BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) is rolling out an update to BBM for Android beta testers that adds support for voice calls and BBM Channels, but has not announced a timeline for official release.
BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, is a cross-platform messaging service, which released as a free download to Android and iPhone (iOS) last October. The BBM for Android beta update is being offered to select members of the BlackBerry Beta Zone, a group of volunteer users who receive updates in an early form and prior to their official release.
The beta update includes BBM Voice, which will allow Android users to make free calls over a smartphone’s data connection to other users of the service, whether recipients are on an Android or BlackBerry (BB10) device. BBM Voice will eventually allowing for free calls to iPhone users when the iOS update is released.
BBM Voice will compete with voice over IP (VoIP) services like Skype as well as Facebook Messenger to allow smartphone users to make calls over WiFi or cellular data, and avoid racking up minutes on their phone plans. BlackBerry has not announced when the update would roll out to all users, but said last October that it would become available “within months” to Android and iPhone users.
BBM Channels is also included in the Android beta, a social network where users can post messages, pictures and engage in discussions like Twitter. BlackBerry touts it as “a two-way street, not a one-way broadcast.”
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The struggling Canadian company is refocusing its efforts on software and services as it transitions out of handset manufacturing, offering the BBM service — once exclusive to BlackBerry handsets — as a free download on iPhone and Android. One high note during BlackBerry’s turbulent past few months is the instant messaging client’s popularity; BBM for Android and iPhone has clocked over 40 million downloads since its release last year.
Follow Thomas Halleck on Twitter @tommylikey