BBM on Android and iOS review

AFTER THE RUMOURS, the denials, the leaks and the false starts, it is finally time to welcome the most notorious instant messenger of them all .

Perhaps that’s a little harsh because Blackberry Messenger (BBM) was a hugely innovative alternative at a time when most smartphone users were still battling Windows CE and Symbian.

So, for whatever reason Blackberry has decided to wade into the market already successfully occupied by Skype, Google+ Hangouts, Facebook Chat, Chaton, Whatsapp, Kik, Tango, Viber and at least a dozen more, and we think it deserves a fair trial because, to be fair, it’s not a bad app.

Screenshot_2013_10_21_20_18_41It is being rolled out in stages, so unless you are an existing user, you will have to wait for your email address to be authorised to use the service .  Once you’re in, setting up an account is almost easy.

Unlike Blackberry users, users of Android and iOS devices are required to use their email address as their user name. You’re also required to think up a password, a password reminder question and a password reminder answer. Finally you’re given your PIN, which consists of a not-so-catchy eight character letters and numbers combination begining with “7”. Then you’re ready to add some friends.

Except, if you’ve never had a Blackberry, probably very few of your friends or contacts ever had a Blackberry, and even if they had, you wouldn’t know their PIN, so why would you? Fortunately Blackberry gives you the option to invite people by email, barcode, SMS or social media. So what actually happens is that you spend the next 20 minutes telling your friends that they can chat with you on BBM, by chatting with them on Facebook or Twitter or whatever other social network you use.

And therein lies the rub. The need to communicate with people across networks has overtaken the decision to create and release this app, and therefore rendered BBM a bit pointless, because there are plenty of alternatives that are well established at doing just that.

Of course there are some nice touches. Group chat and broadcast messages are useful touches, but you’d need a big group of contacts to consciously decide to switch to it as your main form of messaging, and there just isn’t enough here to convert anyone.

We like the fact that you can see when a message has been delivered and then read, but many IM apps already do that, and besides, there’s a very good way of telling if someone has received your side of the conversation, because they start talking back. That’s how conversation works.

We also like the fact that you can instantly become BBM buddies with someone using NFC over Android, though this could cause an interesting long-winded turn of events when it suddenly becomes clear you’ve spent the last 10 minutes trying to NFC to an iPhone.

The BBM app user interface is reasonably smooth with a great UI, but lacks a little spit and polish. In some cases avatars failed to appear for our contacts, and there’s an irritatingly persistent notification at the top of the screen that adds little except to stop the BBM app from being automatically closed by the system, a problem that most apps overcame several years ago.

In summary, any kudos that Blackberry deserves for the introduction of BBM as a cross-system tool is outweighed by the fact that while it might have been a hugely popular app a few years ago, it now seems like another third-party system to manage. At the moment, we can’t see BBM making the impact that Blackberry might hope for. This app needs not just to be good, it has to be game changing.

Yes, it is good. But that’s all.

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