Oh sweet Blackberry, where did it all go wrong? RIM (parent company of Blackberry) announced recently that it is selling the company for the bargain basement price of $4.7 billion (the company once had revenues of over $19 billion in a single year). The company will be taken over by a group of Canadian private equity firms, but what happens next is anybody’s guess. The future of the Blackberry brand is now uncertain, astonishing when you remember it was once considered such an essential tool that people called them ‘Crackberries’. How sad to see this slow remorseless demise.
I remember my first Blackberry back in the mid 2000s and how super cool I felt having one. It was cutting edge at the time, a green monochrome screen and scroll wheel on the side. It was hot stuff, with die-hard users ranging from Wall street stars to high-powered politicians (including President Obama). Later, I had the Blackberry Bold which was both beautiful and functional for its time. But now Apple and Android rule the roost, and RIM’s foothold in the corporate and government sectors is fading fast.
For those of you still firmly clinging to your Crackberries, there has been no definitive word on the future of the devices or the software, including the popular Blackberry Messenger (BBM). The iOS and Android versions of BBM had a rocky launch recently, and if RIM disappears completely the question of who will update/maintain these apps or the BBM network is unclear.
So if you think it’s time to find an alternative to BBM, here is our useful guide with some free services that support multiple mobile platforms. That way if and when the final death blow comes, you will be ready.
Touch (available for Android, iOS and Blackberry)
This good looking app features text, video and voice messaging along with the kind of features BBM users are familiar with, such as delivery and read receipts and instant incoming notifications. The app was formerly known as PingChat!, but apparently has moved on to keep up with the times. The interface is clean and appealing, and the feature set solid.
LiveProfile (available for iOS, Android and Blackberry)
This messenger app integrates seamlessly with Twitter and Facebook, and offers real time file and photo sharing, updates, and instant communications with read receipts and typing indicators. It also comes with push notifications and unique PINs which help provide a more secure environment.
Viber (available for Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Bada, Desktop and Nokia)
If you absolutely need to be in touch wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, it’s hard to beat this hugely popular messaging service. Available on just about every platform, Viber delivers top quality free video and voice calling, as well as text chat, group messaging with up to 40 other people over WiFi or 3G. And your phone number is your ID. No ads and 32 languages.
Trillian (available for Android, iOS and Blackberry)
Trillian is a solid 13 year old veteran in the messaging arena, which connects to multiple IM services (including AIM, ICQ, Yahoo, Skype, Facebook, etc). It’s basically a Swiss army knife of IM apps, and now works on your home computer (Mac/Windows) as well as your mobile device. In addition to IM, it supports multiple email services, and they pride themselves on security and privacy (read their security policies here). The developers have also just released a Trillian For Business version, which is very timely…and interesting.
Hookt (available on Android, iOS and Blackberry)
No public profiles, just private messaging with all the trimmings. Comes with group chat facilities for up to 10 people together, and a fun interface that is definitely focused on being expressive. The addition of read indicators, showing when a message has been seen, is a valuable feature and the fact it is available in eight languages is a definite plus.
IM+ (available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry)
IM+ is another all-in-one messenger supporting many popular IM services such as Facebook, Skype, Google Talk, Yahoo, and AIM. It also supports many I have never even heard of such as Yandex, Mamba, and Renren. In addition to the IM+ apps, there are browser toolbars, IM+ Video apps and IM+ Web (a web-based tool).
PingMe Messenger (available on iOS and Android)
PingMe combines a conventional messaging app with a bunch of community and discovery tools to expand your horizons beyond your close circles. You can message individually or easily send to your custom groups and the app delivers instant notifications so you won’t miss any comments as they occur. You may not want to connect with interesting strangers who share your likes, but it’s a nice option all the same.
Google Hangouts (formerly Google Talk) (available for Android and iOS)
If you use Gmail, you already have a Google Hangouts (formerly Google Talk) account. If many of your friends are also on Gmail, this solution may work well for you. Google Hangouts is a simple IM app, with the added benefit of video and voice in addition to text. Google Hangouts also works with your computer, but you must install the Chrome browser to use it. Very much the newcomer on the scene, but the pedigree is definitely solid.
Skype (available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry).
Skype, now owned by Microsoft, dominates the free video conferencing market across the world, but it’s also useful for instant messaging and voice calls. You can even dial actual telephone numbers (for an additional fee), but Skype to Skype calls are free. At last count Skype has over 600 million global users. In addition to mobile devices, there are apps for your Windows or Mac computer, many popular tablets, and even some TVs/blu-ray players and portable game consoles. The company’s business offering, however, still remains something of an afterthought.
WhatsApp (available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Nokia)
It would be impossible to put together a list of messaging apps without mentioning this massive service. Boasting one of the fastest and most powerful instant photo sharing functions on the planet, the app runs on a huge range of devices, and features elegantly simple push notifications, which also work offline so you should never miss another message. Rather strangely the app is only free for the first 12 months, after which you have to pay $0.99 a year which is bound to put off some people. Still worth a look.
So that’s our round-up of the services we believe are worth a look. We know there are some we have missed off the list, but we’re hoping you can fill in the gaps, so feel free to add your favorite in the comments. Whatever option you choose, you have to admit, Blackberry and BBM had a pretty great ride. And who knows, maybe they will make a comeback some day.