RIM’s newest attempt at relevance.

RIM just announced they’re going to port their BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) application to Android and iPhone. This news is a great indicator of why I believe RIM won’t make it through the smartphone wars.

I bought a BlackBerry curve in 2009 because I was too cool to buy an iPhone and Android was still too young for me to take the plunge. I corrected this error on Monday, the exact date of expiration on my Sprint contract. BBM’s a great example of why using the phone was a miserable experience. In my opinion, it’s only purposes are to keep you chained to BB phones out of fear and make you beg your friends to switch to BB phones as well. If RIM had spent their effort on designing a good SMS experience instead, they wouldn’t have to port a BBM application and if that idea were applied across the entire phone they might have had a chance against the new smartphones.

Here’s how an SMS conversation with a person who doesn’t have a BlackBerry worked on my phone:

  • Find the person in the contacts list.
  • “Right-click” their name to bring up a menu with 3 screens of information on it; find “Send SMS Message” and click it.
  • Now type the message and send it; this dumps you back to the contacts application.
  • When they reply, the message is dumped in the general log with missed calls, voice mails, and the spam SMS that BlackBerry sends once or twice a month.
  • To reply to that message, right-click the message and find “reply” in the 2-screen high menu that pops up.

Note that the messages weren’t treated as a conversation, they were discrete phone events. If I were conversing with more than one person, the messages in both conversations would intermingle in the log. Oh, and each message only got one line in the log, so only about 20 characters could be seen. It was miserable. You didn’t *have* to have a person in your contacts to send an SMS, but in 2 years I only successfully pulled that off once after a 10-minute Google search session, so I got in the habit of adding a contact if I wanted to SMS someone.

In BBM, here was the process:

  • Somehow obtain the person’s special BB identifier.
  • Input their 12 digit hex code into the BBM app and now they’re a contact.
  • Now all of your messaging with this person appears as a linear conversation like an IM window.

The only real problem here was obtaining the person’s BB id. It was a hex code with 12 digits or so; imagine if you had to have someone’s MAC address to send an email! The ID was buried in the system options application; I can’t complain too much about this because Apple shoved the iPhone’s MAC information in here too. It wasn’t in anything useful like “My BB ID”, it was in something generic like “Settings>Advanced Options>About”. It took me 15 minutes to find it the first time and always involved a web search afterwards.

Here’s how it works for *everyone* in iPhone, and I bet Android’s similar:

  • Type a number.
  • Type the message.
  • Now the conversation happens in an IM-like window.

Nice, no hex codes! If the person is in my contacts, I can start typing their name and the iPhone automatically searches contacts so I can select them quicker.

The only reason BBM is needed is the poor messaging experience on BB phones. If RIM had spent their effort on making a good messaging experience instead of a special application limited to BB phones, they wouldn’t have a need to port the application to 2 different platforms in an attempt to make it easier for BB users to communicate with everyone else. Even if I had plenty of friends with BB phones, I wouldn’t download this app. I don’t need two messaging applications. I have one that works great. It’s a shame neither of their messaging applications is a good solution, but I think if it’s difficult they should demand better from RIM and switch platforms if no changes are made.