REVIEW: BBM for Android, BlackBerry's last gasp at relevance
I'm using BlackBerry Messenger. On an Android phone.
There's something almost unholy about saying that, about mixing BlackBerry's flagship messaging app experience with the Appleverse and Googleverse. And yet, today the twain become intertwined. BlackBerry's cross-platform BBM -- available today on Android and iOS for phones only -- is the company's long-awaited Hail Mary, a last chance for showing BlackBerry can indeed be relevant in the modern smartphone world.
In my usage so far, BlackBerry has indeed delivered an Android experience that's consistent with BBM on BlackBerry Z10 phone. And iOS looks the same, too. So is there an advantage to BBM's approach to messaging? I'd say yes -- and not necessarily for the reasons you expect.
To say that BBM will be able to save BlackBerry puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of a single software experience, which has plenty of competition already on the floor. But BBM stands out because of the very same design elegance and fluidity that made us reviewers and early users sit up and take notice of the BlackBerry Hub on the BlackBerry 10 OS and BlackBerry Z10 phone. (There, BBM was one component of the BlackBerry Hub, which pulls BBMs, text messages, calls, e-mails, and notifications under a single roof.) While the Hub and the smooth design of apps like BBM alone were not compelling enough to sway the masses over to the Z10, it's great to see BBM freed from being tethered solely to BlackBerry's hardware.
It's a gutsy move on BlackBerry's part to make BBM an open platform. However, this move was shrewd and necessary for the company's survival. Gutsy because BBM has long been an only-on-BlackBerry experience, and an incentive for staying with BlackBerry. Necessary because BlackBerry was so late to the modern smartphone party that many BBM fans had long since defected, and clearly the Z10 hardware wasn't getting the company the attention or market share it needed to reclaim its crown. Rebooting BBM -- which BlackBerry says still has 60 million active monthly users -- is the company's last salvo at remaining relevant and showing its mettle in an already crowded and commoditized market.
Hands-on with BBM
Today's BBM launch is BlackBerry's second attempt to get BBM for everyone off-the-ground. After the first attempt, the app was pulled from the store because of demand was high, and a glitch needed to be fixed. In the interim, BBM amassed some 6 million sign-ups pre-registered at BBM.com.
To download the app, I went to BBM.com, and entered the e-mail address I'd pre-registered with. And from there, I signed up for a BlackBerry ID, received an eight digit PIN, and I was off and running. (Pre-registered addresses and existing BlackBerry IDs get to move to the head of the line for the new apps.)
What works about BBM is that it returns to the basics of what a messaging app should do, and it does so with an unpretentious clarity that understands the kinds of actions you'd expect around a group messaging chat. It's not about liking posts (see: the Facebook effect), or sending links, or emailing a chat message (though you can copy a single chat message or the entire chat -- very handy for reference purposes). It's all about messaging, and doing so in a way that's integrated with your existing environment. Schedule an event tied to a Group chat? That event is automatically added to your phone's calendar.
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