RIM’s lost opportunity – Instant Messaging?

Years ago, RIM made a very important realization about data on mobile networks – it was dynamic. It came, went, ebbed and flowed with an individual’s movement in and out of tunnels, elevators, and underground parking garages. From this realization they developed devices and a network designed with this understanding at its core. This understanding led to what has been, without question, the most reliable and immediate mobile email delivery mechanism on the market by way of RIM’s often replicated but rarely duplicated ‘push’ service. The RIM push mechanism opened the door for new services to be provided reliably over a naturally unreliable link, however as time passed I believe this stroke of innovation may be slowly entering into the realm of a lost opportunity for RIM.

Instant messaging is an example of a service that suddenly became incredibly reliable on a wireless device because of RIM’s push service. Previously this had been an application so unreliable on a mobile that the typical user experience was to try it once, have a conversation with someone, realize you missed some critical piece of information due to message loss, and then proceed to discard the messaging application. RIM sorted this out, in fact RIM perfected it. You could now go in and out of coverage as frequently and as rapidly as you wanted and be sure that you’d never miss a beat. Conversing through this means suddenly became as reliable as SMS but also as convenient as we have all come to expect from instant messaging. User presence was managed properly, messages were queued, you could tell when messages had been delivered, and you could even know when those you were chatting to were typing – this was, and has remained, an experience unmatched on any other platform to date.

Seemingly the demand for instant messaging on a mobile device is something that has gone largely un-noticed (or perhaps ignored) by handset makers and mobile phone operators. However, as of the Apple WWDC event this may have changed, and with it so too has RIM’s position as the sole provider of such a powerful capability. While details remain scarce it seems as though the Apple push based notification system will maintain a persistent connection with the device and in turn allow for reliable distribution of things like instant messages. There has been no definitive announcement of messaging applications using this system for the iPhone yet, but with the SDK being readied to allow developers access to this service, and ongoing rumours of things like iChat, AIM, and Jabber support as part of the new iPhone OS, it is safe to say that the world of mobile instant messaging is quite likely about to change.

While RIM definitely pioneered the concepts to enable such services as instant messaging to a mobile device they surely never put much emphasis on this unique ability. Apple’s announcement got me thinking how much this could have been an enormous differentiator for the Blackberry. Instant messaging is now used widely in enterprises around the world and the seamless mobile experience offered by the Blackberry platform on Yahoo!, Google Talk and their own Blackberry Messaging had been unmatched. Perhaps a new competitor has now arrived, a new competitor that has realized the value of such functionality and will exploit it as a key product differentiator. Is this another case of being first to market not making any difference?