No word yet on price, so the software might be free, have a one-time cost, or a recurring fee.
Even though RIM will provide a stripped-down version that won't allow sharing photos or locations, there is the danger that the company has just enabled more rapid migration away from BlackBerry to Android. That is certainly a danger, but this isn't a case of RIM trying to own the smartphone messaging category. Instead, management has taken an important step to actually minimize customer flight and potential win some converts back the other way -- or at least make some revenue from those who will never buy.
This is one of those times when slicing the smartphone world by operating system doesn't necessarily offer enough clarity. According to research firm Nielsen (and anyone keeping count of the numbers that Google and Apple release), Android is clearly ahead in copies on U.S. smartphones. However, there's another view: smartphone manufacturers. In that case, there are two American top dogs, Apple and RIM, as the graphic below from Nielsen shows (click to enlarge):
The picture is significantly different overseas, where Nokia (NOK) is still at (or near) the top. Here's market research firm IDC's estimates of global smartphone market share (click to enlarge):
In either the national or global context, RIM still sells a whole lot of devices -- as many as Apple. That means a chance to be influential, employing its own users to talk up the messaging feature so consumers using other platforms will give it a try. That could act as a sales tool if made free, possibly with an ad revenue stream to provide some revenue.
More important than messaging as sales tool is a realization of how the world is today. Most of the world does not use BlackBerrys. Telecommunications products that lack a way to connect to the rest of the world are by definition obsolete. If the messaging functions only work with other BlackBerrys, then they become decreasingly less useful, much like the old Motorola handset push-to-talk feature on Nextel.
If BlackBerry doesn't make it possible for its customers to use the messaging features with everyone, then it becomes a decreasingly interesting option and users switch more quickly. Whether or not creating Android and iOS versions of the software become a good sales tool, they at least help minimize attrition.
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