Research In Motion (RIMM) will unveil the finished version of its next-generation smartphone platform next year on January 30th. While BlackBerry 10 is considered by many to be RIM’s big chance at a comeback, a number of industry watchers think the new BlackBerry operating system doesn’t stand a chance in a market dominated by Android and iOS. BlackBerry 10 indeed looks like a breath of fresh air compared to RIM’s current mobile OS, but like Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone platform, we have yet to see any compelling differentiation that might appeal to the mass market. With its latest BlackBerry Messenger update, however, RIM is showing that it may in fact be ready to innovate and put up a fight when BlackBerry 10 hits the market early next year.
RIM this week unveiled a new beta version of its popular BlackBerry Messenger service that adds an exciting new feature: Free voice calling.
BBM had been a clear advantage for RIM’s BlackBerry platform until cross-platform options like WhatsApp and rival offerings like Apple’s (AAPL) iMessage hit the market and offered alternatives. What had once disrupted the mobile industry was now the norm, and BBM was no longer a point of differentiation.
In version 7, RIM has added a voice calling feature that will allow BBM users to speak to each other for free when connected to Wi-Fi networks. While similar third-party solutions like Viber exist and extend the free calling feature to cellular data connections, an integrated solution that will eventually be baked right into the BlackBerry OS offers clear advantages over third-party options. It also can be counted as an advantage for RIM’s platform over Android and iOS, at least until RIM’s rivals begin to roll out similar solutions.
BlackBerry Messenger 7 beta is available immediately for free to users with BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 7 smartphones. RIM’s press release follows below.
BBM Now Lets You Have Voice Chats for Free Over Wi-Fi
November 13, 2012
WATERLOO, ON – For the times when you want to hear a friend’s laughter instead of reading LOL, BlackBerry® Messenger (BBM™) is taking the social networking experience to a whole new level with an exciting new feature called BBM Voice. Research In Motion (RIM) (NASDAQ: RIMM; TSX: RIM) today announced BBM version 7, a free update for the globally popular mobile social network, which will allow customers to make free voice calls to other BBM customers around the world over a Wi-Fi® connection*.
BBM is a fast, convenient and inexpensive service for BlackBerry® customers that gives them the ability to instantly chat with a friend, family member or colleague, and know when their message has been delivered, and read. With the new version of BBM, customers have a new option – they can talk with their BBM contact across the globe for free over a Wi-Fi connection. In an instant, customers can switch between texting and talking, or talk and text at the same time. For consumers, especially in developing markets, the BBM Voice feature offers an attractive way to talk with friends and family near and far, and staying in contact will be easier than ever as the holiday season approaches. For business customers, BBM Voice allows for enriched collaboration.
“BBM is the quick, easy way to stay connected to the people that matter to you, and with today’s announcement we’re expanding the capabilities of the service for deeper social engagement and even greater collaboration, beginning with voice functionality,” said T.A. McCann, Vice President of BBM and Social Communities at RIM. “The new BBM Voice feature is for when you’re travelling and you want to call home without worrying about phone charges. It’s for when you have news you can’t wait to share, for quickly explaining complicated details, and collaborating with colleagues. Whenever your ideas are too big for text, there’s BBM Voice.”
BBM Voice includes a number of convenient features.
Customers can initiate a BBM Voice call directly, or instantly switch from a BBM text chat to talk, and back again.
The split-screen feature allows customers to talk and text at the same time, so for example, they can send a picture to their contact while talking with them. They can also check other BBM text chats, check email, or navigate to other apps while engaged on a BBM Voice call.
BBM provides a visual indicator that shows when contacts are available for a voice call.
BBM Voice is compatible with any accessories a customer has now for making voice calls on their BlackBerry smartphone, such as a Bluetooth® or wired headset. Customers can also use BBM Voice over their BlackBerry smartphone’s speakerphone.
If it’s not an ideal time to talk, customers can simply choose to respond by texting back.
Another important feature of BBM version 7 is its integration with a customer’s BlackBerry ID, which is designed to back up their BBM profile, groups and contacts so they can automatically be restored in the event they switch to a new BlackBerry smartphone, including to a BlackBerry® 10 device.
BBM version 7 with the new BBM Voice feature is currently available in Beta for BlackBerry smartphones running the BlackBerry® 6 OS or higher with support planned for smartphones running the BlackBerry 5 OS at a future date. The Beta can be downloaded for free from BlackBerry Beta Zone**. Customers can sign up to BlackBerry Beta Zone for free at http://www.BlackBerry.com/betazone.
For more information about BBM, please visit http://www.blackberry.com/bbm.
* BBM requires a BlackBerry service plan. The BBM Voice feature requires a Wi-Fi connection with access to the Internet and may not be available in all markets.
** BlackBerry Beta Zone is not available in all markets.