BlackBerry opens up BlackBerry Messenger, unveils Q5, cheaper phone

A Research In Motion BlackBerry device is shown

A Research In Motion BlackBerry device is shown in Chicago. (Oct. 12, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. - Research In Motion unveiled a lower-cost BlackBerry aimed at consumers in emerging markets on Tuesday, and said it will offer its once-popular BlackBerry Messenger service on iPhones and devices running Google's Android software.

CEO Thorsten Heins said the time is right to offer BBM on rival devices. He said iPhone and Android versions will be available for free, subject to approval by Google Play and the Apple App Store.

"It's time to bring BBM to a greater audience," Heins said. "I cannot wait for the day when all of our BlackBerry fans can send BBM invites to all their friends on other platforms. They have asked us for this for years."


PHOTOS: The best iPhone 5 alternatives | BlackBerry Z10, Q10 launch | BlackBerry 10 features unveiled
MORE: BlackBerry Yahoo app, avatars shutting down


BlackBerry shares fell the most in more than a month after its BBM announcement, a move that loosens the company’s grip on one of its most valuable services.

The stock dropped as much as 6 percent, the biggest intraday decline since April 11. Shares of the Waterloo, Ontario-based company had climbed 34 percent this year through Monday, fueled by optimism over the company’s comeback plan.  

The BBM service was once a reason for BlackBerry users not to defect to other smartphones. Now, there are many rival messaging services.

The move is a gamble for the smartphone marker, said Steven Li, an analyst at Raymond James in Toronto. While it increases the reach of the service, which has more than 60 million users, it’s not clear how BlackBerry will make money.

They are losing exclusivity, but counting on the fact that the BBM experience is much better than any of the other messaging apps,” said Li, who has a neutral rating on BlackBerry. “I’m still not sure how they monetize it.”

BBM will be available as a text-only application for the competing smartphones in the next few months, before a voice feature is added, Heins said Tuesday at the company’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida. 

Heins said the lower-cost Q5 device will be available in selected markets this summer The gadget is part of RIM's effort to regain market share lost to Apple's iPhone and Android smartphones. It is the company's third smartphone to run the new BlackBerry 10 system. The Q5 will have a physical keyboard, something that sets RIM's devices apart from Apple's iPhone and most Android phones.

Heins said the "slim, sleek" device will be available in red, black, white and pink. He announced the phone to a packed ballroom to open RIM's annual three-day conference in Orlando, Fla.

RIM unveiled new BlackBerrys this year after delays allowed Apple and others to dominate.

Heins, who became RIM's CEO in January 2012, said the company has made a lot of progress in a short period of time, by moving a diverse collection of people into leadership positions.

He restated BlackBerry's committed to "mobile first" and took a subtle jab at industry predictions that he might not make it to this year's conference as CEO because of the competitive mobile landscape.

"I'm happy to say they were wrong," Heins said. "We are not only still here. We are firing on all cylinders as a company."

RIM's iconic BlackBerry device, introduced in 1999, was the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and consumers before the iPhone debuted in 2007. The device showed that phones could handle much more than email and calls.

Though RIM continues to do well in many overseas markets, the company faced numerous delays modernizing its operating system in an effort to compete with the iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android operating system.

RIM's stock fell 30 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $15.58 in morning trading Tuesday.

Heins said that RIM is "definitely in the race" and that he is excited about its outlook.

"The most successful year for BlackBerry is well under way," he said.

Grammy Award-winning singer Alicia Keys, who was named BlackBerry's global creative director in January, announced the company's new BlackBerry Scholars Program. The new initiative will begin this year and provide scholarships in science-based studies for students around the globe.

"I was inspired. I wanted to take this journey with BlackBerry," Keys said.

The scholarship program hopes to attract women, who Keys said make up more than half of mobile users.

"It's the beginning for a powerful network of women and a profound change in our culture," she said.

Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners, said offering BBM on rival platforms is a good move because closed ecosystems don't work anymore. He said the company was forced to do it but said it might be too late.

"BBM is a communication network and it's only as powerful as people who are on it," Gillis said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday