Could Twitter become the iPhone's BBM?

<img src="/sites/" alt="Could Twitter become the iPhone's BBM?" title=Could Twitter become the iPhone's BBM?" width="266" height="400" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-44980" />

BBM is one of the most compelling aspects of the BlackBerry experience -- could Apple be set to bring their own instant messaging service to iOS... via Twitter? MG Siegler said yesterday that Apple was going to be including Twitter image posting in iOS 5 and John Gruber added that the integration could be much broader, and at the system level. Then Siegler fired back:

While Anil Dash wonders if Apple could make their own Twitter, I just think it would be great if Apple would create (or buy) any type of messaging services that bypasses SMS. It’s such a colossal rip off. And out of date. And it continues to empower the carriers.

There’s a reason why BBM took off. Apple could make it work device-to-device as well. I’m thinking we need a FaceTime without the “Face”.

The big problem with BBM is that, so far, it's locked to the BlackBerry platform. Twitter is cross platform. Sure, it's still proprietary, like Whatsapp, Kik, and other BBM alternatives, but the user base is huge. Dieter and I spoke about this, and there are still a lot of questions, of course. Twitter has had problems with scaling and being the BBM of iOS would be a lot of scale. Could Apple's Data Center help with that? Also, Twitter doesn't currently have group messages. Would they need them? Would partnering with Apple help Twitter bring those features to market faster? Would it then roll out across other platforms, paving the way for a real, universal communications protocol?

So yeah, there are a lot of questions, but as Siegler points out, Twitter is free, while SMS isn't. That makes for a rather elegant end run around carriers and their obscene SMS prices.

Apple has relied on Google for Maps, YouTube, and search in the past. Could they rely on Twitter for text communications in the future? Would you want them to?

[Paris Lemon]

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

Apple’s new data center magically appears on Google Earth and Maps

Next up →

BodyGuardz Armor Carbon Fiber for iPad 2 - accessory review

Reader comments

Could Twitter become the iPhone's BBM?


Apple needs to bring iChat to iOS. The backend will be run by iCloud. I needs to have all the advantages of iChat (AIM, Jabber support) but give the best experience when it is iOS to iOS. iChat for iOS also must run on iPad.

I would really like to see that too and have it to where it connects to Gtalk also. But alas...we are living in a dream.

I'm guessing one of the deals with the carriers has barred Apple from putting iChat on the iPhone. It would interfere with their SMS gouging.
It's not like iChat doesn't make sense, and it's not like it's a complicated app to create. Has to be something keeping it from arriving.

Really? At this point in the game, I would think that Apple could do whatever the hell it wants and carriers would have no choice but to comply, Apple brings in a lot of money for anyone related to the devices...

Doesn't Google Voice already provide for an SMS work-around? I've been using GV for about a year first on my Palm Pre and now on my Thunderbolt...and also as an extension on chrome. Haven't paid for a text message since. I realize it has drawbacks, such as no support for MMS, but I am sure that will come in time.

Less about SMS workaround as there's a ton of apps for that. Guessing the writer is looking for a more cost and base effective communication form and suggests Twitter could be to iPhone user what BBM is to blackberry users

"Could Twitter become the iPhone’s BBM?"
No, and Twitter doesn't intend to do so.
I can't understand why MG Siegler can compare BBM with Twitter, is like comparing email with iChat

BBM is the only thing holding back my friends from using an iPhone. Sure, whatsapp, ping!, kik and the rest are nice, but not quite there yet. A native solution would be very nice, alas, it has to be private and encrypted (Something my friends say they require as BBM already has those features). Plus the *%#$@ annoying sent and read receipts. Let's just see what happens come WWDC.

Sounds great! Except I see one major flaw. 160 character limit. I don't think I've sent a text under 160 characters since I got an iPhone except "ok"

This would fail for so many reasons...
Twitter has a character limit. How would this be better than texting? Also, group messaging is a must. With BBM you can send files, not just show them. Plus, how would it deal with multiple twitter accounts? And twitter is still published publicly.
This would suck on so many levels, I don't know how people are even considering it a possibility. It's laughable.

