Apple Delivers Another Slap to RIM’s Face With iMessage

Published on June 7, 2011
by Ina Fried

Although it got only a fairly brief mention on Monday, the iMessage service that Apple showed on Monday no doubt struck a chord at the offices of Research In Motion.

The iMessage service, which sits alongside existing communications mechanisms like text messaging and e-mail, offers many of the same features that have made BlackBerry Messenger popular, including things like delivery confirmation and the ability to tell when a message has been read or when someone is typing a reply.

According to Apple, iMessage will allow messages to be sent to all one’s iOS devices–iPhone, iPad and iPod touch–provided they are running iOS 5. Messages, which can consist of text, photos, videos or contact information, can be sent over either Wi-Fi or 3G and arrive in the Messages application. The messages are also encrypted, Apple said.

Once a mainstay among corporate users, RIM has been losing ground in North America as users have flocked to iPhone and Android devices. BlackBerry Messenger had been among the features that have kept those loyal to RIM in the fold.

A RIM representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brian Blair, an analyst at Wedge Partners, said the impact to RIM won’t be immediate, given that iMessage won’t arrive until the fall and will take some time to attract a critical mass. But, by next year, it could be yet another factor working against the company.

“Assuming it is widely adopted by iOS users broadly, it will become one more reason for users to defect from BlackBerry in 2012 and beyond since BBM, for many users, has become the primary reason to use a BlackBerry,” Blair said.

Although known for its keyboard and enterprise messaging strength, Blair noted that the appeal of BlackBerry Messenger has helped RIM with young people and college students.

“There are regions around the world and college campuses and other social circles where you see high rates of BlackBerry adoption and BBM is the main reason,” Blair said. “If all your friends are on a BlackBerry and using BBM, you need one too. So will iMessage make them switch? We’ll see.”

Blair said that at first blush, it appears that Apple has matched a lot of BlackBerry Messenger’s features. The key, though, is whether it catches on with iPhone and iPad owners. “BBM took years to gain ground and really become a standard tool among BlackBerry users,” Blair said. “It didn’t happen overnight. But Apple has the user base to replicate BBM’s success and iMessage’s cross-device interoperability gives the application high odds of doing well.”

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