LONDON - If you want to know how BlackBerry lost its mojo in a major consumer market, spend some time with a bunch of British teens.
The phone that once so dominated the UK youth market that its messaging service BBM was even blamed for helping to connect young rioters who fought police and wrecked shops in London and other cities in 2011, has now lost its cool.
BlackBerry has been usurped by Apple and Android-run phones, and BBM has been eclipsed by the emergence of free messaging apps that work across a range of devices.
"I use WhatsApp and Kik with all my friends and family. You can use these on any device even if you can't afford an iPhone," said 14-year-old Euan McPhillips, a schoolboy from Gerrards Cross, just north of London.
US-based WhatsApp and Canada's Kik Interactive are two of five major "cross-platform" messaging services that have built up big followings and which are also being tipped as the next big takeover targets for the likes of Facebook and Yahoo.
The three others are WeChat in China, developed by Internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd and promoted by Argentine footballer Lionel Messi; South Korea's KakaoTalk, run by privately-held Kakao Corp; and Japan-based Line, a unit of Naver Corp of South Korea.
The grandfather of the group, WhatsApp, created by two ex-Yahoo engineers in 2009, has more than 300 million users and processes 31 billion messages a day, a spokeswoman told Reuters, making it bigger than Twitter in terms of active users. That compares with BBM's 10 billion messages a day.
BlackBerry's image has taken a big hit as a result, underscoring the challenge facing the consortium led by its top shareholder Fairfax, which agreed to take the company private on Monday in a $4.7 billion deal.
An annual CoolBrands list, compiled by 3,000 consumers and 38 experts and released this week, showed BlackBerry had plummeted to No. 180 in the list of Britain's coolest brands from No. 4 three years ago. Apple was top for the second year.
HOT ACQUISITION TARGETS
Ben Wood, head of research at telecom analysts CCS Insight, thinks WhatsApp could be a $1 billion-plus takeover target.
"Someone could decide to take them out of the market, like Facebook, because they want everyone to use Facebook Chat, or Microsoft to protect its Skype franchise," he said.
"Or alternatively, someone like Yahoo could say this is a platform that gets us engagement with another channel."
WhatsApp did not comment on its future strategy.
BlackBerry established itself by being seen in the hands of lawyers, bankers and politicians and became the smartphone of choice for British teenagers and young adults.