Seven years after BlackBerry Messenger debuted exclusively on BlackBerry phones, the service finally comes to iOS and Android. The hope is to catch the attention of both early Blackberry users who miss their tried and true messaging service, and those who never got to use BBM in the first place.
Though BBM introduced many innovations commonly found in messaging apps today, such as sharing photos or seeing when your friends read your messages, the service hasn't aged well. Up against today’s top communication apps on both iOS and Android, BBM gets smoked on both design and features.
You'll need a BlackBerry Messenger account to start using the free app. If you already have one, just log in on the first screen, otherwise you can create one using your e-mail address.
Once you finish signing up, you'll get a PIN. That number is important -- you need it to add contacts to the app. It works like this: you send an invitation with your PIN to any other BBM user via text message, e-mail, BBM message, or using a QR code. The person you send the invite to must accept it before you can start chatting. Likewise, if someone knows your e-mail, phone number, or PIN, that person can send you an invite. To see your PIN at any time, tap your profile photo at the top of the app.
BlackBerry says its uses the PIN system, as opposed to letting people search by e-mail or phone number, to amp up privacy. The idea is that anyone could feasibly find your phone number or e-mail address, but your PIN is private and you can control how it gets shared. Additionally, the company says that the two-step process to add a new contact also enhances security.
BlackBerry is billing those security and privacy features as major selling points for the app, but I found the process to add new contacts confusing and tedious. In one instance, I sent a BBM message invitation to a friend and then got a notification that he invited me to chat, which threw me off. I then had to dig through the app to find his invitation before we could start chatting. Many modern messaging apps look at your phone’s contacts and automatically add those who are already using the same app, and I wish that BBM did something similar, or at least make the process more seamless.
The iOS app runs a bit smoother than the Android app, but the layouts are nearly identical. There’s a left-side menu that has shortcuts to your chats, contacts, groups, updates, and invites. There are buttons along the bottom of the app that also show your chats, groups, and contacts. Lastly, there’s a right-side menu where you’ll find the app's settings and options to invite someone to chat, start a new chat, and start a new group. Two menus and a bottom menu bar is overkill, and BlackBerry should have corralled all those options into one control bar and one hidden menu.
There are just a few design differences between the Android and iOS versions. The Android app has an always-on notification bar alert that lets you know that you're connected to BBM. You can turn it off in the app’s settings. Additionally, the Android app gives you a full-screen menu to attach photos and voice messages to your chats, whereas the iOS app uses a smaller pop-up menu.