BlackBerry BBM Privacy Tools Are Now Free

Struggling smartphone maker BlackBerry is offering two of its BBM privacy features for free, and is gearing up its latest update with a few extra features.
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BlackBerry is offering two of its BBM privacy features for free, where it previously offered them at an additional fee as part of the BBM subscription, the company announced Monday.

Retract and Timer are part of this latest BBM update, which provides users with free, unlimited access to the tools. The update also includes a few other bells and whistles, but whether this BBM update will retain the app's existing users and attract new ones we'll find out.

BlackBerry, which saw its revenue plunge 35.3% in fiscal 2016 to $2.16 billion from the previous year, posted a steep drop in the sales of its phones in the fourth quarter. The handset maker sold only 600,000 units, down from 700,000 in the previous quarter. To add to its woes, the popular WhatsApp announced in February that it would discontinue supporting all BlackBerry platforms by the end of the year. 

"I see the primary benefit going to retaining existing users that now have access to BBM across OS platforms," John Jackson, IDC research vice president of mobile and connected platforms, told InformationWeek in an interview.

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Retract allows users to remove individual messages and pictures after they've been sent, deleting them from both the user's and recipient's devices.

Timer is similar to Snapchat in that it allows users to temporarily share messages, pictures, and location information. Under this feature, a user would designate the amount of time the information could be shared with the recipient.

He added that BlackBerry and other platforms face the challenge of differentiating themselves on the basis of unique features, which over time continue to erode. In this instance, Jackson said he believes BlackBerry is doing what it can to retain existing users and "add" competitive features, possibly with a view to expanding the network.

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In addition to offering Retract and Timer as a free service, BlackBerry also added a few more features in the update that would work across the iOS, Android, and BlackBerry 10 platforms.

Under the changes made in the update, BBM users will also have access to Private Chat, which removes names and avatars from the chat window. The update will also include Edit, a feature that is designed to allow users to edit messages that have been sent.

The update also provides a means for users to forward messages from one chat conversation to another user.

In addressing the BBM platform through another viewfinder, Jackson drew some observations based on last week's Microsoft Build conference, noting that the Redmond giant announced a "conversation as a platform."

"It's another step toward establishing control points for cognitive computing. It's certainly a cloud battle (with regards to) where compute happens, but control of the edge -- be it with a messaging app, voice input, a social network, a work 'graph,' or preferably several of the above -- is essential," Jackson said. "For BlackBerry, in this context, BBM is a platform worth going to the mat for."

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