Heins saved the most significant announcement of the day until the very end of the keynote: BlackBerry is bringing its proprietary messaging platform, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), to Android and iOS devices. This is a monumental shift in strategy for BlackBerry, which has long kept BBM to itself and used it as a selling point for its devices and services.
BBM uses carrier data networks to pass secure messages back and forth through its servers to other BlackBerry users. The service recently gained the ability to make phone calls, conduct video chats and even share screen tops with other BBM users (requires BlackBerry 10). Normal chat and group chats will be the first features to hit the Android and iOS BBM apps, followed by the others (including voice and video) during the course of the year. BBM for Android and iOS will be free.
[ BlackBerry's latest device gets high marks. Read BlackBerry Q10: The QWERTY Phone To Beat. ]
In addition to porting BBM to other platforms, BlackBerry announced BBM Channels, a new way for companies and brands to reach fans and followers. It is a social network that operates similarly to Twitter in that BBM users can follow the brands they like and view posts and content in a sequential stream. Regular BBM users can create their own channels and share with multiple people at once. This feature will come to Android and iOS devices, too.
BlackBerry also announced a new smartphone, called the Q5. The Q5 stems from the older Curve line and is a mid-range device aimed at emerging markets. BlackBerry didn't share too many features of the device, but it has a physical QWERTY keyboard, a 3.1-inch touchscreen (720 x 720 pixel LCD), camera, and 3G/Wi-Fi. This device will likely not be available in the U.S. It launches in Europe, Asia, India and Latin America later this year. Pricing was not released.
The company talked up BlackBerry OS 10.1. This minor update brings changes to the Hub, notifications and the camera, and makes BB10 devices compatible with Skype. BlackBerry is releasing the new operating system to the Z10 today, though exact availability will vary by region. It won't reach U.S. users until the end of the month. At the same time, BlackBerry released a full version of Skype for BB10 today (it was previously available as a preview). BlackBerry also made available BES 10.1 (free for a limited time), which reflects the changes in the base operating system.
Speaking of U.S. availability, Sprint, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless all said that the BlackBerry Q10 will be available soon. Both T-Mobile and Verizon said it would be in store shelves by June, but Sprint won't stock the Q10 until late summer. T-Mobile is the only carrier that mentioned a price: a down payment of $119, followed by 24 monthly payments.
One of the success points noted by Heins during his keynote was an update on the number of apps in the BlackBerry World Store. The company now has 120,000 apps available to BlackBerry smartphones. That's gaining on the 145,000 offered by Microsoft to Windows Phone devices. BlackBerry has done well in scoring developer support for BB10 so far, though it lags the 1.5 billion apps offered by Apple and Google combined.
In all, a positive collection of news bits from the BlackBerry maker, although the company still faces an uphill challenge against incumbents Android and iPhone.
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