Research in Motion (RIMM) updated its BlackBerry Messenger to version 7 on Monday, adding a new key feature called “BBM Voice” that “will allow customers to make free voice calls to their BBM contacts around the world over a Wi-Fi connection.” BBM 7 also introduces multitasking with split-screen, which allows users to BBM, check email, or use other apps while on a BBM Voice call; new compatibility with Bluetooth headsets and accessories, 16 new emoticons; direct BBM Update Notification that provides in-app alerts when new versions of an app are available and an easier way to synchronize BBM profiles; Groups; and Contacts with BBIDs for simpler backup and restores. BBM 7 is available as a free update for all BlackBerry smartphones running BlackBerry 6 OS or higher. Users on BlackBerry OS 5 will get BBM Voice “early next year.”

“BBM began as a convenient and effective business messaging tool, and today it is an essential part of daily communications for customers around the world,” said T.A. McCann, RIM’s Vice President of BBM and Social Communities. “Now, with BBM version 7, customers have a new option: they can text and talk with their BBM contacts near and far, for free.”

Raymond Wong is a technology reporter with a passion for cutting-edge gadgets and clean design. He first realized his love for technology when he burned through so many AA batteries on the original Game Boy that scraping battery acid off it became the norm.