Towards the latter half of 2010 I noticed an unruly and what I consider socially unacceptable behavior emanating from a large number of individuals in my friend circle and outside. I further began to realize that this bug was spreading… and how. The little germ's name is BBM or BlackBerry Messenger. It’s what I’m calling the new age of addictive Social Networking mobility.

Painfully addictive

What was once a handset only for the corporate bigwigs is now a device capable to mass appeal to all age groups. I even have a few teenage cousins whose parents have completely lost control of them (not that that wouldn’t happen to them anyways consider the age group) simply because they bought them a BB and now can’t get them to look up from the screen.

So what is BBM?
This may sound like a stupid question, but I do know a few individuals who have asked me so allow me to quickly explain. As the name suggests, it’s a messenger not unlike Gtalk or Yahoo!’s offering. The deal here is that BBM works, obviously, exclusively for BlackBerry users. It’s secure to quite an extent but beware ‘Big Brother’ i.e. the government, might have access to your chats soon.

BBM allows you to do more than just chat with someone whose ‘Barcode’ you’ve scanned (use the handset’s camera to capture and save a unique ID Barcode instead of entering details) or BlackBerry Pin you’ve added to your contacts. BBM allows you to send media content across like videos, images and songs, create groups etc. Like online PC-based messenger services this one also let’s your pals know what music you’re listening to while you’re chatting (I’ll never understand this logic but I guess it’s a conversation starter). A real time confirmation, like a delivery report is also provisioned into the system so you know that messages have actually reached the sender. It also has little icon that shows you that a message has been read by the party you’ve sent it to.  

How do you use it?
It’s not rocket science really. The app is built-in to your BlackBerry handset, or can be downloaded/updated via the Blackberry App store. Now here’s where some of you BBM users need to pay attention… BBM is not a free service. You are paying for this since it requires you to have an active data plan without which it’s a dead-in-the-water app.

It's neat isn't it?

It seems like most of the dozens of people I know who’ve switched over to BlackBerry for BBM were under the impression that it’s some sort of free service that works between RIM’s devices regardless of data usage. The obvious advantage to using BBM is that you’re able to send and receive even relatively large media files across without it costing you more than what you pay for your monthly data plan.

What kinds of plans are available for BlackBerry users that prefer chatting and a little extra rather than corporate email?
We’ve got service providers coming out our ears in this country but for the BlackBerry users the plans seem to quite similar across the bar. Essentially there are two plans for BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) that you should consider if corporate email is not their reason you got your handset. Here are the plans that you could consider if you’re planning on a switch to BlackBerry. Do keep in mind, the plans just may vary according to your location and all services are not available throughout the country just yet. Check with your service provider if you have any doubts.

Click to enlarge

What’s the difference between this and using Gtalk, Yahoo! Messenger or MSN for that matter on your BlackBerry?
A few of whom I asked seemed to have no idea that they could even access Gtalk on their handsets. Those who did know preferred BBM as it’s a much more versatile space to chat and offers more as compared to others. Gtalk and others are also free apps that usually comes preloaded (can also be downloaded off the app store) onto BlackBerry devices as well and naturally allows you to communicate with users on any and all mobile platforms as well as those connected to PCs.

Send all kinds of media

These other “third party” apps also allow you to send images captured via the handsets camera and have multiple chats or participate in multiple conversations at the same time. However the Group message option like in BBM doesn’t apply to most others. But like I mentioned, BMM allows for more than just images to be sent across. The visual layout of BBM looks fairly simple but has been designed to offer users quite a bit more than mere chat. BBM also has emoticons that, I have to admit, are far catchier than your run off the mill Gtalk or Yahoo! Messenger versions.

I’ve tried arguing with this crowd explaining that apps like Nimbuzz or eBuddy (both available for BlackBerry) could even offer them access to multiple chat platforms including Facebook and Skype from a single interface but it didn’t seem to faze them. I even pointed out that the cheaper more affordable plans restrict usage to the internet and even our beloved Facebook, while a single data plan used with other smartphones would give you full access to all internet activities, no dice. It’s BBM or nothing.

One drawback with BBM is – if you ever change/upgrade/swap your device for a new one, you’re going to have to go through the whole procedure of getting all your BBM contacts back y scanning barcodes, entering pins etc. There’s no back up option using either a cloud server or a PC Suite. At least with the others, details can be accessed on any and all devices.

They put a smile on your face

So what is it about BBM that’s got people switching over to the BlackBerry Smartphones leaving even the almighty iPhone in the dust?
From what I’ve been given to understand, BBM is simply more visually appealing, very versatile and allows users to be part of an exclusive like community of users, an elitists club if you will. It’s a whole new trend that’s got the youth segment and even a few adults in a constant chat frenzy, resulting in what I can only deem anti social behavior. I recently gifted my fiancé a BB 8520 and I’m beginning to think that that was a big mistake. Thankfully my trusty Android mobile keeps me well occupied while she’s constantly clicking away on her phone. Thank goodness for Angry Birds and DivX video support.

I’d like to know what you smartphone users out there think – If you’ve got the BlackBerry BBM Bug, tell us why it’s so appealing to you. If you’re using another platform, how do you survive without it?
Everybody wants to be a BlackBerry Guy, do you?

To all my BBM buddies out there let me say this, guys, there’s a whole world waiting for you outside of your BBM chat screen. Pick up the phone, make a call once in awhile, it’s more expensive but a whole lot more personal.

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