As I witnessed the internet collectively frothing at the mouth over Apple’s massive upgrade to its mobile operating system, iOS 5, perhaps one feature above all stood out for Canadians. Along with an updated notification system, over-the-air updates, improvements to the lockscreen, email and camera, and many features, Jobs & co introduce iMessage, the long-awaited death knell to RIM and its BBM platform. So many times have I heard a patriotic Canadian tell me, ‘I’d switch to X but I’d miss my BBM too much.’ Apple apparently heard this too, all the way in Cupertino.
There is no question that BlackBerry OS offers far more than just BBM. Its push email, especially in the enterprise, is still considered the best in the business for speed and security. BBM is, too, exceptionally fast, something that its nascent rivals like Kik Messenger and LiveProfile can’t seem to match as hard as they try. BlackBerry users hear of the great games one can play on the iPhone, the intuitive OS, the superior hardware, and many yearn to rid themselves of their QWERTY noose.
While we haven’t seen iMessage in action yet, it matches BBM shot-for-shot in features, including sent and received receipts, picture and video sharing and push notifications. The liability comes in the unknowns: battery life and speed. While there is the occasional BlackBerry server mishap leaving BBM users out in the cold for hours at a time, for the most part it is remarkably reliable. The speed at which one can send, and have his message read and responded to, is unmatched in the marketplace. And due to its tight integration with the BlackBerry OS, especially in BlackBerry 6 and 7, its unique icon and red ‘star’, along with that unmistakable ‘ping’ sound, are much of what keeps users tethered to their devices.
But iMessage is iOS-only. The aforementioned services are multi-platform, and feature-wise are iterating quickly to match BBM. For an Android user to communicate instantly with a BlackBerry or an iPhone is a huge benefit, and users have taken to the services in droves. Kik managed to reach 1 million users in 18 days, and it looks like since it was banned from BlackBerry’s App World, WhatsApp and LiveProfile have been picking up the slack. There is a chance that iMessage will just fit nicely into the untapped groove left by iOS users who haven’t embraced a third-party app for messaging and still rely on texts, or are frustrated by the battery drain associated with constant push notifications. Presumably iMessage will attempt to address a number of these features; tight OS integration is a good start.
If this announcement says one thing, it’s that Apple is just as willing to crib from its competitors as they are from Apple. I don’t think BBM is going anywhere: many of its 50+ million users couldn’t care less about iMessage. But judging from recent market share news, some of them are already dropping their BlackBerries for greener pastures, be it iOS or that cute green robot.
So the question is: Will you be giving up your BlackBerry for an iPhone, and BBM for iMessage, or are you happy with the way things are?