While RIM is focusing on the BlackBerry 10 OS launch, a new feature for BBM users is also ready to roll. Free voice calls between BBM users over Wi Fi will be available in Beta from today. Following in the footsteps of similar Android and iOS apps like Viber, this will help to save on voice minutes and costs, as long as a Wi Fi signal is used.
A few other tweaks to the current BBM 7.0 include the merging of a user’s BBM ID with their BlackBerry ID, linking all contacts and purchases under one ID. This offers the ability to switch back to their old OS if users are not happy with the new one. Those interested in seeing what the Beta version has to offer, will need a BlackBerry 6 or 7 device.
With the pending launch of BB10 next year, T.A. McCann, RIM’s VP of BBM and Social Communities, said that the announcement of the free voice calls was “focused on BBM 7.0 for BBOS devices,” and that RIM looks forward “to sharing more about the BB10 experience in the coming months.”
The free voice call option has been well integrated into the current BBM service, and much like the instant messaging service, the receiver gets an invitation to join a voice call, while being able to still text and send messages. Full multitasking in other apps will also be available while chatting, and compatibility with speakerphone and/or Bluetooth headsets will also be available.
Is it going to be a valuable addition for BlackBerry? Difficult to say. It has the potential to fill the space felt by the absence of Skype, especially if its integrated into an already popular application and doesn’t require an external app download. Various apps like Viber already offer free calls (across platforms too), although the app does not yet allow BlackBerry users to make calls, just send photos and text. While Blackberry will certainly give its fan-base in developing markets a larger smile, will it ultimately survive as a “one make special service”? Cross platform apps let you communicate with everyone. BBM free voice calls will not. It’s the same reason why apps that do offer free calls to other platforms are so popular, as they allow everyone to communicate with everyone.
Will this new service for BBM users launch Blackberry back to it’s former status? We will have to wait and see…