Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Monday September 30, 2013.
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Samsung today announced that its ChatON group messaging service has doubled its total number of users in the past four months. That announcement also serves as a gentle reminder as to why BlackBerry Messenger may have a tough time once it debuts for Android and iOS.
Since launching in October 2011, Samsung ChatON has grown to reach 100 million users, up from the 50 million reported in May. ChatON, which supports group messaging and photo sharing, is presently used in more than 200 countries and 60 languages. Samsung notes that ChatON is particularly strong in the Middle East and India. The company even plans to support up to 23 dialects in India by the end of the year.
The expansion of ChatON is suspect because Samsung doesn't clarify whether it has 100 million total users or active users. If the number is for active users, BlackBerry will face an uphill climb in expanding BBM. BlackBerry has a much better success rate in India and the Middle East, areas Samsung is targeting, than it does in Europe and North America. BBM was supposed to debut on Android and iOS two weeks ago but the launch was delayed because of problems caused by a leaked version of BBM for Android. The good news is that BBM for Android and iOS will probably add a few million more users to the messaging platform, but the bad news is that it currently has only 60 million users. Samsung may have already surpassed that number and could increase it further thanks to its strong smartphone sales record and availability on Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone.
As if the Samsung ChatON success weren't enough to dim BBM's prospects on Android and iOS, here's an even more ominous sign: WhatsApp is available on more platforms and has 300 million monthly users. There's no question that those numbers are for people who actively use the service, so there are at least four times as many WhatsApp users as there are BBM users. ChatON isn't even BBM's biggest threat and it may already be more popular.
Samsung comes preloaded on many Galaxy devices and millions of Galaxy devices are sold each month. Samsung has a built-in advantage that may be able to convert to a larger audience. BlackBerry's best hope is that the many former users who converted to Android and iOS might remember how valuable it once was to use and give the platform another go now that they will be able to actually communicate with their friends, most of whom do not have a BlackBerry device. The leaked version of the Android app had more than 1 million downloads, so that's definitely a possibility. The trouble is that many of those converts have already moved on to other services.
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.