At long last, BlackBerry Messenger is on Android and iOS, but only just. Some of you may still be caught up in the queue that BlackBerry claims is because millions are trying to get on BBM. We don’t doubt them, but it’s certainly not the only high-profile app to have launched on Android or iOS, so the delay is naturally causing fans to lash out. In any case, we managed to squeeze past the queue and check out some of BBM’s features for Android. Here’s what we liked in the brief time and what we didn’t.
The first thing that strikes you about BBM on Android is the lack of any Android-specific UI elements. In fact, you won’t see any difference from the BBM app that runs on current BlackBerry phones. This is a straight-up port from BlackBerry 10, not that it's a bad thing. BBM on the new BlackBerry platform is a joy to use. Let's see if that is the same case on Android.
BBM in focus
Once in you will see the action bar is on the bottom and not on top, where you expect it on Android. This could cause a moment’s confusion, but once you get the hang of the navigation, it becomes slightly less clunky to use. A neat trick is that when you are in a chat, a swipe to the right takes you back to your active conversations. And another swipe opens the slide-out ‘hamburger’ navigation menu where you can see status updates and profile changes from your contacts, as well as pending invites, groups and active conversations. There’s a hidden drawer on the right edge as well, but this can only be accessed by hitting the three-dot menu icon. This seems far less intuitive than having two slide-out drawers on either side like in Falcon Pro, but we’ll allow BlackBerry some creative liberties.
Android app's UI exactly like the BB10 app
Messages are delivered with the same alacrity that one is used to seeing on BBM. The D and R to signify delivered and read status of your messages are present, and so is the wide selection of emoticons to add a bit of colour to your chats. In case, there’s a particularly tardy friend who has ignored your missives, you can ‘Ping’ them in Yahoo Messenger-style. Voice messages are possible, but the compression software adds some noise that might not be ideal in places with lots of ambient sounds.
One complaint is that we weren’t able to share pictures over a group chat and attachments were restricted to the aforementioned voice messages. This seems like a huge missed opportunity and something that could lead to users switching back to options like WhatsApp, WeChat and Line. Looks like BlackBerry wants you to use group chats for text and voice messages only. The only way to share pictures with a bunch of contacts, is to create a Group, which lets you share pictures, lists and events. It's sort of like a mini social network within the app and it's not something habitual IM users will be familiar with. More than anything it comes off as an inelegant solution.
All active conversations; group chats; sharing a voice message
BBM, at the moment, is not very feature-heavy, and we expect updates in the coming weeks and months to improve the experience and add more features. What’s present is a very basic vision of instant messaging and that will only keep users going for a while, before they start missing things like voice calling, videos and picture sharing in groups. Now that BlackBerry has managed to roll out the app in some certain manner, it’s time to focus on bringing more features in future updates.
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