Since its launch three weeks ago I have been recruiting BBM Contacts amongst friends and acquaintances who have an iPhone or Android phone. I now have over 20 new contacts on iPhones and Android phones and have established five common interest BBM Groups. But for some it required a more detailed explanation of what BBM is about and why you should try it out.
As a result I have summarized the features and the various issues they address:
- Cross platform: With BBM for iOS and Android instant messaging (chat and presence) can be carried out with users of any generation of:
- BlackBerry devices (both legacy and BlackBerry 10),
- iPhones (with iOS 6 or later) and
- Android smartphones (4.1 – Jelly Bean – or later).
- New today! iPads and iPods (with iOS 6 or later)
- Almost no limit to length of messages; message content can go well beyond the 160 character limit of SMS messaging and can include photos and voice notes (messages) at no additional cost (see carrier charges discussion below).
- It’s free. While many users will have “local” SMS messaging included in the carrier’s voice plan, BBM simply requires that you have data access through either WiFi access points and/or, optionally, a carrier data plan.
However, the major cost advantage comes when roaming outside your home country: find a WiFi access point when traveling outside your home country and BBM messages continue to be free. No extra SMS/MMS billing as happened on my last trip to Florida (pre-BBM for iOS and Android):
Another cost aspect: there’s no charge for sending pictures and voice messages (Voice Notes in BBM); these are extra charges when using MMS and often not included in any SMS messaging plan.
- Groups: BBM allows the creation of Groups of contacts with common interests.
- Administrator option to allow other members to make invitations into the Group
- Within a Group, in addition to sending and receiving chat messages across the group, you can share and archive pictures, create lists and share events.
- The simplest example of using lists is a couple who have created a group where they share a shopping list to not only list what’s needed but also to avoid duplicate purchases. Once an item has been bought by one partner, it’s scratched off the list. But the applications of List are only limited by the user’s imagination.
- Events are sent into the local Calendar application
- Option for allowing chat messages and pictures to show up in BlackBerry Hub (BlackBerry 10 devices only)
- Sharing or Attachments: you can send pictures (stored or camera) and voice notes (messages) to individual contacts.
- Message Status and Confirmation: Know if your message has been Delivered “D” to recipient and then Read “R” by recipient.
- Instant receipt: BlackBerry uses a delivery architecture that avoids any potential lags in delivery of email or SMS messages.
- Security: While not making any claims about NSA security, the use of a unique PIN number avoids:
- Unsolicited Contact requests: Almost daily I block unknown Contact requests on Skype (and usually report them for abuse).
- Unsolicited messages/requests from messaging apps that use your phone number or email address to initiate contact (WhatsApp, Facetime).
Using the PIN number also will allow BBM to work on WiFi-only iPads and iPods as they do not have an associated phone number.
As for monitoring agencies viewing content even though BBM messages are encrypted, I follow the guidance of my Government Relations professor: never say anything you would not want to appear on the front page of (Name a widely read newspaper such as Globe & Mail or NY Times). Additional features:
- “Toast” notifications: new messages appear briefly as a banner across the top of the display while in any other application.
- They also appear in the device Notification Center either on the Lock Screen or in the iPhone’s Today View resulting from a downward swipe from the top in any application.
- Multi-party chat: start a chat and add Contacts to the chat to become a multi-party chat (this does not create a permanent group)
- Broadcast message: Select multiple Contacts and “broadcast” a message to them. Not an interactive chat but rather an “announcement” feature.
- Chat History: all chat sessions are “stored” until such time as you Delete Chat History in the Settings.
- Categories: you can organize your Contacts display by user-designated Category
- Send FourSquare notifications to BBM (but only on one device).
- You can invite additional contacts via PIN number, QR code, Email or SMS message. But, to repeat, you must initiate the invitation; nobody can arbitrarily try to send you an unsolicited message (such as spam)
The one limitation of BBM is that you can only have a BBM account running on one device; for my own testing I had to set up a separate BBM account on my iPhone but then that account has been included on all my Groups so that I at least participate in Group activities on both my Blackberry 10 and my iPhone. But BlackBerry needs to look at supporting accounts managed on multiple mobile devices, especially if they go into supporting WiFi-only iPads.
Warning: BBM can optionally use a data plan. However, when roaming outside your home country, data plans can become very expensive. I recommend putting your phone into Airplane mode and using WiFi access points when traveling internationally.
Currently enhanced Chat and the Group features across multiple smartphone platforms are the major distinguishing features of BBM for iOS and Android at the moment; however, we are told to expect BBM Channels, BBM Voice and BBM Video to appear by year end. I am particularly interested in the quality of BBM Voice and BBM Video. Based on my personal experience with calls between BlackBerry 10 devices, it appears that BBM voice and video are supporting superwideband audio (a la Opus – BlackBerry calls it Natural Sound) and very high resolution video (1080p?). It is definitely as good as, if not better than, Skype’s SILK audio technology and 720p video.
But acquiring those 20 or more Skype for iOS and Android contacts exposed me to the broader issue of building awareness of the advantages of over-the-top offerings, whether BBM, Skype, WhatApp or FaceTime as examples, across the smartphone market space. But that’s the topic of a follow up post. In this post I will talk about the real issue limiting adoption of BBM on iOS and Android devices, based on my seven years’ experience using various instant messaging applications.
And there still needs to be awareness built amongst smartphone users about the overall cost advantages of these offerings relative to carrier charges, especially when it comes to roaming and attaching photos or voice messages.
Meantime, BBM is free. Download BBM by going to BBM.com on any iPhone, iPad, iPod or Android phone. That will take you directly to the application in the Apple App Store or Google Play store. BlackBerry Help provides additional information on Getting Started with BBM on Android and iPhone.