- The BlackBerry 10 launch event
After mulling the idea internally for several years, BlackBerry is opening its proprietary messaging system to iPhone and Android users this weekend. The free app eliminates what had been a compelling, exclusive draw for the company’s devices, but expands the reach of the service and creates an asset that in theory could be sold separately as BlackBerry considers its alternatives for the future.
BBM will be available Saturday for Android phones and Sunday for iPhones, the company said Wednesday. The plan to take BBM cross-platform was announced by BlackBerry Chief Executive Thorsten Heins four months ago, and the app was due to arrive this summer.
BlackBerry executives toyed with the idea of making BBM cross-platform as long as three years ago, according to people close to the company. A plan was in place in late 2011 to have carriers pay a fee to take BBM to customers using other phones, but was scrapped by Mr. Heins when he took over as CEO in early 2012, according to these people.
The concern was always that finding a bigger audience for the app could diminish incentives to buy the company’s phones.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that BlackBerry is considering spinning off the messaging service into a subsidiary called BBM Inc. that would operate with more independence, according to people familiar with the matter.
BBM currently has 60 million monthly active users, and the company claims users are much more likely to read and respond to BBMs than messages on competing services or text messages.
There are lots of those, however, and they are growing much faster than BBM. Popular rival WhatsApp, for instance, has more than 200 million users.
BlackBerry Channels, a Twitter-like service for companies and celebrities to host BBM pages and interact with customers and fans, won’t be available immediately. BlackBerry executives have signaled that selling ads on Channels is how it plans to earn revenue from BBM.
BBM Video and Voice calling, already available to BlackBerry users, will be available to iOS and Android users in a future version.