A few weeks ago I reviewed a Blackberry Messenger-a-like called Beluga. Within the review, I noted that because Beluga’s features were too similar to RIM’s own Blackberry Messenger, it was not released in the Blackberry Appworld; applications who do try to pass themselves off as an alternative are usually sniped down, like Toronto-developed app Kik.
BBM is a heavy advertising point for RIM, and a reason why a lot of users haven’t abandoned it; rumours of BBM’s transition to a multi-platform software posed the question of whether people would still buy Blackberry hardware if they were able to get the same experience elsewhere.
While we haven’t heard anything in the rumour mill in the last little while, another app has stepped up as a catch-all solution for the instant messaging conundrum. LiveProfile is an offering that’s available on all platforms and uses many of the standard BBM features, like address book integration and contact sharing by a PIN number.
Users can also pull in contacts from Facebook, which is crucial to its success: upon doing so, you can let your wall know that you’re using LiveProfile, which encourages others to do so, as well. It also does the same with your phone contacts; however, this depends on whether a user has included their phone number in their LiveProfile.
Like Beluga, it looks to be a one-stop shop for instant messaging; the difference between the two is that people actually seem to be using it. The user base has been increasing steadily since launch, prompting server upgrades and some nice stats: even during its downtime, the LiveProfile team is reporting as many as 16,000 people signing up per hour as its reached 5 million users in 5 days. Even if you depend on SMS for a lot of your communication (like I do) there’s a good chance someone you know is using this app.
This is a big deal, as trying to convert users away from any established system is a chore in itself; these numbers are indicative of either a boredom with Blackberry’s current software or very successful marketing as the IM app of the future.
But the question remains: is it worth the download?
I’m going to say yes. Even though I’ve never seen the point of BBM in a practical sense before, the fact that most of my friends are now using this is actually getting me off my butt and chatting. I can imagine this being like the early days of Facebook; most people were on MySpace, and it only took a decent amount of friends using a decent product to sway most people who wouldn’t use it otherwise.
LiveProfile does its job extremely well, despite some hiccups that I’ll go into. It integrates its notifications quite well, and the chat interface works a lot better than some SMS apps out there. It also features media messaging in a simple-to-use package, which is par for the course when compared to BBM. However, group chatting or broadcasting is curiously omitted; this might be something included in new updates.
However, what I’m hearing from a lot of people (and experiencing myself) is that developing for multiple platforms is taking its toll on the development team. There are multiple clear-as-day bugs in the application, such as profile pictures not updating or embedded videos not being viewable.
This might not seem like a big deal – what app doesn’t have bugs, right? – but it might turn out to be a danger for LiveProfile. If too many people believe the application not to be worth the trouble, they will not use it. In turn, the friends of those people won’t have a userbase to interact with and they won’t use it. This danger, coupled with a slow release cycle (due to the management of three different apps) may make things complicated in the long run if LiveProfile wants to be successful.
In order to “kill” BBM, a company would have to provide a free service that makes it easy to share and chat with contacts, and just works. BBM has loyalty because it is a corporate-level software, not a startup – RIM is held accountable for every screwup and hiccup. Being used to this quality might make users unwilling to wait for improvements in quality, and spell LiveProfile’s doom.
We can only really watch and see; for those curious about LiveProfile, it’s a free download on the Android market. Check it out and feel free to share your PINs in the comments below if you want to chat with other Droid Lifers.
Matt Demers is Droid Life’s app guy, and writes reviews thrice weekly. If you like his work, you can follow him on Twitter or visit his portfolio; he likes hearing from fans.