BlackBerry will bring BBM to Apple, Android; introduces cheaper Q5 phone


Thorsten Heins, chief executive officer of BlackBerry, speaks during the launch of the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone in Sydney, Australia, on Monday, March 18, 2013. (Brendon Thorne/BLOOMBERG)

BlackBerry, with an eye on making a bigger footprint in the mobile space, announced that its popular messaging system, BlackBerry Messenger, will soon be available on competitors’ platforms.

BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, will be coming to phones that support Apple’s iOS 6 platform and Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich. BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins said that the BBM apps for those platforms will come this summer and will be available for free.

The company made the announcement Monday at a major developers’ conference in Orlando, Fla., where chief executive Heins touted the company's products to convince developers to stay with BlackBerry as it tries to make a comeback.

Heins focused on how quickly the company’s application store has grown since it introduced its new phones earlier this year; the store now offers more than 120,000 apps, he said. After critics complained that a dearth of apps had been hurting BlackBerry’s phone sales, the company has pushed to get top developers in the store. The 120,000 number still falls far behind Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play app marketplace, which both boast around 500,000 apps. Yet while some notable apps, such as Instagram, are still not compatible with the BlackBerry platform, the company has been making some headway in attracting major app players. Heins announced that Skype will be now be available for the company’s all-touch smartphone, the Z10.

The Z10, which launched domestically in March, will get access to a new version of the company’s smartphone platform, BlackBerry 10.1. This version includes support for more personalized notifications, a high-definition camera mode and PIN-to-PIN messaging, among other features. It will come pre-installed on the company’s upcoming Q10 phone, which will go on sale in the United States next month.

BlackBerry made another announcement at the conference, introducing a new smartphone for emerging markets. While no price was specified, the new Q5 is expected to cost less than the premium Z10 and Q10 smartphones. The new phone is aimed at consumers in BlackBerry’s most successful markets to try to stem the subscriber losses the company has reported for the past two quarters.

The Q5 isn’t as advanced as the company’s more expensive smartphones, but will have many of the core features BlackBerry 10. These include the ability to share what’s on the screen with other users and advanced camera features such as Time Shift, which lets users create better portraits by combining multiple snapshots from the phone’s camera. The phone, which comes in four colors, sports BlackBerry’s signature keyboard and a 3.1-inch touchscreen. It will launch in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America starting in July.

Heins also said that the company is interested in bringing its software platform into a number of other devices — including connected vehicles. Cars are a logical place for BlackBerry 10’s platform, which is built on an operating system from QNX, a major presence in the connected-vehicle market. Onstage Tuesday, QNX showed off a prototype Bentley that is integrated with BlackBerry 10 and lets drivers access features such as video conferencing.

“Our vision is that any device that is connected ... can be part of the BlackBerry 10 environment,” Heins said in his keynote Tuesday morning.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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