First Look: Beejive 3.0 for the iPhone

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Before we start review, there’s something I have to admit: I hate most mobile IM clients. We see a whole lot of phones go in and out of the MobileCrunch office, each generally toting its own crappy, broken instant messaging suite. Be they slow, flakey, or just outright terribly designed, we’ve grown to have a nearly unshakable bias against them.

With that in mind, know this: We love Beejive 3.0 on the iPhone.

As past reviews would indicate, I’ve been a fan of Beejive for a while. It wasn’t perfect – but it was one of the few IM clients I’d turn to on a regular basis. Its largest fault was the lack of background notifications (otherwise known as “Push notifications”), and as any good blog reader should know well by now, such limitations were due to Apple’s shortcomings.

Yesterday,iPhone OS 3.0 came along and swept all our background-notification-worries away. As we’d found out back in early June, Beejive has had their 3.0-friendly app ready to go for some time. It took a few days longer than expected for OS 3.0 to go live and for Beejive to get approved, but we’re told it should be live in the app store by the time this review goes up (if it hasn’t already).
Update: As of 12:10 PM on June 18th, it’s not available yet

Services:

Outside of Skype, Beejive supports most of the big IM services. As of 3.0, Beejive supports AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN/Windows Live, Myspace IM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Facebook IM. While platform limitations keep Beejive from running in the background on the iPhone, Beejive’s servers will keep you connected (and handle the background notifications) until you sign off. You can also set Beejive to automatically log you off if you’ve gone a certain length of time without opening up the app.

Background Notifications:

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For most users, IM clients are the key justification for background notifications. After all, it’s pretty tough to have a conversation with someone when you’ve got no idea whether or not they’ve said anything to you. You could keep your iPhone locked onto the IM app at all times, but that’s not how we’ve trained ourselves to use IM. On any PC client, we say something and then go do something else while we wait for that person to respond. It’s all very passive.

With background notifications flipped on, Beejive 3.0 now seems like a full-fledged alternative to IM’ing on the PC. Go ahead – do whatever else you want. Once the person responds, you’ll be alerted and offered a way to quickly jump to the conversation.

Notifications work well, arriving just a second or so after the message is sent. When a message arrives while Beejive isn’t in the foreground, a (surprisingly pleasant) sound plays and the notification window pops up, displaying the text of the last message you received. Back on the iPhone home screen, the Beejive app icon has a small badge that indicates how many messages are waiting for you.

Notifications are tweakable to some extent; while you can’t change that sound that plays, you can toggle the sound, badge icon, or the notification pop-up individually.

Meta contacts:
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Beginning a few years ago, most major IM clients began allowing for multiple accounts to be signed in simultaneously. As a result, a good chunk of people have a bunch of accounts for any given service, allowing them to separate their work buddies from their play buddies, or just keep their “HotLatinaQueen69″ screen name private outside of those lucky few who you knew before you realized what a terrible mistake the name was.

Presumably influenced by the much lauded contacts system of the Palm Pre, Beejive allows you to link multiple IM names to one buddy. Merged names come together into one listing called a “Meta contact”. Tie any accounts belonging to your split-screen-named friend into the one meta contact, then reorder the accounts within the contact to your liking. Next time you tap on the meta contact, Beejive will open a conversation with the first currently signed on account in the list.

Copy and Paste:
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Making use of iPhone OS 3.0′s other big-deal feature, Beejive 3.0 now ties in to the iPhone’s copy/paste system. Tap and hold a chat bubble to bring up the copy prompt. To paste, begin typing a message, tap and hold within the text input field, release, then hit “paste”. There’s no way to paste without typing at least one key to bring up the text input field, which leads to a few extra keystrokes/backspaces if you’re looking to paste only the copied text.

UI improvements:

Beejive 3.0 brings a bunch of UI improvements. Groups on the buddy list are now collapsable, allowing you to clean up the screen a bit by tucking away the contacts you’re not looking to chat with right now. The color scheme of the chat screens are now customizable, letting you tweak the colors of chat bubbles and change the wallpaper.

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Unfortunately, the only thing that we really took fault with was amongst these UI changes. In the primary buddy list window, each contact has a small arrow next to their name. You’re supposed to hit this arrow for meta contact linking, checking out profiles, blocking buddies.. all things that you aren’t doing a lot, but enough that you’d expect that little arrow button to work. It doesn’t. At least, not without a hell of a lot of effort. Its hit zone is entirely too small. If you miss the arrow button, you’ll instead tap the contact and begin a conversation. In our testing, we missed the button more than 3/4 of the time.

Update: Beejive just contacted us about this issue. If you’ve got big old paws and are having trouble with the made-for-babies arrow, you can just double tap on a contact to access the same screen. Not super intuitive, but definitely good to know.

Conclusion:

With support for just about every major IM protocol we ever find ourselves using alongside things like voice/image transfers, Beejive was already our IM client of choice on the iPhone. Background notifications really just sealed the deal, and anything else they’ve added was just frosting on the already delicious cake. Beejive for iPhone’s pricetag, generally varying between $9.99 and $16.99, may seem a bit steep – but it’s absolutely worth it for any regular IM user.

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