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Apple's new iMessage - a threat to who?

Apple just announced, among other things, a new secure messaging system between iOS devices called iMessage.  It certainly looks interesting - it includes multimedia content, multiple recipient chat, and the ability to start a conversation on one iOS device and continue it on another.

A few friends asked "how much will this eat into SMS revenue for carriers."  My answer: Virtually zero.

Very few people message only with iPhone users. Most people message with lots of friends and colleagues, who use a variety of devices.  iMessage will definitely have its uses, but it won't take away a significant amount of SMS revenue.  Even when iPhone users want to message a friend with an iPhone, they'll likely want to use the same system they use for all their messaging, regular SMS, and not have to remember which friends have iPhones.

The bigger question, however, is the effect that this will have on RIM's BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).  If iMessage is provable secure, will enterprises choose to use it for mobile messaging?  This is the huge question that lots of people are asking (e.g., here, here, and here). 

Whether enterprises will adopt iMessage is beyond speculation right now.  But this is yet another reason for a prediction I've been making for a while now: RIM will offer Blackberry e-mail and messenger as a service running on iPhones, Android phones, and other competitor devices.

Basically, they need to. Blackberry devices are losing ground as executives want to use their smartphones for business use. If RIM wants to keep the market lead on secure e-mail and messaging, they need to branch out.

This, I think, is why RIM has made a series of acquisitions in the area of synchronizing data with other kinds of cellphones. And it's why they're separating their devices from services revenue accounting a lot more than they used to.

Bottom line, that's what iPredict will happen, if RIM wants to keep its leadership in secure messaging.

But SMS revenue, I think, is safe.

UPDATE:  After reading CultOfMac's great description of iMessage, I think Apple made a great move having iMessage detect automatically when to send messages by SMS and when by iMessage. This means that many iOS users will make iMessage their primary messaging app, and iMessage as a platform will ease in to use. Once again Apple has won hands-down in usability by integrating a new feature into old features in a way that really fits how people work - like FaceTime's integrating into existing phone calls between iPhone users.

On the other hand, I don't think iMessage is going to take away BlackBerry market share anytime soon. Blackberry users use Blackberry e-mail and BBM not for SMSs, but because it ties securely into their Enterprise e-mail, and RIM's still the market leader there. If iMessage wants the Enterprise market, Apple needs to add the secure e-mail connectivity part.  That said, I still predict that RIM will release secure e-mail and BBM for iPhones and Android phones, just because executives are preferring to use them over Blackberries.

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