BBM on iOS and Android Review Rebuttal: Why Pins and Other Features Make Sense

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My recent review of BBM didn’t go over well with a few die-hard BlackBerry fans and I thought it only fair to give them a chance at rebuttal, since the site the review is posted to doesn’t allow comments. Generally, the big problems I had with BBM are rooted in the user experience, specifically around adding friends and onboarding users. The other major issue I have is that most people I talked to don’t really understand what the current value of going BBM is over current communication apps out there, including basic SMS. Considering this is a messaging app, those are pretty big criticisms, but I’m happy to concede I might be wrong or misguided. Read on for some rebuttal from reader @StephenBB81.

Click here to read the full review on Macgasm.net.

Generally, the quotes from @StephenBB81 are exactly as they came in via email. There are corrections for grammar and syntax only. My rebuttals are below the quotes.

Privacy

“Your review addressed how difficult it is to add users on BBM. Other apps use discovery based on your personal information which is stored on a server. Personally, I am not one that wants to go through with that. BBM is the alternative to giving all your information to a company to do as they please with.”

I’m not sure that’s true actually. BlackBerry as a company has access to your pin, BBID and the profiles connected with both. I’m sure they can pull together just as much information about their customers as, say, Snapchat.

As a general note about privacy, you’re a fringe case if you don’t want to share your contact info with a company’s server. The mass market completely accepts that facebook profiles, user accounts and general information about someone are public domain. Also, isn’t it hypocritical to say “messaging apps shouldn’t use your personal info for discovery”, but then go ahead and create a LinkedIn profile?

“BBM is not difficult to add people. You send a notification that you have the app to people via whatever means you wish: SMS, email, or posting your unique PIN which contains no personal information beyond a method of contacting you to any host of social media sites. BBM is not intrusive into your contacts. BBM doesn’t share information you don’t intend it to share. Including the fact it exists. This is different from other IM clients yes. Other IM clients assume that you want to only communicate with them and you want everyone to communicate via it. BBM gives you the choice and control to use the app as you wish.”

I understand your point about control and it makes sense. Yes, BBM uses the “double handshake” method to make sure your contact list only has people you really want on it. But it’s worth pointing out that even BlackBerry knows it needs a better contact discovery mechanism, and is using a variety of social tools to allow people to invite friends.

Check out this BBM.com feature to invite your friends with facebook, twitter, linkedin and email.

“BBM, like other branded products, has chosen to stick to a consistent UI across the platforms. BBM has a BlackBerry feel to it and the hope is users became familiar to the UI, BlackBerry as a company needs familiarity with their UI to happen if they are to be successful. BBM is an intro to the BlackBerry UI. And the learning curve to understand it for my iPhone friend who has never owned a BlackBerry, is a 2 finger keyboard user and barely uses his iPhone was able to pickup how to use BBM and how to add people using QR code scanning in a matter of minutes. The UI is not confusing. And with the familiarity across platforms a BlackBerry user can help an iPhone user can help an Android user to navigate the not so basic features.”

I can concede this point to some extent. Yes, you do want a consistent brand across platforms. In the review, I said that they duplicated the app without leveraging the native features of those platforms, specifically for friend adding. I’m not saying the app has to look totally different, I was just saying “Android gives you more access to contacts, so use it” and “iOS users are used to adding friends through social sites, so leverage them”.

Note: the guys at The Verge felt the same way about the odd UI feel on another platform:

“Neither iOS nor Android emphasizes swiping from the edges of your screen to pop out menus, while BB10 does, so the hidden panes on either side feel a bit confusing. Some of the interactions in the app feel like BlackBerry is trying to teach people how to use BB10 within the context of an app on another platform.”

Features

At this point, @StephenBB81 goes on to talk about the features, which is a pretty important part of BBM that I think wasn’t communicated very well. The vast majority of people I’ve spoken to about BBM don’t really understand the merits of using it over traditional communication tools. This is something I totally understand. I’ve been writing about BlackBerry for years, and the benefit of using BBM for iOS over SMS isn’t glaringly clear to me. When the features of BBM for iOS catch up to BlackBerry 10, then the decision is obvious, but for now, not so much. This is why the review was titled “Basic Features With Big Implications”.

“BBM gives users:

Delivery/Read notifications: On the surface this seems simple. WhatsApp does this. Doesn’t it? Well not exactly. WhatsApp gives a single tick for confirmation of delivery from your device to the server, and double ticks to confirm the recipient device has taken delivery of the message. BBM provides you with a grey checkmark to confirm delivery to the server, a Blue D for delivered to recipient device, and Green R to signify the recipient has read the message. As a reader beside the unread text within the message is a yellow dot, that yellow dot turns grey which tells you 1 that you’ve laid eyes on the message and 2 that a R has been delivered to the sender. The difference between how BBM does it and how others is a small one, but it is best equated to the different between sending correspondence and having a conversation.”

