Why iMessage won’t rule

iMessage announced across all iDevices

This month Apple had its developer’s conference which always attracts significant amounts of excitement and attention from Mac-lovers and the media in general. This year one of the new features that had the community abuzz was the unveiling of the new iMessage features that will become native to the line of iDevices (iPod touch, iPhone, iPad).

A clear and upfront shot across the bow of RIM’s popular BBM messaging service, it seems that Apple has decided the time has come to attack one of Blackberry’s final supporting columns. As Apple has shown many times before, they can be “fast-followers” as well as innovators. The company has had its failures in this regard, but that’s true of any innovator that’s been around for awhile.

Apple fires a shot across the bow of RIM.

Many of the features of iMessage are clearly better than BBM. For example, the integrating of iMessage conversations immediately into any normal chatting with other iDevices, without having to use a separate application. What this basically does is that any normal text chatting with another iDevice will, if you enable it, become an iMessage chat with all of its full features. No need to go back and forth between your BBM conversation and a text one, with iMessage they can become one and the same.

This along with the generally better user experience on the iDevices would suggest that RIM was finally losing one of the final legs they have been standing on. For the last few years Blackberry has only experienced growth in European and other foreign markets, while steadily losing ground in the US.

This is because in Europe and abroad, text messaging services are obscenely overpriced, not unusually in the realm of 10 cents a message, with unlimited plans being either unavailable or also too expensive. Its a cash-cow for the providers, but a pain for consumers who have consistently turned to the BBM service as a way to circumvent expensive texting plans and communicate internationally on the cheap. On the other hand, the affordability of unlimited texting plans in the US has made BBM less of a selling point. Its this key difference that has been holding RIM afloat. Apple is taking aim at this buoy.

But at the end of the day, iMessage is beating what might already be a dead horse, while at the same time possibly lining itself up to be the next one left in the dust. The problem is that no matter how great Apple might make iMessage, it still has the same fundamental problem that is killing BBM: that is, its platform exclusive.

Problem 1: It’s exclusive to Apple users.

iMessage cannot be downloaded by Droid or RIM users. Much like BBM, this is a tool that is only useful with others that have Apple devices as well. Which is useful since so many have them, but at the end of the day not everyone you want to interact with has one. You’re forced to exclude others, which Apple may be seeing as a tactic to pressure those on the “out” to switch to an iDevice.

Problem 2: Its an issue that’s already solved.

This would work, if it weren’t for the fact that there are already apps on the market that do exactly what BBM and iMessage do, but do it across all platforms. The most popular of these is “What’s App” which can be used on iPhones, Blackberries, and Droids without issue. The application has continued to experience enormous adoption as users gravitate towards free tools that have no constraints about devices or networks.

What’s the value of a telephone if there was only one phone in the world?

The arc of the history of the internet and technology has shown that it constantly bends towards tools and solutions that are inclusive, not exclusive. There’s even math and models to outline the value of the “Network Effect”, research we presume Apple performed in making the decision to close the iMessage platform to Apple customers.

The consistent strength, stability, and adoption of open source projects, the Android Market, and applications such as What’s App juxtaposed with the slow death of BBM, Windows, and so many more closed services show this over and over again.

One of the most recent example would be the competition between Skype and Facetime where Apple once again tried to pit their platform restricted solution against an inclusive one and all signs point to its losing that battle.

Let’s hope Apple learns from history and opens iMessage for everyone so users of any device and network can use it. Data wants to be free.

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Paul Lima

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