RIM Opens Up BBM to Bolster BlackBerry Apps

Research in Motion has made its BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, feature available to developers, in a move to stimulate app development for its platform.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company’s new version of its popular chat program, unveiled yesterday, now allows users to message each other from within separate applications such as video games or social networking sites like Foursquare.

In allowing BBM for use within third-party apps, the company hopes to attract developers to use one of RIM’s most popular features.

About 45 million users currently use BBM, with 2 million more added each month, according to the company. 70 per cent of BlackBerry owners report using it every day. BBM allows users with data plans to pass each other text messages, pictures and other files without piling up charges from their network carrier. The feature may potentially boost traffic on BlackBerry apps, encouraging users to spend more time on them, and may help develop app features to leverage the use of RIM’s heavily secure servers.

“This is opening up the crown jewels in terms of BBM and allowing developers to be able to leverage that” growth, said Alastair Mitchell, vice president for BBM and integrated services, to Bloomberg.

Developers can now integrate BBM into BlackBerry apps with a simple piece of code, which can be manipulated to allow apps to route all their traffic through RIM’s servers. Current BlackBerry apps already integrating BBM include Foursquare and Poynt.

The BlackBerry maker has also taken other steps to boost app development, acquiring social gaming company Scoreloop in June.

Opening up BBM to attract developers is a step to address the lack of apps for its BlackBerry platform, a key weakness for RIM. The company was a leader in the smartphone market, but has fallen behind rivals such as Apple as consumers shifted to app-centric touch screen devices.

RIM’s smartphone market share dropped 4.2 per cent to 24.7 per cent from March to May, as Apple and Android gained, according to ComScore.

RIM’s lack of new devices is complicating its troubles. The company hasn’t released a new phone since last August, and new products on its 7.0 operating system won’t be released until “late summer” in the U.S.

Amid slugging product line refreshes and lack of developer interest, the company has also been rocked by shareholder and employee discontent, with many calling for a change in RIM’s leadership structure during its rocky transition.

The company’s BBM feature is popular with its users, and letting developers integrate it into apps for BlackBerry is a good step for RIM. But other similar chat programs are emerging, such as Apple’s iMessage, a BBM-like tool for use of iOS devices, which may take users away from BBM.

The company recognises opening BBM is just a small piece in a larger strategy, however, as it slowly addresses larger issues in its platform.

“Is the next BBM alone the answer — certainly not — but taken with other offerings it could create the foundation for an improved experience,” Mitchell said.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.

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