BBM without a berry

You can enjoy instant connectivity even without a BlackBerry – and across platforms

BBM (or BlackBerry Messenger) is popular and cool. According to Ranjan Moses, carrier product manager, Research In Motion (RIM), India, it has over 55 million users worldwide and is one of BlackBerry’s most popular services.

“The reason for its popularity is its speed and reliability,” explains S.R. Raja, co-founder and president, Mobile Monday Bangalore, an NGO that tracks the mobile phone space. According to him, BlackBerry installs dedicated servers at service providers like Airtel and Vodafone which make the delivery of the message speedy, encrypted and reliable. “Since BBM is routed through your cellular network, it works even if your GPRS internet is down,” says Raja.

This capital expenditure, though, means BBM comes at a slight premium over other instant messaging services which use general infrastructure or the Internet. While data plans for BBM start from Rs. 129 for post-paid plans and Rs.5 for prepaid users, according to Moses, 2G data connections cost about Rs. 99 a month onwards or 10 paisa per 10 kb, making them a cheaper proposition. For most users, however, this premium is worth it since BBM messages are encrypted and reach almost instantly across the globe.

However, there’s one limitation to BBM. It’s not available across platforms. “BBM has better interface than other instant messaging services,” says Nikhil Sethi, a Delhi-based management consultant who bought a BlackBerry Pearl last year, “but my friends are mostly not on BlackBerrys”. Sethi is connected to only 15 of his friends through BBM on his BlackBerry. For the rest, he uses cross-messaging platforms like WhatsApp which work for most platforms—iPhone to Android, to Symbian. “WhatsApp directly takes all the contacts on my phone book and lists them in my chat list, so I can connect with them whenever I want without any PIN requirement.”

Raja sees this as the future of instant messaging where people use not one but many chat applications to be in touch with different groups of friends. “Users will not stick to one platform. They will use different applications for different sets of communities,” he says.

We look at the best free-to-use instant messaging apps for you to start experimenting. All you need is a data plan and a smartphone.

Kik Messenger


There’s no learning curve with Kik’s simple user interface, which has only two buttons—settings and message. After you create a login, you simply click the message icon and start messaging to your friends. Each message you send is encrypted and the user data is deleted from the Kik servers. You can see when the message is sent, delivered and when the other person is typing back to reply. It does not automatically take data from your phone book so you will have to go to settings in order to find friends. The messenger now also supports sending photos and group conversations. Like BBM, another good thing going for the app is that it has a developer relations section called “Apps that Kik”, wherein an app developer can connect their apps with the messaging app. So if you use ‘Angry Birds’ and it’s connected with Kik, your Kik contact list will know how many levels you have crossed. One issue in India is that not many people know about the app. Though the app has over 10 million users worldwide, it still has to work on its numbers in India.

Works on:Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows 7



Have friends spread across all platforms and want to combine them all? Then choose to chat on Imo, which lets you sign in and chat on a number of different services—Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo, Skype, MSN, Steam, Myspace and Hyves. It offers group chats, you can meet new people, and it saves your chat history. Plus, it allows instant voice messaging. If you don’t have the mobile handy, you can simply sign in and chat from a browser.

Works on:Apple, Android, Blackberry, Nokia Ovi

Yoke Messenger


Yoke Messenger has a cheerful, cartoon-inspired user interface. You can add your friends’ birthdays through the app and you will get notifications when one is due.


You can edit or even delete a message after you have sent it. In case you delete it after you have sent the message, the recipient gets a “this message has been deleted” update in a light grey font. This unique feature makes Yoke stand apart from many other instant messaging applications. Inviting friends, though, is a bit convoluted as it doesn’t automatically connect you to friends already on Yoke, so you need to manually invite each friend. Then, there have been some reports of the app crashing on start-up. Nour Haj Hasan, the Jordanian developer of the app, assures us in an email that this will be fixed soon.

Works on: Apple, Android, Windows 7



The IM chat from South Korea offers all the features of standard chat apps—auto integration with contacts, group chatting, unique ID, privacy protection, text and multimedia messaging. What’s special about it is that it also supports 11 languages other than English—Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese (traditional and simplified), Thai, Turkish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese.

Works on:Apple, Android, Nokia Ovi, Blackberry, Windows 7



In an app world suffused by instant messaging services, ChatPlus stands apart with its innovative features. It has the usual suspects of text and multimedia messaging as well as voice and group chatting. You can also send a location to a group of friends if you are planning to meet up. Plus, it offers language translation so that you can seamlessly talk to your Chinese friend. It also allows you to post the message on your social networks. What we personally loved was that you can send colourful handwritten posts to your friends. One negative aspect is that the app gets a lot of ads, but then, it’s free.

Works on:Apple, Android, Windows 7

Voxer walkie talkie ptt


It’s free as well as ad-free. Based on the concept of a walkie-talkie, Voxer has a clean interface to send text, images, audio clips and location. You can integrate it with Facebook as well as create groups to chat in a “hangout”. You can listen to the audio messages live or download them to listen later, depending on when you are free.

Works on:Apple, Android



So what happens if you send someone a private text through instant messaging and the person forwards it to a friend? That’s the issue that this to-be-launched instant messaging service will address. Due to launch in September, it is in a closed beta right now, Plustxt lets you put in privacy handles to individual text or photos. You can stop someone from downloading the texts and photos, opt for auto-delete in 5 minutes or disallow forwarding. Plustxt is a secure application which allows you to send text and multimedia. Once you install the app and create a sign-in, it automatically adds contacts from your phone book as well as social networks.

Works on:Apple, Android, Nokia Ovi, Blackberry, Windows 7



If phone hacking concerns you and makes you jealously guard the apps you might be downloading, then Gibberbot is the answer. The application supports other chat apps like GTalk, Facebook, ChatSecure and Jabber and lets you encrypt the messages you send out. The application takes security and privacy quite seriously. Its authentication is a three-step process (like a mobile banking app). It’s a secure chat client that has a firewall, filter circumvention, surveillance blocking and end-to-end encryption. Once you sign in, anyone can connect with you from a desktop or a mobile application. There’s additional support for Orbot: Tor on Android, the app which latches on to the Tor browser, a virtual network that allows you to browse the Internet without leaving any trace, and was originally developed by the US government as a security tool.

Works on:Android



Touch comes with a modern interface that allows you to send texts, pictures, voice and emoticons, and share them on the go. It’s fast and sleek and gives you delivery and read receipts, and typing status. The server saves your experiences so that you can leave the app and easily return to where you left off.

Works on:Apple, Android, Blackberry

Cross posted from Live Mint website

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