BlackBerry Messenger 7 App With Free Voice Calls in Beta

RIM BlackBerry OS 6 and OS 7 users can now download a free BlackBerry Messenger 7 app that enables free voice calling in BBM over WiFi.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has improved on one of its most-loved offerings with a BlackBerry Messenger 7 with BBM Voice. The feature enables BBM users—about 60 million people—to place free voice calls over a WiFi connection to other BBM users.

A split-screen feature makes it possible to talk and text at the same time, as well as to use BBM Voice and check apps at the same time, check other BBM conversations or send a photo to a contact while on BBM Voice with them. As with earlier BBM versions, users can also instantly communicate with contacts and see when messages have been delivered and read.

"The new BBM Voice feature is for when you're travelling and you want to call home without worrying about phone charges. It's for when you have news you can't wait to share, for quickly explaining complicated details, and collaborating with colleagues," T.A. McCann, vice president of BBM and Social Communities at RIM, said in a Nov. 13 statement. "Whenever your ideas are too big for text, there's BBM Voice."

BBM 7 with BBM Voice is now available in the Beta Zone as a free download for BlackBerry devices running the BlackBerry 6 OS or higher. At a "future date" RIM will offer a version for phones running BlackBerry 5.

In recent months, RIM has been doing the uphill work of trying to sell handsets running BlackBerry 7—which even months ago one analyst called "long in the tooth"—as it works on its BlackBerry 10 platform. Now twice delayed, the platform and the new-and-improved smartphones that will run it are the company's big hope for reversing its dwindling fortunes.

RIM was once a smartphone market leader and the enterprise gold standard, but in recent years Apple and Samsung have ravaged RIM's market share. Even businesses in regulated markets—feeling pressure from mobile users who are frustrated or reportedly even embarrassed by aging BlackBerry handsets—are beginning to support a mix of devices. Such a scenario—like the Pentagon opening its doors to the iPhone—would have been unthinkable during RIM's glory days.

During the third quarter, RIM shipped 8.9 million smartphones, giving its OS a 5.3 percent share of the market, down from 11 percent the year before, Gartner reported Nov. 14.

Still, during RIM's fiscal 2013 second quarter, it added 2 million subscribers to its user base, most of them in developing regions and most of them with a keen interest in BBM.

When asked about the new users during a Sept. 27 earnings call, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told analysts, "It's amazing, when you go into these countries and you see how BBM is just kicking it. I mean, it's everywhere. As a strong value proposition on BlackBerry 7 with BBM, the compression that BBM still provides on those 2G or 3G networks, and the associated [lowered] roaming cost for the BlackBerry user—it's a very, very strong package."

During an August interview, Heins had similarly described RIM being embedded in the social fabric of some regions. "Every cab in Jakarta has a BBM pin on the door," he told The Telegraph.

RIM will release BlackBerry 10 Jan. 30, 2013, it announced earlier this week, creating a finish line for BlackBerry users and employees alike.

"Our team has been working tirelessly to bring our customers innovative features, combined with a best-in-class browser, a rich application ecosystem and cutting-edge multimedia capabilities," Heins said in a Nov. 12 statement. "All of this will be integrated into a user experience—the BlackBerry Flow—that is unlike any smartphone on the market today."

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