No one is sure how many times BlackBerry's (BBRY) BBM communications app has been downloaded so far for Apple's (AAPL) iOS and Google's (GOOG) Android OS, but 30 million should not be a surprise. If one adds to these downloads the total number of BlackBerry users, then it might be fair to say that BBM is currently installed on about 100 million devices.
However, there is another small piece of BBM install base that has escaped everyone's attention. Please note that Samsung smartphones sold in sub-Saharan Africa have a preinstalled version of BBM for some time now. This means that even if those people don't have a clue what BBM is, they will once they start playing around with their Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) phone. And since Samsung sold about 80 million phones in Q3 of 2013 (data from Gartner here), we have to assume that several million phones in sub-Saharan Africa have BBM installed.
However as of yesterday, a new age for BBM is beginning. For starters, BBM had its first update for Android devices and now includes support for contact categories, group list sorting and filtering improvements, and addressed an issue with higher batter usage. But the big news is something else.
The big news is that BBM is now available for iPod and iPad Wi-Fi-only devices. Previously the app required cellular connectivity.
Why is this important? Because it is the first step in establishing BBM as a fully fledged communications application across many platforms and not just in app form. In fact I hinted about such a move in my last article, when I said that BBM is not yet available for a desktop computer. And while BBM is still not available as a desktop application, this is the very first step.
I am assuming that the people at BlackBerry are also making an Android tablet app as you are reading this article, and I am also assuming that they are racing to make an app for Microsoft (MSFT) WP8 phones and tablets as well (even if there is no confirmation of this by anyone).
At the end of the day, if all these apps are brought to market, not only will BBM become more popular, but chances are that BBM will rival the main desktop communications program in the world that is Skype. And since I have been using BBM myself for a while now, I have to say that if BBM ever comes to the desktop, it would be a permanent application program open on my computer.
Yes all these theories of mine are premature, but if I were a BlackBerry executive, this is exactly what I would be thinking of. That is, what is a better way to expand the use of BBM and BlackBerry itself, than to make a native version of BBM for all the three major ecosystems in the world: iOS, Android and Windows 8. And if I were a BlackBerry executive, I would make this my top priority.
And while BBM is still not a fully fledged world-class communications application yet, this is the very first step.
So while the BlackBerry turnaround effort is still in its early stages, I think that the market will eventually have to put a price on what BBM might be worth, in the event that what I just described to you, ever ferments.
Recently it was reported that Facebook (FB) made an offer of $3 billion for Snapshot. Not only does this company have no revenue, but it will probably never have. I don't know what Facebook executives were smoking, but if Snapshot is worth $3 billion to them, I cannot even begin to put a price on BBM, if BlackBerry manages to make a native version for all platforms, including the desktop.
BBM will prove to be a very important asset for BlackBerry in the future, that might be worth billions, if BlackBerry plays its cards right and manages to port BBM across all platforms and devices.
If this happens or not is unknown right now, but porting BBM to the iPad is the very first step. And as I see it, this might be a small step for BBM, but might prove to be a gigantic leap for BlackBerry in the future.