Sure, BBM gives better delivery/read notifications. But the point of the review was that this feature isn’t a huge deal to most people. Do you really care for that much specificity in whether or not someone has seen your message? It’s a nice to have, but that’s not going to resonate with users as being a must-have feature by any means.

Multi user Chats: These are similar to group SMS, add users and go. Great for an impromptu mutliperson planning session. While this isn’t unique to BBM it is a feature that is expected from such a service.”

Yes, it’s an expected feature. Again, the whole point of the review was to point out that there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason for users to switch from their current methods of communication over to BBM. Multi user chats is nice but it’s by no means going to drive downloads.

BBM Groups: Now BBM groups expands on Multiperson chats and creates a communications portal for up to 30 users. Within that portal multiple chats can be started with topic names or just be a general chat. You don’t have to have the people within the group in your contact list, they just have to be invited to the group by the group creator. Along with the group chats you have picture sharing, you post a picture to the group, it doesn’t live in the live chat windows it lives in the photo section so you can view and comment on the pictures and come back to them without breaking up the flow of chat in the group. If that wasn’t enough Groups has a shared calendar so you can share event and appointments with everyone within the group great if the group is a family unit organizing multiple extra-curriculars, and lastly within groups you have the ability to make lists and assign items to people within the group. This is pretty far from just a basic feature of an IM app”

Group Chat is all well and good but when have you actually used it for something practical? I’ve never actually used it with anyone and I’ve had a BlackBerry for 7 years. When do I need to start a BBM Group message? It’s actually a terrible way to organize your life because the communications aren’t logged for review later. I keep everything stored in Gmail so that I can refer back to it when I need to. If I share something in a BBM group, then I end the chat, that conversation is gone forever and it’s like that work conversation never took place. The same applies for personal conversations on facebook or chats on LinkedIn. It’s all in the cloud.

Personal Status Streams: This is a way to keep up with your contacts you get a passive notification that people have updated their status or changed their display pictures the unobtrusive updates icon is a live feed of what is going on with your contacts. It adds another dimension of interaction, be it a subtle reminder that this person is using the app at the moment and would likely be easier to touch base with, or a declaration of something as mundane as what they are eating for lunch. The personal status, just another basic feature.”

Okay, except the status section is overwhelmed with too much noise. Here is a screencap of my status stream in BBM:

bbm_status_updates

If there was some way to filter, customize or improve the quality of status messages, I might concede that status updates are helpful in BBM, but the current implementation does the app more harm than good.

“That was a little long winded for BBM’s basic features but onto the desire for BBM to be more like SnapChat. SnapChat currently harvests your information while they haven’t yet figured out how they plan to use it they do let you know they can use it to Communicate with you about products, services, offers, promotions, rewards, and events offered by Snapchat and others, and provide news and information they think will be of interest to you; BBM doesn’t do this. I’m happy with that. BBM has chosen to have you control your contact list. Both parties must want to communicate with each other. That communication starts with letting the other party know you have the App. BlackBerry isn’t giving even that little bit of information out about you. Now it isn’t hard to get connected. Because the PIN isn’t personalized to you, but instead to the device adds to the anonymity of reaching out to connect. Send that reachout via SMS, email, or social media, share a QR code, or if in close proximity you can even use NFC. BBM puts your contact list in your control. This is by design and not a factor of keeping things the same.”

I’ll refer to my first point again. If you’re that concerned with privacy and not having your personal info stored on a server, you’re among the fringe. Also, if you have to sacrifice user experience for not using people’s personal info (which is widely available everywhere else), then you’re going to have a tough time making a massively popular app and disrupting people’s communication habits.

“I agree BlackBerry could have offered more in-app help with navigating and exploring features. Instead they went to YouTube with a series of 6 help videos. Not the best way, nor the clearest way to help people but they’ve taken a step.”

I haven’t met anyone that needed to watch a video on how to use Snapchat. Just sayin’.

“While you don’t get PIN, I don’t get why you are so angry with the PIN? I like the PIN. It is a nondescript method of connecting, it contains nothing to give an impression of the owner, it allows the Device to form the pair bond with the server. The PIN based system means a single unique uniform ID to prevent middleman information syphoning.”

I’m not the only one who thinks the Pin is an absurdly complex, awkward and difficult to remember system. Just search “What’s a BBM pin?” on Twitter. There is an entire generation of people who simply don’t get it and I don’t blame them.

