The outage that has rendered BlackBerry Internet Service all but unusable across Africa, Europe and the Middle East has highlighted the need for options and alternatives. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK offers a quick guide to a life without BBM.
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has become the standard form of instant messaging for more than a million South Africans, replacing SMS and even e-mail in many people’s lives.
So when the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) went down on October 11 and again the following day, one of the world’s most fanatically enthusiastic customer bases outside of Apple found itself at a loss.
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) didn’t help matters by remaining silent not only on the cause, but also on service status updates, on assurances and sincere apologies. The result is that many BlackBerry users are flailing about for alternatives.
The big question for them is, can they use alternative data services on their BlackBerry, and will non-BlackBerry apps work on the device? This assumes you are looking for an alternative to BBM while the service is down, since BBM itself relies on BIS being up and running – regardless of how you connect.
Firstly, you can connect your BlackBerry to a WiFi network. If you have access to WiFi where you live, work or play, go to Options on your phone, then click on Manage Connections, and tick the box that says Wi-Fi. Scroll further down and click on Wi-Fi Network. Wait for your phone to detect your WiFi network, and click on the name. It may require you to log in if it is a public hotspot. Follow instructions. Some models may have a slightly different sequence for these procedures.
Once connected, all non-BlackBerry apps on your phone should be operational. Twitter, WhatsApp, ScoreMobile, and the Weather Channel, AcuWeather or WeatherTrax are some examples. Even some BlackBerry apps, like BlackBerry Maps, will work.
YouTube suddenly becomes viable, because you won’t be paying the data surcharge for using a service not included in the BIS terms and conditions. Since the typical user will have avoided YouTube on BlackBerry like the plague, it is a new experience – and it looks surprisingly good on a BlackBerry screen.
Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on BlackBerry’s Apps World to download new apps. The Gmail app, for example, can be downloaded directly off the Gmail site (gmail.com), through the browser on your phone. As browsers go, however, the Opera Mini browser (from opera.com) is highly recommended.
And then there’s BBM
The key question, though, is what to do about BBM. There are a number of Instant messaging apps you can use on a BlackBerry phone. The following can all be used across device platforms, i.e. someone with an Android phone can message someone with a BlackBerry or iPhone if they are using the same apps. The best and most pervasive apps we have tested are:
Whatsapp (whatsapp.com) – quickly becoming the most popular alternative to BBM, it is available for all iPhone, Android and Symbian phones, as well as BlackBerry. Although it is independent of manufacturers, it is heavily marketed by Nokia in South Africa.
Fring (fring.com) – similar to Skype, with free video, voice and text chats, but designed specifically for mobile phones.
Google Talk (free to download)
May even already be installed on your BlackBerry handset)
Allows for chatting with other Google Talk users as well as the ability to make calls with these users.
Facebook chat (free download)
Lets you chat with all your Facebook friends.
A chat application for interaction with other MSN Messenger users.
IM+ Instant Messaging for BlackBerry (A $19-99 purchase)
Quite possible, one of the most comprehensive chat platforms available for the BlackBerry platform.
Allows you to interact with the following instant messaging platforms:
Cnectd (free download)
This locally developed mobile messaging application works across iPhones, BlackBerry’s, Andoid and Symbian based devices. Over and above allowing you to communicate with friends, it also lets you find friends in your area and share media with them.
(Thanks to pyropunk for submitting this.)
Tips and tricks
Here are some tips and tricks Gadget has come across in order to help you get the most out of your BlackBerry device while RIM’s networks are down.
If you are having trouble connecting to Twitter, try this neat little trick.
Install the UberSocial Twitter client on your BlackBerry device, under options set it to connect via WAP and not through the 3G network and voilà, you can continue using Twitter as you would normally.
If you cannot connect to the Internet on your BlackBerry handset, activate the WiFi connectivity feature and browse over a WiFi network.
* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx (www.worldwideworx.com) market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee. Reprinted from Gadget. Updated Wednesday 4:34pm.