Timing is everything. Too early and your product will shrivel; too late and it will be overlooked no matter how shiny. Just ask BlackBerry — a company with spectacularly bad timing in recent memory. A string of hesitations and bad decisions made the BlackBerry maker too late to the mobile party again and again.
Clinging stubbornly to old QWERTY keyboard habits left its hardware out of touch — literally — when it came to competing with Android and iOS, and allowed RIM to delay the necessary refocusing of its mobile platform for too long. That next-gen platform arrived eventually in BlackBerry 10, but the BlackBerry faithful had already mostly departed for pastures new, leaving the company with a load of unsold BB10 handsets and a $965 million hole in its books.
That story is so much water under the bridge now, as the company appears to be on the point of break-up, shopping itself around to potential buyers. But its bad sense of timing persists. Old habits die hard.
The latest case in point is a small example, but a telling one nonetheless. BlackBerry finally started rolling out its BBM messaging client to iOS and Android yesterday — weeks later than originally planned, after a botched earlier attempt. And years late from a market point of view. If BBM had launched on Android and iOS back in 2010, how many users might it have now? And how many might mobile messaging giants like WhatsApp not have?
Yesterday was also the day Apple selected for its October iPad launch event. This date has been circulating as near-certified rumour since early October and had been officially confirmed since October 15. Yet despite that highly unfortunate marketing clash — a David and Goliath one when you’re going up against the hyperdrive of the Cupertino marketing machine — BlackBerry went ahead with its rescheduled BBM launch anyway. Why, BlackBerry, why?
Turns out there is still appetite for BlackBerry’s veteran messaging client — or at least people curious enough to take a look. But that story didn’t get a decent airing yesterday. The iPad Air stole its oxygen.
Into this attention vacuum, BlackBerry tweeted yesterday that BBM for iOS and Android had had 5 million downloads eight hours after launch. This was followed up by another official announcement saying BBM downloads had exceeded 10 million within 24 hours of its release. And that it had become the No. 1 free app in more than 75 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Indonesia and “most of the Middle East”.
It’s just a shame that BlackBerry decided to bury this flicker of relatively good news under a tsunami of Apple-related PR. Once more unto the terrible timing breach.
Ten million downloads in a day isn’t bad. For BlackBerry it’s spectacular good news — the kind of news the company has been lacking for years. So squandering the impact of having something positive to say for once seems like a seriously wasted opportunity.
Of course 10 million downloads does not mean BBM is alive and kicking, even as the company that created it heads for the breakers yard. The key test will be how many of those downloads turn into sustained usage. For some context, mobile messaging giant WhatsApp has some 300 million monthly active users, for instance, while Chinese messaging app WeChat has circa 190 million MAUs.
Mobile messaging is now a very packed and fiercely competitive space, being attacked by giants like Facebook, as well as startups of all stripes. BBM’s 10 million downloads in a day is therefore a win, but a very small one. How many monthly active users would BBM have had on Android and iOS if it had launched three years ago?
It’s such timing-related questions that will haunt the company’s founders for years to come.
One more thing: BlackBerry is having to ration access to BBM — presumably so its servers don’t fall over again — meaning that people who have downloaded the app have to wait in a queue for an email notification before they can start using it.
Really, you can’t make this stuff up.