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BlackBerry sees 20m new BBM downloads, but lags behind in the $48bn market

BlackBerry had a bit of a disaster with a ‘leaked’ launch last week of the new BBM messaging app for Android phones, which still managed to clock up 1.1m downloads in eight hours before the firm disabled it and plugged the leak.

Still, it managed the official Android and iPhone app launch eventually, and this week reported 20 million new users during its debut week. Add these figures to the number of users on BlackBerry’s own smartphones and BBM now has a reported 80 million monthly active users. True, many of those new 20m might use it once and never again, so the pressure will be on BlackBerry to ensure that its service continues to receive user support. But 20m downloads is still an impressive figure.

Monetizing those 20m new customers though is going to be difficult, and BlackBerry is not saying how it intends to do so. So what’s it really worth to the company? Especially as the total 80m users is woefully small when compared to other third-party messaging services. WhatsApp last week announced it now has 350 million monthly active users milestone (despite now charging $1 per year for the service), having added 50 million since August.

The other messaging behemoths are China’s WeChat with 236m and Japan’s Line, which now has over 200m monthly active users – both of whom are now looking to push outside their national boundaries and attract global users. And let’s not forget that Twitter has 230 million active monthly users.

At least BlackBerry is still beloved by enterprises, which value the built in security. How many corporations would entertain the notion of switching their communications to WhatsApp? Perhaps the firm can reposition the BBM service to avoid the negative associations of the parent company and re-market the app, targeting the dizzy heights of 350m downloads? A lot depends on what happens with the proposed $4.7 billion buyout of the company through Fairfax Financial.

In the meantime, the so-called OTT messaging and chat apps go from strength to strength. It’s been determined that the world’s chat services have between them raked signed up somewhere between 844 and 862 million users, many of whom use multiple services as interoperability is a dirty word in this new world order. To put that in perspective, it’s not far off the 874m mobile Facebook users.

Quartz has calculated that the messaging market is worth somewhere between $29bn and $48bn, based on a collation of real and rumoured valuations for several companies (WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Korea’s KakaoTalk and Snapchat). Its analysis excludes services that are primarily devoted to other functions, like Facebook and Google.

WhatsApp, which has the biggest user base, is currently valued at $1 billion. Not bad, you might think, but that’s nothing compared to Line’s $10-$28bn valuation or WeChat’s $10bn. Interestingly, WeChat yesterday launched its new paid and verified accounts, to encourage businesses to sign up to e-commerce services – that could push its valuation even higher.

So the lesson to BlackBerry is well done with the 20m, but your work is only just starting if BBM is going to be a credible and globally supported service.

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