A well-received ad campaign never defines the success of a product. Similarly, the arrival of BBM on Android and iPhone may have pulled in a large number of users, but the humongous 10 million downloads in 24 hours is not necessarily an indicator that users are content and would continue using the app, that was once a BlackBerry device exclusive.
While I was quite satisfied with the widely used instant messaging (IM) tool WhatsApp and never looked for other IM apps flocking the Google Play Store (besides Google Hangouts - that was previously Google Talk), but I eagerly waited for BBM to come to Android. The app in spite of BlackBerry's sagging fortunes, retained much of its iconic appeal.
Being a late entrant in the world of cross-platform IM services, BlackBerry played smartly bringing BBM to Android and iPhone for free. It might compensate for BlackBerry's late arrival and make it easier to battle WhatsApp on a more equal footing.
Having used BBM for Android for the last few days, my verdict while BBM has definitely caused a huge buzz, it is still far from being the best IM app and shouldn't yet nurture any dreams of being able to beat WhatsApp. Here are my 10 reasons why.
1. The PIN-based invitation model on BBM is something that makes it different from WhatsApp as users get an absolute authority on adding people to their BBM networks, unlike WhatsApp that lets anyone who has your phone number reach out to you. While the PIN-based invites may be considered an advantage, I see it as a bane. Keeping someone away from your BBM does not mean that you would be able to shut off all communication from that person. All a person needs is your phone number and then he has all the other ways - from calling to messaging to IM on WhatsApp - to communicate with you. BBM is only one of the ways.
A common belief is that a BBM PIN, at times, is shared when you don't want to give your number but want to stay in touch and maintain communication with a set of people. In such cases I would recommend Google Hangouts (Google Talk) instead, which I believe Android users would be quite used to. You can take their email address and add them to your Hangouts. Here you also have an authority to choose and reject. Another purported BBM advantage washed away.
Also, the model that BBM follows seems to be limiting your interaction in the times when people believe in network building and socialising freely. Anyone of us may come across situations where we want to establish a communication with a person, but may feel a little shy in approaching and asking for a BBM PIN - he may share, may be not. A relation may gets spoiled before it is made. WhatsApp is a much better choice here.
Isn't it better to continue with WhatsApp which you have been using for quite sometime as your primary IM tool and use Google Hangouts to remain in touch with those you have not shared your digits with.
I heard a BlackBerry loyalist at work saying to another friend go just got BBM on her Android phone, "apna BBM PIN WhatsApp kar diyo (Please WhatsApp your BBM PIN)." This in itself speaks volumes about the penetration of WhatsApp.
2. Another thing that BlackBerry brags about BBM is the 'D' and 'R' indicators - where D signifies messages delivered and R says that the messages sent to a recipient have been read. But there seems to be some bug in BBM for Android as occasionally I found a check mark (signifying non-delivery) next to the messages sent by me even when the recipient had already read those messages (something that they confirmed via WhatsApp and/or Google Hangouts). A feature that BlackBerry boasts of seems to be marred by some bugm thereby making it ineffective, till the time BlackBerry manages to fix this.
3. In an instant messaging app what matters the most is the appearance of previous messages in a chat window. Before you make a reply, you often want to read the recent messages exchanged between the two or more than two in case of a group chat. I found myself seeing more messages in a WhatsApp chat window than in a BBM chat window. In BBM, I noticed a display picture next to every message, which swallows up space in a chat window, unnecessarily. BlackBerry appears to want us to write without reading, while it is more important to first read and then write.
4. Today, emoji is a new language of communication. Instant messaging apps have almost dozens of emoji icons to reflect much of your moods and behaviour. Here also BBM loses ground to WhatsApp. WhatsApp has multiple times more emoji icons than BBM.
5. Like WhatsApp, BBM also lets you share files with other users. But WhatsApp has an edge over BBM as it lets you share more file formats - from photos to videos to audio files to location to contacts. Using WhatsApp, you can share all these files directly from a chat window. But BBM users on Android can share photos and voice notes from a chat window. Videos or MP3 files can be shared on BBM, but not from a chat window. Sharing videos or MP3 files on BBM involves more steps - go to a video/MP3 on your phone and select BBM to share it with a BBM contact. Also, contacts and locations are something BBM does not let you share.
6. The PING! button on BBM reminds me of the Buzz button on Yahoo Messenger. This is one feature WhatsApp lacks, but it does not hamper my experience on WhatsApp. In fact on BBM too, I didn't find much utility in the PING! button.
7. By making its BBM app available on three platforms - BlackBerry OS, Android and iOS - BlackBerry is not wrong in calling its app cross-platform, but out of the two, WhatsApp - in real sense - is the more cross-platform app and is available on all the major platforms - Android, iOS, BlackBerry OS, Windows Phone, Symbian, Nokia S40. While BBM connects you with your friends on Android, BlackBerry, and iOS platforms, but WhatsApp, apart from these three OS, also lets you connect with your friends using Windows and Symbian devices. BlackBerry still has no plans to bring the BBM app to Windows, which is the second most widely used smartphone platform in India.
8. Today, when most of the people own more than one device and prefer the convenience of using an app on multiple devices, BlackBerry released the BBM app in a way that confines users to use one BBM ID on one device at a time. The same issue is with WhatsApp. A WhatsApp account can only be verified with one number, on one device. Being a late participant in the race, BlackBerry could have got an edge over WhatsApp by making the BBM app work across devices. It is here, where Google Hangouts has an absolute advantage over the other two.
9. It is not always possible to reply to messages immediately, but it seems that BBM urges you to send replies the moment you read them. It may not be the case, but the default keyboard setting in BBM suggests this. As you open a chat window in BBM, the keyboard - by default - pops out, expecting you to respond right away. The keyboard, with an Action Bar placed right above the keyboard, on BBM runs through a chat window and leaves you with only last message. So, to view the previous messages you have to exit the keyboard. There is no setting to permanently disable the keyboard from popping out as you tap on a chat window. While WhatsApp only shows you messages and you can launch the keyboard when you want to reply. Also, WhatsApp lets you see more messages at a time in a chat window.
10. We have heard of misunderstandings, fights and cold wars between people due to the timestamp feature - "last seen today at..." - on WhatsApp, and many believe that with no such time stamp feature on BBM, they can easily ignore certain contacts and can reply to them at their convenience. But late replies when your updates are showing also makes it quite easy for your contacts to comprehend whether you are actually busy or simply ignoring their messages.
This does not mean that I dislike BBM, it has been a great app on BlackBerry and brings much of it to Android, but then the smartphone world has evolved much faster than BlackBerry could and BBM for Android is an indicator. Many new BBM users I know have already uninstalled the app, disappointed by BBM.
If and when BlackBerry brings voice and video calling to BBM for Android (and iPhone), the scales could tilt a little. Till then, I am sticking to WhatsApp.