Even as it struggles to keep afloat, BlackBerry is moving forward. On Thursday, the Canadian phone maker announced that it will be releasing its popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service for Android phones and Apple's iPhone.
Of course, by making it available for other platforms, the company is reducing the exclusivity of a popular app that has only been available on its own platform. On the other hand, it also increases the value of the asset in the event that the company is valuing its assets for sale.
BBM for Android is expected to be available on Saturday, while the iPhone version is expected to roll out on Sunday. The decision to make BBM available cross-platform was announced by chief executive Thorsten Heins this past summer, and the release had been expected earlier. According to news reports, company executives had actually decided in late 2011 to make BBM available on other platforms and to charge carriers a fee for that service, but that plan was dropped after Heins took over in early 2012.
There have also been reports that the company is considering creating a separate subsidiary that would specifically focus on BBM, a direction that would also benefit from having the app available on multiple platforms. There are currently 60 million monthly active users of the service.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal spoke with Tyson Verstraete, head of BBM's market development. The newspaper asked Verstraete why BlackBerry Channels (BBM Channels), a component of BBM that is now in beta, was not also going cross-platform. BlackBerry Channels provides a Twitter-like service for brands and celebrities to communicate with fans.
Verstraete replied that BBM Channels is a "different feature set" that has "monetization opportunities." He also said that voice calling and video chat, currently available for BBM on BlackBerrys but not on Android or iOS, will roll out to the other platforms "soon." As for developing a Windows Phone version, he said the company was "investigating" that possibility.
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BBM users spend about 90 minutes daily with that service, Verstraete said, adding that the user experience is more positive with BBM than with such competing messaging tools as WhatsApp or WeChat.
BBM is one of BlackBerry's few sources of positive news. On Wednesday, news reports indicated that the company was getting ready to lay off as much as 40 percent of its workforce by the end of this year.
BlackBerry has not confirmed those layoffs. But, in the quarter ending June 1, the company had a loss of $84 million, and it is expected to report another major operating loss soon. In August, the Canadian smartphone maker announced it had formed a special committee to explore "strategic alternatives," including the possibility of selling the company.
In January, BlackBerry launched its delayed but much-awaited BlackBerry 10 (BB10) platform, as well as several devices using the new OS. But stock prices have fallen nearly 20 percent this year, and its market value is about $4.8 billion, compared to $84 billion at its highest point in 2008.