While BlackBerry users will miss e-mail and web browsing, the suspension of instant messaging is the move that is causing the greatest grief. BB Messenger lets subscribers send instant, free messages to up to 3,000 contacts, allowing them all to keep in touch wherever they are. Photos, videos, voice recordings and text messages can all be shared and sent to all the contacts instantaneously. Often, urgent messages such as appeals for blood donors and traffic warnings are broadcast around the network.
Users can customise their status, adding pictures, flags and icons as well as updates on their latest whereabouts and news. A contact is added through an eight-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) specific to each handset. The PIN helps in preserving some of the anonymity of the contacts. Memorable PINs are highly prized in the UAE, with some BlackBerry users paying as much as 20 times the retail price for a handset with a "better" PIN.
But the most important feature of BBM, for many users, is exactly the one that has brought about its downfall: privacy. No one, not even the Government or police, can currently monitor the encrypted messages, which are sent through secure servers outside the UAE. Any compromise that allows Research in Motion to continue providing BlackBerry services in the UAE seems certain to involve a diminution of that privacy. It remains to be seen whether that will rob the service of its appeal.