I Want BBM to be the Best iOS App

The space for cross-platform messaging applications is as crowded as ever with applications like BBM, WhatsApp, Kik,  Skype, WeChat, Google Hangouts, and many others battling for megabytes of space on everyone’s smartphones.  Among those named, BBM resonates with me more than the others.  Having been a BlackBerry user exclusively for the past five years, BBM has become an indispensable application to me.  While I was not the biggest user of BBM on legacy BlackBerry devices, it’s importance grew once I moved to BlackBerry 10.  Some of my closest relationships have formed through BBM and, because of that, I can never truly let go of the messaging platform.

Recently, I’ve opted to give iOS its first real try on an iPhone 6 Plus.  Thankfully, BBM is no longer tied to BlackBerry so I can maintain contact with my BBM-exclusive contacts.  However, a major part of the iOS experience is iMessage, Apple’s “answer” to BlackBerry’s BBM.  When people talk about cross-platform messaging applications, iMessage seems to make its name into the mix.  So I’d just like to share my thoughts on iMessage and BBM on both BlackBerry 10 and iOS.

BBM was not the hook which kept me tied to my BlackBerry for five years.  It was only over this past year, BBM has become the single-most used and important application on my BlackBerry.  To any BlackBerry user, this isn’t surprising.  For me, BBM had a few draws which separated it from the others.  For one, BBM’s use of PINs (8-digit hexadecimal identifiers unique to BlackBerry hardware and now each user) made sharing contact information easy without giving away personal data.  Even if you did acquire someone’s PIN, you would have to gain their approval to talk to them, and either could remove the other effortlessly. BBM also alerted you to when a messaged was delivered to and read by the recipient, a feature that, once experienced, becomes addicting.

The introduction of BBM Channels puts BBM squarely in contention with services like Facebook and Twitter.  BBM’s improved sharing functionality made it simple for both business and consumer users to share files, pictures, and even location.  BBM Voice and BBM Video made video conferencing and even casual video chat an enjoyable and experience and Screen Share, in particular, a very novel and useful utility.  The biggest change to BBM, though, came with the announcement of its availability on iOS and Android.  Now, BBM is available to users on BlackBerry, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and, through BlackBerry Blend, Windows and Mac users with BlackBerry devices running OS 10.3 and above. BBM has become more than a simple messaging app.

iMessage is Apple’s response to BBM and, as some see it, the company’s attempt to sway BlackBerry users tied to BBM onto iOS.  The idea behind iMessage is very simple; when communicating between two iOS devices, the text/SMS message would be sent over data instead of the cellular network.  In essence, it was a very watered down version of BBM in its inception.  It, though, made communicating with iOS and Mac devices easier and more reliable.

iMessage has evolved over time.  Users can now manually toggle whether they’d like to send “read receipts” (telling your recipient you’ve read their message).  Users of iMessage can also see when the person with which they’re speaking is typing a message.  Getting an iPhone, I was excited to have both iMessage and BBM on one phone.  After all, most of my close friends and family use iPhones and, despite my most diligent attempts, I just could not get them to install or continue using BBM.  The few who did install it uninstalled it or never responded to BBMs.  I found it puzzling that this most celebrated and long-awaited application faced such opposition.  I wanted to explore why this was for myself.

After a week of owning an iPhone, I have my answer.

BBM’s relative weakness on other platforms isn’t really BlackBerry’s fault at all.  It became easy for me to see why BlackBerry users could not figure why BBM wasn’t as popular on competing platforms as it is on BlackBerry 10, and this has everything to do with the strength of BlackBerry 10.  For those of you unfamiliar with BlackBerry 10, it’s signature feature is inclusion of the BlackBerry Hub.  The BlackBerry Hub provides  its users a single, unified interface for every communication which enters or exits the device, including phone calls, emails, BBMs, texts, WhatsApp messages, Facebook notifications, Twitter notifications, and much more.  The key functionality here is that BBMs and texts appear in the same inbox.  This makes BlackBerry 10 users very, very efficient in communicating with their friends or colleagues as they seamlessly transition from one to the other.  This kind of efficiency is almost unparalleled and BlackBerry deserves much applause for their implementation of the BlackBerry Hub.

Here is where iMessage and iOS differentiate themselves from BlackBerry 10.  iOS has one application for both text messages and iMessages.  The transition between both is equally as seamless, but in a different way. Yes, switching between an iMessage and a text message is as simple as it is on BlackBerry 10.  However, iMessage will automatically send your message as a text message if iMessage (rather, a data connection)  is unavailable.   Fundamentally, this makes me view iMessage and BBM as two distinct applications which don’t compete with one another.

So what about iMessage and BBM on iOS?

BBM on iOS is an application like any other.  When you receive a message, you can opt to receive push notifications for the message.  In this respect, BBM functions very similarly to BBM on BlackBerry. The “Ds” and “Rs” on BBM also functions identically to BlackBerry’s BBM.

