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In an odd move of aggression, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) has yanked the popular chat application Kik off its Blackberry phones, and it has wiped its hands of anything to do with the young company.
All with no reasonable explanation, according to Kik.
The apparent aggressive move against a developer is strange, because RIM is trying to recover from the blow to its lead in the smartphone race -- and the actions against Kik may ruffle the feathers of the developer community RIM is trying to court. Both Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android have gained popularity at RIM's expense, in part because RIM has been slow to offer an engaging interface with cool mobile applications.
Perhaps more troubling, RIM appears to be flexing its muscles with a small company that had worked with RIM's engineers closely over almost two years. RIM executives had even used Kik's beta version over the summer, and hadn't expressed any concerns about it at that time, according to Kik chief executive Ted Livingston. Moreover, RIM had invited Kik to be part of its developer event when RIM unveiled its Playbook tablet, and Kik had even vetted most of its press announcements with RIM to make sure the bigger company was content. Only when Kik became an overnight success -- seeing unprecedented growth in its first two weeks -- did RIM take action against it. Could it be because RIM now sees Kik as a competitor to RIM's own BlackBerry Messenger?
"Bang, they have a problem with it," Kik's chief executive Ted Livingston told me in a phone call, referring to the sudden about-face in attitude. Livingston just blogged about RIM's move, in which he expresses his confusion and disappointment.
RIM has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Over a week ago, we first reported that RIM took initial action to pull the fast-growing chat application Kik from its platform. That move was confusing, because Kik was liked by most users for its blazing speed, and Kik was also moving quickly to address concerns expressed by some users about its aggressive policy on importing contacts into users' address books. Kik pushed updates to its apps on Apple and Android, to allow users to opt out of the import policy, and had prepared a fix for RIM. And while Kik's app remains alive and well on Apple and Android, RIM refused to let Kik ship the fix.
According to Livingston, RIM's final action came Friday, when RIM sent Kik an email informing it that RIM was severing all developer ties, including revoking RIM's software development kit agreement with Kik, signing key agreement, AppWorld vendor agreement and push agreement. According to Livingston, RIM did mention a few concerns, including that it thought Kik breached the privacy of users, and that it drained battery life -- but these issues had been addressed by Kik in its updates. "Apple never called us, and Android didn't have a problem with it either," Livingston said.
So going forward, Blackberry users can no longer download Kik. Users who already had downloaded Kik before RIM's action won't get any messages until an hour after they're sent.
It remains to be seen how the developer community will respond to this. RIM is a company that championed itself as an open platform, but it's now giving pretty tough treatment to a developer that had focused on RIM from the beginning. The companies are so close that Kik's offices look right across at RIM"s headquarters in Waterloo, Canada. "I can see (RIM CEO) Mike Lazaridis' office," says Livingston.