Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Legacy of BlackBerry and BBM

Christina Warren (Mastodon):

BlackBerry Messenger, better known as BBM to its millions of once-devoted fans, was arguably the original “killer app” of the smartphone age and it set the standard for the way we have communicated via text on our phones for nearly 20 years and defined the blueprint for mobile messaging services as we know them.


The brilliance of BBM was that it combined two existing quick messaging paradigms, instant messengers a la AIM and Yahoo Messenger and SMS. But unlike SMS, which U.S. wireless carriers were charging between five and ten cents a message for, BBM was free, included within the data plan that every BlackBerry user paid for either through their carrier or through an enterprise server agreement with their employer. Whereas a normal wireless user might send a few hundred SMS messages in a month, depending on their wireless plans allowance, BlackBerry users would frequently send and receive hundreds of messages a day.


Beyond just “D” and “R” designations, every BlackBerry had a blinking red light that indicated a new BBM message (or email) had arrived to your phone, putting the “crack” in “Crackberry.” Before BBM, the idea of being “always on” was a concept that was reserved for only the most hardcore of computer users; those constantly tethered to a desktop or laptop. After BBM, it was a way of life.


Instead of using a phone number or username/email as your unique identifier, BlackBerry users were issued a unique eight-digit alphanumeric PIN instead. Each PIN was unique to its physical device, which made the process of switching devices sometimes fraught and necessitated the need for PIN exchanges, and for some users of a certain age, your PIN was your identity.

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