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RIM Releases BlackBerry Messenger 5.0

The smartphone maker's messaging service adds multiple social networking features and threaded SMS.

Research In Motion released Thursday the latest version of its BlackBerry Messenger service, which adds improved collaboration, personalization, and multimedia features.

The service is essentially a BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry instant messaging program that is routed through RIM's servers, and the 5.0 version takes a few cues from social networks such as Facebook, by allowing users to add avatars. These user images can be integrated with the phone book; picture IDs will be associated with the contact list. The IM program can also integrate SMS messages into threaded conversations with other BlackBerry Messenger users.

The latest version of the service adds collaboration features by enhancing the ability to chat with groups. Group members can send messages, task notes, voice messages, calendars, and photos with multiple BlackBerry users at once.

BlackBerry Messenger 5.0 enables users to share pictures, videos, and audio files up 6 MB. Users have been able to add new contacts via e-mail and name, but the latest version also lets users add new contacts or join new groups by barcode scanning.

The consumer-focused elements of the latest BlackBerry Messenger is another sign that RIM is gaining traction in the mainstream. The company has released multiple consumer-friendly devices such as the BlackBerry Flip and Storm, and it has launched a social network and "lifestyle" apps from TiVo and MySpace.

The mainstream overtures appear to be paying off because the BlackBerry maker said more than 80% of its new subscribers last quarter were non-enterprise users. The latest BlackBerry Messenger is available for free from BlackBerry App World, or can be downloaded to handsets over-the-air from RIM's Web site. BlackBerry Messenger 5.0 is only compatible with handsets using the 4.5 BlackBerry operating system or higher.


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