WhatsApp at BlackBerry? For one thing, BBM's now free

More chat than Alan Partridge

BlackBerry has abandoned the freemium model it tried to build around its pioneering chat client BBM, and is making all of its goodies available for free, including secure encrypted chat.

The company previously charged a subscription for being able to retract and delete messages after a period of time, giving users three of each free until a sub was required. The company will continue to charge for custom BBM PINs (aka user names) and stickies.

BBM is available on iOS, Android phone and wearable platforms, Windows phone, and, of course, BlackBerry's legacy BB10 OS. The iOS and Android versions have been given a makeover and a bunch of improvements, including support for Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

BlackBerry Messenger is a great lost opportunity for the company formerly known as RIM. Invented by a small team led by Gary Klassen in 2005, BBM offered a social network for BlackBerry users. But RIM declined to take it cross-platform for years.

As BlackBerry device sales fell, BBM became the model for many copy cats including WhatApp and SnapChat, but only worked on BlackBerry phones until September 2013. But by then, privacy-busting clones had stolen the market for over-the-top chat and voice. When Facebook paid $19bn in February 2014 for WhatsApp, the tiny outfit had 310m users and was adding a 1m a day. It now has over a billion. Facebook was paying $45 per user for their address book (Facebook snaffles your contacts book whether you agree to it or not).

Klassen left BlackBerry earlier this year.

The consumer BBM is one of five messaging businesses at BlackBerry - the other four are enterprise-grade chat clients, and almost all are the result of acquisitions. One is BBM Protected which can be extended to create secure chats with individuals and groups outside the organisation and supports archiving. SecuSUITE handles secure voice (for Chancellor Merkel, amongst others) and secure SMS. Last July the company acquired crisis squawker AtHoc, used by emergency services. While the acquisition of Good Technology added another bunch of chat, secure IM for Lync and Jabber is part of Good’s Secure EMM productivity suite.

Both consumer BBM and BBM Protected work on desktop Windows and Macs via BlackBerry Blend, but only if the user has a BB10 device. There’s no word of a BBM Blend for the Android-based BlackBerry Priv. ®

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