My family has the $30 ATT family plan for txt messaging. A single is $10. Do you REALLY think ATT / Verizon will allow something to kill off that cash cow? Remember how long it took ATT to "allow" tethering? And then slapped a charge on it, so you have to pay twice for the same data? Txt messaging is a gold mine for these people, and they will not let go of that without a fight. I know you don't have to have txt for BBM on a berry, but you DO have to pay for a data package. They will find a way....

All you iPhone users wish you had BBM. SAD.
Just get a blackberry. I switched from iPhone to BB and I'm never going back.
I love my iPad though :)

The carriers have been fighting iChat from day one, protecting their billion-dollar-pure-profit SMS business. But Apple is the one company that would buck that trend in the interest of its customers. Because face it, we all love Apple and just deal with (or despise) our carriers. SMS cost carriers basically nothing and they charge astronomical amounts to use it. But all it takes is some rogue lawmaker to defy his lobbying constituents and launch a probe (and AT&T is already facing a lawsuit for exorbitant data cost) OR Apple to give the carriers the middle finger and launch iChat and just sell them subscriber growth and a nominal monthly fee. Heck, even if its $5/mo. for unlimited I'd pay. And considering FaceTime being an open standard really doesn't mean much because no one uses it but Apple, they minds well go all the way proprietary and bundle that with iChat and make it mirror the Mac experience!

Oh yeah, because Apple good to its customers and ready to fight carriers over our interests, after all it "only" took four years for the iPhone to get to Verizon.

Another proprietary single platform messaging service is just what I don't want. Not all my friends have iPhones, sorry Apple.
I wish SMS would go away already. Probably the most hated thing I pay for each month because there is no reason to be paying for it. I have been able to slowly convert my friends as they get new smart phones and I point out that they shouldn't be complaining about their data plans but their texting plans because they could be doing it for free.

I already use Twitter as SMS replacement with my friends in Japan as most Japanese mobile phones don't have SMS, plus it costs a fortune to text a Japanese mobile. Twitter works perfectly. You can protect your tweets or use DM if you want privacy and anybody with a device that can access Twitter (mobile phone, Mac, PC, whatever) can participate in the conversation.

i've wondered since the 1st gen iphone why apple hasn't included an ichat app on the iphone... seems so trivial that they should already have it...

I'd like to see ichat but as an open standard most of my friends have blackberries so a propietary ichat would be null for me as for twitter it would be nice if it makes the right deal with apple and overcomes its limitations

I don't think I'd really want all of my conversations that I don't specifically mark as private to be cataloged by the Library of Congress.

Hmm... I wonder if there's a coincidence between all of these Apple/Twitter rumors flying (about the picture integration specifically) and with Twitter's just-announced photo sharing feature. Hmm...

Twitter is the exact opposite of secure communication. Right now, anyway.
But just imagine if Apple and Twitter have developed point-to-point tweeting. Encrypted, short messages directly from one user to another. Free.
Or how about tweet-lists for people working together on a project? Your tweets would be published and only the people in the group will see them. Secure. Free.

If you want any privacy or security in your communications, whether personal or proffessional, Twitter is absolutely not an all. Period.

Coming soon to iPhone and Android will be a version of BBM, no details other than it will be cross-platform so: Why worry, be happy.......

blackberry and google need to merge together and produce a phone. an android powered device with bbm would be bloody unstoppable! it'll totally wipe out the iphones market share.

They'd needn't make quite a few fundamental changes to how Twitter works. Character limits, security, etc... I'd love it, but I think they'll just be aiming for Twitter intergration, not a BBM alternative.

Twitter is (popular) garbage -- a gimmick.
Please, let's not all welcome the tyranny of a proprietary platform built upon an entirely arbitrary limitation (140 characters) and various throwback hacks (hash tags, @people, fragile web-breaking link shorteners) to work around this limitation as any kind of technological advancement.
And don't forget Twitter eventually will need to turn a profit (or die), so keep your eyes open for more ad's and fees in the future.

No! it cant.. they arent the same thing.. Apple should just make iChat, duplicate the BBM functionality with an Apple feel and call it a day.. but as we all know, Apple doesn't do things others do just to compete.. they want to do their own thing that sets them appart. However it would be nice if they did this one thing