This may be the first point of contention that may keep some from BBM.  As I mentioned earlier, iMessage has incorporated a similar mechanism into iMessage, but iMessage’s use of “delievered” and “read” signals are a bit different than BBM’s.  On BBM, when a message is delivered to me, it will stay marked as “delivered” until I physically interact with the message.  If I open the message, type into the text field to reply, or even press the “back” button, my message changes from “delivered”  to “read.”  Even using BlackBerry 10’s banner and actionable notifications will not mark the message as “read” until the reply has been sent.  iMessage is far less “forgiving.”  If a message is delivered to you and your screen is on and you are within the conversation thread, the message is marked as “read.”   Acting on iOS banner and actionable notifications will also mark the message as “read.” The use of read receipts is entirely optional, however, and its use has been met with controversy in my circles.   Most of my friends prefer I not use the feature, but after having used BBM for so long, it’s a difficult feature to relinquish.  But BBM’s obligatory use of this feature may be just a tad off-putting to users who aren’t so used to it.

BBM notifications on iOS are not the same as BBM notifications on BlackBerry.  On BlackBerry, you can act on BBM notifications from within any application.  On the BlackBerry 10 lock screen, tapping on a BBM will take you straight into the conversation into the BlackBerry Hub.  iOS 8 introduced similar features for iMessage, allowing actionable notifications throughout the entire OS and allowing replies straight from the lock screen.  BBM messages on iOS, however, do not enjoy the same privileges.  BBMs must be responded to from within the BBM app, fragmenting users between their SMS/iMessages and BBMs.  BBM Groups are a particular pain point.  On BlackBerry 10, users have the option to turn off group notifications in the BlackBerry Hub.  No such option exists on BBM for iOS, meaning that in order to mute groups, you must toggle off notifications for BBM entirely.  BBM Group notifications on iOS are also done strangely. Each entry into a group causes a notification to appear, meaning that an entire group conversation will appear within the Notifications area on iOS, despite all being part of one group.  Turning off push notifications, however, means that any kind of notification for BBM is turned off.  In essence, I can’t tell when I have new BBMs because turning off push notifications also turns off the notification icon atop the BBM icon.  I have to constantly check BBM for new messages.  The end result is that I respond to BBMs much less frequently than I used to on BlackBerry 10.

So, what do I want?

In essence, what I want is an all-encompassing BBM experience on iOS as I had on BlackBerry 10.  But there’s more to it.  When people compare BBM and iMessage, it’s not exactly a fair comparison.  BBM is not simply a rerouting of texts through data; it’s so much more than that.  BBM is its own social platform, complete with features that make it an attractive tool for business purposes and casual users.  Yes, iMessage is more than a redirecting of messages through data as well, but it is, in no way, as iconic or as feature-rich as BBM. The “Ds” and “Rs” used to be a huge draw, yet BBM has so much more now.  Yes, BBM will always be limited by the permissions it is allowed on non-BlackBerry platforms, but I want BBM to be the best app on any platform I use.  BBM is an extension of BlackBerry and to users of other platforms, it is the face of BlackBerry.  I want BBM to succeed because BBM succeeding everywhere is BlackBerry succeeding in one market I know it can dominate in.  If BBM is going to be available to users of other platforms, it should be the best experience possible.

I want a BBM that doesn’t intimidate iOS users with an unfamiliar UI, but one that’s inviting and comfortable.  I want a BBM optimized for the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.  I want a BBM that has more control over notifications (if that’s possible).

I believe BBM to be the single-best messaging client on earth and I want a BBM experience on iOS that is as indispensable and as enjoyable as BBM on BlackBerry 10.

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Tough Love: Why We Left Our BlackBerrys

As you have probably noticed, we have recently made the change from BlackBerry to iPhone (which you can read about on Lauren’s blog and David’s blog). We’ve gotten a lot of questions and comments from this switch, and because of that, we decided to write a blog post about the reasons why. Since we both got BlackBerrys at the same time, and then switched to iPhone at the same time, we thought it only appropriate that we create a unified blog post about it!

How We Got Involved in BlackBerry

Lauren: I’ve always been a huge supporter of BlackBerry, and absolutely loved their phones. My first smartphone was a BlackBerry Storm back in 2009, and I’ve had BlackBerrys ever since. The #TeamBlackBerry community was just another reason I chose to stay with BlackBerry. They helped me with issues, supported me in my various endeavors, and became some of my closest friends! As iPhones became more and more popular, I swore I would never buy one. My friends eventually all switched to iPhones, even the ones who were as dedicated to Android as I was to BlackBerry. It was hard constantly explaining why I continued to love BlackBerry, why their devices worked for me, and why I hadn’t tried an iPhone yet. Since I had never used anything different, all I knew was BlackBerry. I thought they were the best phones for me, and no other phone would even come close.

