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Business Briefing

RIM Gives Voice to Its BBM Customers

RIM Gives Voice to Its BBM Customers
November 14, 2012 2:15PM

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RIM customers can initiate a BBM Voice call directly, or instantly switch from a BBM text chat to talk, and back again. A split-screen feature lets customers talk and text at the same time. For example, they can send a picture to their contact while talking with them. They can also check other RIM BBM text chats, e-mail, or navigate to other BlackBerry apps.

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Research In Motion is working as hard as it can to leverage its unique assets. One of the most popular is BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM.

In a move to appeal to customers who want to save minutes on their calling plans -- or just reduce roaming fees -- RIM is offering BBM customers to make free voice calls to other BBM customers around the world over a Wi-Fi connection.

RIM positioned it as an ideal solution, dubbed BBM Voice, for times when you want to hear a friend's laughter instead of reading "LOL" and claims the solution takes the social networking experience to a whole new level. But is RIM merely grasping at straws or is the ailing company on to something?

Switch From Text to Talk

In case you aren't familiar with BBM, it's an inexpensive service for BlackBerry users. BBM gives smartphone users the ability to chat with other BBM users with the assurance that their message was delivered and read. The new version of BBM now lets users chat over Wi-Fi.

Practically speaking, that means BBM Voice users can switch instantly from texting to talking or talking to texting or talk and text at the same time. The solution may catch on in developing markets where unlimited voice service can be cost-prohibitive.

"The new BBM Voice feature is for when you're traveling and you want to call home without worrying about phone charges," said T.A. McCann, vice president of BBM and Social Communities at RIM, noting that the new service drives deeper social engagement and greater collaboration. "It's for when you have news you can't wait to share, for quickly explaining complicated details, and collaborating with colleagues. Whenever your ideas are too big for text, there's BBM Voice."

Split Screen Feature

Here's how BBM Voice works: Customers can initiate a BBM Voice call directly, or instantly switch from a BBM text chat to talk, and back again. The split-screen feature lets customers talk and text at the same time. For example, they can send a picture to their contact while talking with them. They can also check other BBM text chats, check e-mail, or navigate to other apps while engaged on a BBM Voice call.

BBM provides a visual indicator that shows when contacts are available for a voice call. And BBM Voice is compatible with any accessories a customer has now for making voice calls on their BlackBerry smartphone, such as a Bluetooth or wired headset. Customers can also use BBM Voice over their BlackBerry smartphone's speakerphone. If it's not an ideal time to talk, customers can simply choose to respond by texting back.

Michael Disabato, managing vice president of Network and Telecom at Gartner, said current BlackBerry users will love it so long as they don't have to buy a new handset.

"If I have to buy a new BlackBerry anything to get this service, now you put me in the market for another brand," Disabato said. "If I am going to go pay for a new device, then I am going to look at an iOS device and Android and Windows Phone 8. I'll be in the carrier's store surrounded by all the goodies. This will be a good thing for RIM unless it's forcing a handset. Then it's the wrong move."

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