BlackBerry Messenger gets vocal with new beta feature

BlackBerry Messenger gets vocal with new beta feature

Summary: With BBM's free messaging functionality no longer a unique selling point for the BlackBerry platform, RIM has decided to bake in a Skype-like voice feature. However, it will only work over Wi-Fi.

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BlackBerry Messenger, the Research In Motion app that used to give its platform a unique edge, is about to gain a key new feature: voice.

RIM announced the BBM Voice feature on Wednesday, saying it will offer business customers "enriched collaboration" functionality. However, the free voice-calling tool will only work over Wi-Fi.

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The feature is available in beta form now for devices running BlackBerry 6 OS or higher, and RIM says it plans to support devices on BlackBerry 5 OS "at a later date".

According to the company, this is only the start of an ongoing revamp for BBM.

"With today's announcement, we're expanding the capabilities of the service for deeper social engagement and even greater collaboration, beginning with voice functionality," RIM BBM chief TA McCann said in a statement.

"The new BBM Voice feature is for when you're travelling and you want to call home without worrying about phone charges."

BBM is a key feature of the BlackBerry platform and has been crucial to its uptake by consumers, particularly teenagers. However, these days it is only one of many free messaging tools available to smartphone users, with rivals including Apple's iMessage and the increasingly ubiquitous WhatsApp.

The new functionality takes RIM up against other rivals such as Skype, whose trajectory has been the opposite to that of BBM: it started out as a voice-centric platform, but is increasingly being steered by owner Microsoft into instant messaging territory.

BlackBerry users who get to try out BBM Voice will be able to switch back and forth between text chats and voice calls — a split-screen feature will support both activities at once. People will also be able to reject calls and quickly respond by text, if they are in a meeting.

Those wishing to try out BBM Voice can sign up via the BlackBerry Beta Zone.

Topics: BlackBerry, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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2 comments
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  • Video chat

    I though they already announce video conferencing through BBM.
    Susan Antony
  • Video Conferencing app on BBM

    You are right, they already announced BBM Video chat for blackberry 10. but this BBM voice will be for their BB OS 6 and 7 devices and they will also be supporting BB OS 5 later on.

    this app is BBM7

    Blackberry 10 will have BBM10 which includes but not limited to BBM Voice, BBM Video Chat, BBM Text and many other collaboration tools for work and play.
    newvideosource