 

David:  My intrigue with BlackBerry began in 2008 when my mother brought home a BlackBerry Curve 8330.  I was fascinated by a phone with the ability to load full web pages and one that had a full QWERTY keyboard.  In 2009, when it came time to upgrade, I chose a Pearl Flip 8230 to be my first smartphone and my first BlackBerry.  The more I used my BlackBerry, the more I loved the experience, and that experience is what brought me back in 2011 to a Torch 9810, a Z10 in early-2013, and a Z30 earlier this year.  With every passing BlackBerry device that fell into my hands, the more entrenched within the #TeamBlackBerry community I became and, soon enough, I found myself surrounded by some of my now-closest friends and the only thing which brought us together were our BlackBerry devices.  The allure of the iPhone and other competing operating systems normally felt distant, for a long time because BlackBerry’s experience felt better, but also because where BlackBerry lacked in a truly encompassing ecosystem, it excelled in forming a tight-knit community of users, most of whom cared about each other.  With every new BlackBerry came a renewed resolve, a resolve that I would never use anything but a BlackBerry in my life.

What Made Us Switch

Lauren: When one of my friends switched to the iPhone 6, I decided to test out his iPhone 5. After using it for a few days, I realized that this was actually the best phone for me. I was worried that I liked this phone so much! I was always defending BlackBerry against Apple, saying how you couldn’t possibly be productive on an iPhone, and how they were for people who wanted to conform. After using the phone for a few weeks, I realized what I should have realized years ago. Just because you support a company and appreciate the products they create doesn’t mean it’s the best product for you.

 

David:  In mobile, there are only two (well, three, now) companies that develop the software and manufacture their own hardware; Apple and BlackBerry (and now Microsoft).  As such, I’ve always found every iPhone since the iPhone 4 fascinating.  However, the experience (combination of both hardware and software) was never enough to pull me away from BlackBerry. Still, I levied my opinion on the iPhone as if I had used one.  As someone who loves technology, especially mobile technology, and a computer science undergraduate student, I recently began feeling that it was unfair of me to do this.  Admittedly, it became harder to say why my BlackBerry was the best choice for me, let alone my friends, family, and anyone else who asked for my opinion on the matter.  BlackBerry’s new enterprise-focused direction and target market further convinced me that it was time to explore other devices, OSs, and ecosystems.  It’s difficult to say that this was fueled by a dissatisfaction for my Z30 or BlackBerry 10, but it was a feeling of alienation that pushed me to fulfill a wish 4 years in the making; the wish to give the iPhone its fair share of a chance.

 

Why iPhone is Currently the Best Phone for Us

Lauren: Social media is my passion, and it’s the career path I plan on taking after college. Because there are so many new platforms and apps designed every day relating to social media, I need to stay up-to-date with them. This is the critical area that caused me to rethink my phone choice. BlackBerry doesn’t have the major apps that I need and want, like Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr. Yes, there are Android apps that can be sideloaded, and there are native versions of these apps, but they just can’t compare. As much as I risk sounding like Jony Ive, everything on iPhones just works. The apps work as they should, the OS itself is lag-free and it has all of the features I want and need. Sure, there are things I miss on my BlackBerry, but things like the hub and LED come second to apps and compatibility.

 

David:  When I used to tell people why I chose a BlackBerry over other devices, I would say that I didn’t use many apps and that I didn’t need them.  Well, the fact of the matter is, I never knew what it meant to have many apps to use and the world’s largest, most polished app library from which to choose.  Now I have access to apps for services that I’ve used while on my BlackBerry, like Pinterest, WordPress, and all of my tennis apps. Of course, there are certain things about my BlackBerry that I miss; swiping to reach the BlackBerry Hub, the flashing LED, the typing experience, and BBM on BlackBerry.  However, when it comes to the most consistent, most polished, most power-efficient operating system on the market, it’s very difficult to make a case against iOS.  Everything really does just simply work as you’d like it and, for the most part, in a very elegant and efficient fashion.

The Future

We can’t predict what will happen in the future, and we certainly can’t predict what phones are coming out in the upcoming months/years.  When it comes to what devices we’ll be picking up in the future, it’s difficult to predict with much certainty.  Right now, iOS is our operating system of choice because it works the best for us above its competitors.  With that being said, the door is never fully closed on the possibility of returning to BlackBerry.  We’ll be ever observant and supportive of the company that made us passionate about smartphones, hoping that it fully recovers and wins in the enterprise.  Even more than that, though, we desperately hope to see BlackBerry return to the consumer market with devices that can compete for the hearts of consumers like us with a version of BlackBerry 10 that exudes the polish and elegance of iOS while, at the same time, does so in a very BlackBerry-like fashion.  Whether it be through carrying one of its devices or purely through our sentiments, we’ll always support BlackBerry and our #TeamBlackBerry community.

This post was co-authored by Lauren Kortbein (@laurenkortbein) and David Bethala (@DavidBethala)