“The reviews by the community are not about the App, but about the way BlackBerry chose to handle people signing into the service, with 10 million users downloading in the first 24 hours it was obviously a good move to prevent the overload of their servers like the last time they tried to launch the app. The wait line sucked. That is something that is agreeable but has no bearing on the app beyond the first few days; And doesn’t matter to users looking to see if they should download the app. I truly hope BlackBerry doesn’t move to a system that is like Snapchat or whatsapp, I don’t want my address book trolled. And I like PIN’s. BBM is as much an App for the masses as a PR tool for BlackBerry trying to address their image problems to the users who have never used a BlackBerry product. BlackBerry needs people to not think of BlackBerry as only the curve model entry level phone with a crappy browser. BBM shows BlackBerry can provide an engaging experience for modern smartphone users. And maybe just maybe IT departments will not scoff at the name BlackBerry when they are thinking about their next MDM solution.”

I actually think the sign up process was great and it makes sense to have people wait in line. I never said that was a bad thing in the review. Now, the people I quoted in the review didn’t like it, but that’s common and I know a lot of people felt that way.

Conclusion:

Overall, it seems your entire argument for why BBM and Pins are great hinges on security and keeping your personal information private. This argument falls apart for a few reasons:

1) Nobody said BlackBerry would never use your personal data. In fact, if they’re going to make the service free and use content, rest assured someone is getting a hold of your personal info in some form. Advertisers will demand it. It’s like the saying “if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.”

2) There are ways to maintain the feeling of anonymity and security, without using a convoluted Pin system. People can remember fake usernames better than a Pin. There’s no reason for this complicated number and letter code.

3) Double handshake systems may seem great to keep your contact list curated, but it hurts the User Experience and in the end, there’s probably a much better and simpler way to keep your contact list secure. Blocking, unfriending, and denying are perfectly acceptable in every other social network and there’s no reason why BBM can’t use the same.

  • http://papogp.com/ Diego Nei, MBA, PMP®

    Some feedback:

    * You can block updates from users. Hold on whichever person is flooding you with name changes and the option will appear.

    * The “I have SMS” argument: That is used by people that also, don’t want to try Whatsapp (or any mobile IM for the matter). It’s not a BBM issue excusevely, it’s much more a cultural thing.

    * PINs: I rather they would keep PINs more like a feature than a mainselling point. BBIDs make far more sense right now.

    * Groups: You must be missing on some good stuff then. I am part of 3 groups that are career related and the conversations and experience exchange is just fenomenal. I too was not on the groups boat not that long ago (2010), but the past three year were an eye opener. I am dying to see how this develops now that iOS/Android users will be able to join! Looks like a great prospect.

    * Adding people: It’s a mess. But I think it is a mess they can’t fix overnight. I believe they will have to code a way to add people from different sources from scrap. A good first start would be to add the Recommended tab to iOS/Android, so it will scan for BBIDs in the contact list and suggest those (like it does on BB10).

    * BBM vs Whatsapp: BBM isn’t competitive enough as it is. You can’t make people move from a platform where their friends are to one their friends aren’t if you offer the same feature set + R/D system. And… That’s BB5, let’s face it. Still, Channels is coming. Voice/Video calls are coming. BBM will have the upper hand very soon.

    Let’s see what other people say. :)

  • Stephen_81

    Fair rebuttal to my comments.

    Except for Groups. Because in 7 years you never used groups means they have no value to users? I’ve never used snapchat, does that mean it has no value?

    I’ve used Groups both professionally and personally for a number of years. A sales team at trade shows. Constant chatter, pictures of booths, competitors products, stupid getups, these are not meant to fill your email inbox which can be upwards of 100 emails a day.

    Personally an on going NHL chat group with 28 guys that goes on all season.

    A few fan groups of various products.

    a family group that keeps work, dance, soccer, parties, skating, and other obligations all together at finger tips. pictures that we want to share that don’t belong on facebook /myspace or whatever socialmedia site is popular.

    The technical abilities for setting up shared calendars for most people is beyond them. BBM makes it very easy. Those with the skill set to create other options and sync them with everyones devices are welcome to do so.

    Email is NOT a place for group chatter.

  • SamFromDowntown

    You completely miss the point of PINs and privacy. Utterly and completely.

    The idea is not to keep personal info from the *company* but rather to keep information from other people.

    An example to put this into focus: If a girl at a club gives out her number to a dude she meets there and the guy turns out to be a lunatic stalker, she has to change her phone number and all that that entails. If the girl gives out her PIN instead, all she has to do is remove the guy from her list AND HE IS GONE FOREVER. There is no other way for him to contact her.

    So, you’re a dude and you want to get a girl’s contact info, where are your chances better? BBM or SMS/WhatsApp, etc.?

  • http://caspan.com Caspan

    Okay on your point 2, I have no idea why you are trying to remember your PIN, there is absolutely no need for it. I have never once in my life of BBM needed to give out my PIN but did not have it! The process of how you invite BBM users is painless, you NFC tap, you take a picture, you invite over a phone number, or email address, or social media platform, or you type ‘mypin’ in a message… there is never a need to remember your PIN in my opinion!

  • MartinJdub

    Nice work Kyle! Great read as always