markets like South Africa, Nigeria, Argentina, Colombia, the UAE, Canada and the U.K. I think it’s safe bet to say that almost nobody expected BBM to be battling evenly with WhatsApp in their download competition in markets like India and the U.K. at the end of November. Yet BBM has been able to demonstrate uncanny longevity in a variety of Latin American, African, European and Asian iPhone markets.

At the same time, BBM’s performance on the Android platform has turned out to be surprisingly wobbly. On the Google Play charts, BBM is a top 10 app in only four countries: Indonesia, South Africa, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It underperforms its iPhone benchmark drastically in Latin American, European, Asian and African countries. In Malaysia, BBM is the No. 14 iPhone app but is only the No. 44 Google Play app. In Argentina, it is the No. 1 iPhone app but only the No. 14 Google Play app. In the Philippines, the split is No. 26 for iOS versus No. 144 for Android.

This disparity is fascinating, because it does not cut across the messaging app universe. A good comparison point is one of BBM’s closest rivals on many levels. Kik, which has roughly as many users, is available on iOS and Android platforms and is physically located in the mysterious town of Waterloo, Ontario, where messaging app engineers outnumber plumbers.

Kik is the No. 38 iPhone app in America but the No. 11 app on Google Play. It is the No. 27 iPhone app in trendy Finland but No. 12 on Google Play. The same applies to charts in the U.K., Canada, Kuwait, etc.

Kik, of course, is often viewed as the archetypal teen messaging app. Could that be why it is more popular on Android than on iOS in many markets? And could the opposite be true for BBM — is the demographic inversion between Kik and BBM the reason for their mirror performances on the two leading smartphone app markets?

Perhaps BBM’s user base is radically different from Kik, Viber and their ilk — older, more affluent, more business-oriented as a legacy of BlackBerry’s role as a corporate tool from Argentina to Malaysia. This in turn could mean that BlackBerry’s role as a content delivery platform could be radically different from where Kik is heading. Perhaps fewer games and makeup simulations and more finance, utility and news category apps? What would that mean for the valuation of BBM? The closer you look, the less monolithic the messaging app market seems.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.