Around 24 hours ago Research in Motion (RIM) announced that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) 7.0 would take the "social networking experience to a whole new level with an exciting new feature called BBM Voice....which will allow customers to make free voice calls to other BBM customers around the world over a Wi-Fi connection."
Obviously, the BlackBerry faithful were electrified--coming days after RIM announced BB10 and the first two BlackBerry smartphones powered by BB10 would be launched January 30, this exciting new feature would have breathed new life into BBM, which is still extremely popular in many markets, including India. In fact, some would say BBM is the only reason BlackBerry is so popular in some of these countries, and ergo, voice calling on BBM is definitely a very big deal. I don’t agree with that, but I realise it’s a fairly popular view.
RIM said that since BBM 7.0 was in Beta, it could be downloaded for free from BlackBerry Beta Zone, where any BlackBerry user could join in (the Beta Zone website already has over 320000 users, according to an ad on the site).
So far, so good. But that's where the trouble started, and in what is now typical RIM fashion, 24 hours after it was announced, the BBM 7 Beta still doesn't show up in my account on BlackBerry Beta Zone. Worse, BlackBerry Beta Zone sent me an e-mail over 13 hours ago, asking me to check out BBM 7 and even excitedly telling me: "Be sure to invite a friend and start chatting now!"
Um, sure RIM, but how about me trying BBM 7.0 before I tell a friend? Or do you want my friends to get excited and see nothing when they actually get on the site? Is that the way you want this to go?
To me, this is just another in a series of many embarrassing episodes where RIM has completely messed up communication when it comes to product announcements. Announce something, people get excited and then push it back. Remember PlayBook OS 2.0; BBX, which became BlackBerry 10, the first devices running BB10? Agreed, BBM 7 hasn't been pushed back, but wouldn't a company with its back to the wall aim to ensure the update was actually available before shouting it from the rooftops and actually sending e-mails to users asking them to invite friends to use the service too?
Check out the discussion forums on BlackBerry Beta Zone and they are full of frustrated users asking why BBM 7.0 won't show up in their accounts despite receiving e-mails inviting them to try it. Perhaps one reason is that India isn't on the list of countries where the Beta is available, but if so, why would RIM e-mail Indian users inviting us to try out BBM 7.0?
One would have thought RIM has learnt its lessons from past missteps as it seeks to reinvent itself, but such episodes won't give users much confidence that it has. And more than anything, RIM needs the support of existing BlackBerry users if it has any chance of making a comeback with BB10. And India has to be key to that strategy with the number of BlackBerry users here and with the growth rates that RIM continues to see in India. But with this episode RIM seems to have shot itself in the foot once again when it comes to Indian users. And I say that as a BlackBerry fan. For the many who’ve abandoned the BlackBerry platform because they see it as obsolete and a poor match to Android and iOS, episodes like this would only serve as confirmation that they took the right decision when they switched from BlackBerry.
But when RIM hopefully gets its act right, BBM 7.0 does promise some nice things for BlackBerry users. Hopefully that will be sometime soon:
* Users can initiate a BBM Voice call directly, or instantly switch from a BBM text chat to talk, and back again.
* A split-screen feature allows users to talk and text at the same time--you could send a picture to a contact while talking with them using the Voice feature.
* Visual indicator that shows when contacts are available for a voice call.
* BBM Voice is compatible with any Bluetooth accessories