BBM: The Messenger is already dead

Hitting 10 million downloads sounds like a success, but BlackBerry's basic messaging app won't keep those users

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Even more roundabout is how BBM deals with Exchange contacts -- in short, it doesn't. If you want to use BBM with work colleagues, you have to manually enter their email addresses to send invites. That's inelegant, too. (At least BBM can look up your personal contacts on your phone.) And worse, during the initial setup, when you're asked to specify whom you want to chat with, you can't even enter email addresses manually. You have to skip that step and add them later.

This is the same lack of concern for user experience that has long marked IT systems in general and the BlackBerry in particular. Until the iPhone debuted in 2007, that's the way it was. But in 2013, it's no longer acceptable. It's also why BlackBerry is fighting for its very life.

The pervasive BlackBerry-ness of BBM is also apparent in a really dumb limitation: Only one device can use a BBM account at a time. Most mobile users have several devices -- a smartphone, a tablet, and a computer -- and they can have any or all of those with them. It's common to see people move among their devices even in one sitting. That's why most chat services let your account be active from multiple devices at the same time.

AOL Instant Messenger, for examples, has long done this, as does Apple's iMessage. But not BBM. If you connect on your iPad, for example, you're disconnected from your Galaxy S 4. Security feature or idiotic oversight? Who can say? And there's no way -- none at all -- to chat on your PC or Mac. We sometimes had trouble switching the service from one device to another, getting server error messages for hours -- nearly a full day, in one case. Apparently, the new device couldn't get registered by BlackBerry's servers, so the app displayed the unhelpful error message until the connection happened minutes or hours later.

Here and there, you'll find a few features worth noting, like the ability to copy the entire text of a chat at once instead of message by message. That's especially handy in a smartphone or tablet environment. But those few pluses are not enough to redeem BBM.

Who would use a service like this? The only probable answer is the existing BlackBerry faithful, those who have an existing circle of contacts with BBM, or are otherwise so married to BlackBerry as a company -- or, rather, a concept -- that they can't imagine ditching it for anything else. They'd better try, though; unless you're already on this platform, you won't want to bother with it.

If the general public wouldn't really want BBM in the first place, how is it going to pull BlackBerry out of its freefall? A vanilla messaging service that is awkward to use, limited in where it can be used, and of dubious reliability will be another nail in BlackBerry's coffin. But unlike the BlackBerry 10 failure, the BBM fiasco is squarely of BlackBerry's own making.

This article, "BBM: The Messenger is already dead," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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