Using WhatsApp for cross-platform mobile instant messaging.

By on April 5, 2010
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Send Instant Messages between an iPhone and a Blackberry using WhatsApp

While the iPhone is great at many things, one area where the Blackberry shines for a general consumer is Instant Messaging. I know that in the UAE, the Blackberry Messenger is the biggest reason why the phone is so popular with the younger generation. In fact, the whole social aspect is catching up so well that Etisalat, one of the local ISPs, created a special package for Blackberry users called Gen Y-Not that give unlimited local access to not only Blackberry Messenger but also Facebook and a bunch of other IM services like Yahoo! Messenger and ICQ.

I constantly switch between the iPhone and Blackberry. Generally, when I’m traveling, I take the Blackberry with me because of its unlimited data package and excellent battery life (I have the 9700- courtesy of RIM) but when I’m back home, I switch to the iPhone because I love its interface and the apps- especially some of the ones available by Jail-breaking it, such as Lock Info. When I do switch over to the iPhone, I miss the blinking LED on my Blackberry and the “Ta-ting” sound made by Blackberry Messenger.

The iPhone does not have a native Apple instant messaging app but there are a couple of apps present in the App Store that allow you a somewhat ok IM’ing experience. You have applications like BeeJive and IM+ that connect to many of the popular IM services like MSN, Yahoo and ICQ but when I’m on my phone, I actually prefer a phone-to-phone IM service as the person on the other end with a laptop or desktop can get carried away. The iPhone and blackberry keyboards are great but I cannot imagine pounding at them continuously for more than three minutes. Luckily, there are a couple of good phone-to-phone IMing apps for the iPhone such as Ping! and WhatsApp- one that I use and recommend to my friends with an iPhone.

Now, like I’m divided between the iPhone and the Blackberry, so are many of my friends and family- quite a few of them carry a Blackberry while some have the iPhone. The Blackberry crowd is generally stuck chatting on the Blackberry Messenger while the iPhone guys use WhatsApp. Luckily WhatsApp just got released for the Blackberry. Sorry, it was available for Blackberry for some time now but only on the Blackberry AppWorld which is restricted to a handful of countries. Thankfully, WhatsApp Inc. realized this (probably with the annoying number of tweets they were getting) and have released WhatsApp as a paid download (http://www.whatsapp.com/ota) for just $2.00 to everybody anywhere in the world.

I downloaded the application on my Blackberry and although it takes a while to start-up, it works and I was able to communicate with my friends on the iPhone. Unfortunately, the Blackberry client is nowhere near as polished as the iPhone client. At its current stage, you can communicate through text but there is no option to attach pictures or other types of media which is possible on the iPhone version. Group chat does not exist in either the iPhone or the Blackberry version so BBM users that use group chat will have no reason to switch to WhatsApp unless they want to send a message to their iPhone carrying friends.

However, this is a step in the right direction for cross-platform mobile chatting. Yes, SMS has existed since forever but it costs to send each SMS and you may argue that one can easily setup a Yahoo or MSN account and use many other applications, but I feel that all those apps have been created with a computer user in mind and not a mobile user. For example, you cannot create an IM account for MSN or Yahoo using BeeJive on the iPhone or a GoogleTalk account using the Blackberry Application. You have to go to their relevant website and create an account first. Not so with Blackberry Messenger or WhatsApp where you account is created with your device.

I think WhatsApp has its work cut out for it. It needs to improve the Blackberry client fast and continue improving their iPhone client as well before Apple decides to release a native one for iPhone OS.


About

Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of tbreak.com and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

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