This week, BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) began a long-overdue rollout of BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, across multiple mobile platforms. Now, users with iPhones and Android devices can download a BBM app and connect with friends via BBM regardless of which phone platform they use — except for Windows Phone.
Here are a few reasons why you should download the application for your iPhone or Android device.
1. It’s secure
There has been no shortage of news stories lately about government surveillance of private communications. Verizon Wireless turned over to the NSA the phone logs for millions of its customers earlier this summer. In September, Forbes reported that all three major U.S. carriers receive cash for allowing the government to tap into our private conversations.
Google sifts through your emails to target you with online ads. Not a thing on Facebook is off-limits.
BBM messages aren’t susceptible to this form of government or corporate scrutiny, except for in India. A three-year dispute between BlackBerry and the Indian government forced the company to agree to allow the government to see delivered and read receipts from BBM chats, though the content of the messages would remain free of intrusion.
This is because the messages you send aren’t logged anywhere — unless you select to save them on your handset.
2. It’s private
Ever been pressured to give out your phone number? Ever received an a text from the unknown number of someone who got your digits from a friend of a friend? BBM eliminates the need for those embarrassing “Who’s this?” messages. You can only be contacted by people who have your PIN and whose contact requests you’ve accepted. You can give this PIN to them, send it to them in an email, tap your NFC-enable devices together (sorry, iPhone users) or allow them to scan your PIN barcode from inside the BBM app.
And even after giving your PIN to someone, you can choose to deny their request to communicate with you. You can also block a user from contacting you at any time, without them receiving an embarrassing notification. No need to change a number or contact your cell provider to keep someone from messaging you.
3. It’s instant and engaging
This is one of the best things about BBM. When you send a message to a contact, you receive instant feedback about that message’s status. You know when a message has been delivered, and you know when a message has been read. You see when a friend is typing to you. And the second they press send, their message appears on your screen.
Though I have done no official tests, I’ve often sent texts and BBMs at the same time to see which messages will arrive first to the same person. In fact, I’ve sent texts to my father and, a few seconds later, sent him a BBM. The BBM always arrived first. The speed of BBM in sending pictures is even more impressive. Picture messages sent outside of BBM arrive up to several minutes later than a BBM picture message, depending on your phone coverage.
4. It’s personal
With BBM, you choose a photo for yourself — like on Facebook or Twitter — and you can keep friends in the know with status updates, e.g., letting them know you’re in meetings all day and won’t be able to check your phone often. You control the way your name appears in their address book (although they can manually change this). And you can send emoticons, pictures, voice notes and videos to express what the written word may not.
5. It’s social
BBM Groups provide a place for multiple friends to connect at once. You can curate a private photo album and leave comments on the pictures. You can keep a shared calendar of upcoming outings or family events. You can create and share checklists for errands or grocery store runs. And you can chat all together in one place.
Uninterested users can back out of the group conversations too. No more getting stuck with group message threads from friends who are planning or doing something without you.
6. It’s efficient
The instant delivery of BBM messages saves you seconds each time you send something to a friend. And those seconds obviously add up over time. But BBM does more than save time: It saves data and battery.
Messages, pictures and voice notes sent through BBM are compressed. A photo that might normally be 1 or 2MB in size is automatically reduced to between 10 and 20KB when sent to a friend. That means a picture message on BBM uses about 1 percent of the data that a normal picture (MMS) message costs you. As unlimited data plans disappear, these kinds of savings are invaluable.
According to different battery monitors I’ve seen and used, BBM also uses less battery power, even when idle, than other mobile communications apps like WhatsApp and Kik. With smartphones that barely get you through the data, every bit of battery savings is also important.
7. It’s international
Though many mobile users in the U.S. have unlimited messaging plans, the plans don’t allow you to communicate with someone outside the country — at least without paying through the nose. But BBM allows you to talk with friends from any country without paying anything extra. You can even use BBM over Wi-Fi, e.g., if you’re staying in a hotel in London and don’t want to pay for an international phone plan for the three-day business trip.
This has been especially valuable to me. I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for almost two years with a girl who lives in Seville, Spain. We send each other messages, photos and even call each other (using BBM voice — available, for now, only between BlackBerrys) daily, and it doesn’t affect our phone bills at all.
For this reason, BlackBerrys tend to be the phone of choice for cost-conscious travelers and study abroad students. For this reason, too, BlackBerry phones have remained more popular in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America where $80-a-month unlimited plans (not much of a deal, is it?) don’t exist.
8. It’s portable
When you get a new number, a new phone or leave the country, you often have to alert your contacts about a new number. If you use BBM, your contacts will automatically receive your updated PIN when you sign into the application from your new phone. They won’t even be alerted; they’re address book will simply update itself behind the scenes. No need to send out messages or manually add each contact to your address book — which is especially a hassle if the new phone or number you’re using is only temporary.
9. It’s evolving
BBM for iPhone and Android doesn’t yet have all the features that BBM on BlackBerry devices has. While you’ll get an unparalleled messaging experience if you download the app today, you’ll soon get even more out of BBM. Features like BBM Voice and BBM Video will become available to iPhone and Android users. They allow for crystal-clear audio and video calls between users, as well as the ability to share screens with your friends, family and coworkers. (This is especially handy when your parents call wondering how to work something on their phone. You can walk them right through it.)
10. And it’s free
Free for life. No annual $1 charge (like WhatsApp) or subscriptions (like Skype). Enough said.
There are probably many other reasons to download the app, but these are the things that matter most to me. If you’re curious about BBM or used to use it on your old BlackBerry, I promise the experience of the new app on iPhone and Android won’t disappoint. You can get the app on your device by going to www.bbm.com from your mobile phone’s browser.
Michael McGuire is a freelance writer. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington and Lee University and will begin work with a language school in Seville, Spain, in January 2014. See more at www.michael-mcguire.com.