BBM’s journey ended, but its memories will stay here

Mumbai: In recent years, penning obituaries of software products and applications has become far too frequent, almost like a new writing beat for most technology and business journalists like me.

After 14 long years, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is now on the list of software applications that have seen a sunset. BBM, the most popular messaging application of yesteryears, which was also once considered as a major feature of BlackBerry phones in the mid 2000s was discontinued on 31 May, 2019.

BlackBerry erstwhile Research In Motion (RIM) had sold BBM application IP and controlling rights to an Indonesian tech company Emtek for $207 million in 2016. Emtek, however, earlier this April had made public its decision to discontinue BBM service on 31 May 2019.

Sadly, with that BBM has now become a part of our modern history.

Although there aren’t many BBM and BlackBerry phone users left today across the world. But the news of BBM’s shutdown would have certainly struck many millions that had once relied on BlackBerry phones for work emails and BBM for messaging purpose in the past.

And for those loyal BBM users that are still around today, can opt for a new enterprise-grade messaging service BBMe (BlackBerry Messenger Enterprise, which the Canadian company has launched recently and claimed to offer the same old – BBM experience. For the first year, BBMe is free and second year onward it turns into a paid service.

Having said that I am sure that many of them like me even today would have loads of past memories, incidents and stories linked to their BBM and BlackBerry phone.

From a technology standpoint, it wouldn’t an exaggeration to say that BBM application was probably the first generation of instant messaging (IM) or text communication platform for mobile phones. It was exclusively built application for BlackBerry devices, which were considered as enterprise-grade devices mainly for unmatched security.

Unlike, today’s popular messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger that uses individual’s phone number. BBM actually provides the user with unique PIN (personal identification number) or alphanumeric code, to connect with other users.

This ensured a strong privacy posture and security to the users. And this was one of the many reasons that made BBM popular among users and offered them with a seamless mobile based communication.
It had other traits like Group chat or messaging up to 250 members, Direct Messaging (DM), QR Code, animated graphic pictures, BBM Connected Apps and so forth.

Interestingly, Garry Klassen, a principal architecture at BlackBerry has been credited for creating BBM’s first version in 2005. Initially, the application was named as Quick Messenger and it planned as an application along with BlackBerry Enterprise Solution (BES 4.1) version.

But that plan never happened. Instead the company released the beta version to its employees internally. And almost after five years in 2010, Jeremy Kettle came up with a new name for the application – BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). And the rest is history, as it said.

Interestingly, messaging between BBM users was designed and marked with two letters “D” and “R” mainly to indicate that the message was “delivered” and “read” respectively. Overall, the company’s main idea behind BBM was to provide a low-cost, low-bandwidth and instant messaging because it wasn’t the 3G or 4G communication.

While, the popularity of BlackBerry devices and BBM was soaring mainly among the enterprise and corporate users, the company was facing some strong competition from companies like Apple and Samsung that had forayed into the handset market globally.

These companies, mainly were targeting the expanding consumer market and had a wide variety of attractive colorful, touchscreen based new feature and smartphone models in different price range. Unlike BlackBerry, they were catering to almost every segment within the consumer market.

And most importantly, these handsets didn’t require any enterprise-grade mailing solution or telco based BlackBerry service to support e-mails and messaging features. This means there was no additional cost to the consumers.

With the growing competition, BlackBerry was under tremendous pressure as its sales and revenue saw declines for many successive quarters year after year. The company was in a deep financial crisis and was forced to think out of the box –both on hardware and software fronts to keep itself relevant in the market before it was too late.

This made BlackBerry to introduce half and full touchscreen based new sleek looking handsets like BlackBerry Z10, Passport, Priv and even launched tablet Play Book, moving away from it “qwerty key pads” and “trackball” based lackluster handsets. It had this unique software strategy – for each model it used a different BlackBerry OS versions but it had to alter that.

It introduced BB OS 10 version that was considered as the most advanced mobile OS (operating software), according software industry experts. Further, it also opened the BB OS ecosystem for developers and also made the BBM device agnostic. The idea was to take the application onto other platforms like Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android platforms and Microsoft Windows.

Moreover, BlackBerry added other new features to BBM liked free voice and video calling, time-based messages, retract messages and stickers, content and sharing files. Many of today’s messaging apps have similar features as well.

To some extent, non-BlackBerry device users did try and experimented with BBM but that didn’t change the fate of Canadian company. BBM completed 10 years in 2015, but there wasn’t much to cheer and celebrate because BlackBerry already had lost the handset market to Apple and Samsung.

And BBM almost fought a lone battle of survival not just against device based messaging apps like Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime but also a new breed of device agnostic applications like Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

For BBM, the world looked a different place after 10 years of existence. It was quite unbelievable and sad that BlackBerry, which had developed BBM looked to distance itself and ditched of it in 2016 to make some quick millions to support its survival for some more years to come.

Woefully, BBM’s journey has ended unceremoniously. But there’s no doubt in my mind and I do believe others would also agree that BBM’s role in the field of mobile communication or messaging would be hard to forget.

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