BlackBerry Messenger 7 Adds Free Voice Calls Over Wi-Fi

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
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BBM7 adds BBM Voice to popular instant messaging service ahead of BlackBerry 10 release

The latest version of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) will let BlackBerry users make voice calls for free over a Wi-Fi connection with BBM Voice.

BBM7 is currently available as a beta release on the BlackBerry Beta Zone, with a full release expected in the lead-up to Christmas.

The beta is compatible with BlackBerry devices running BlackBerry 6 OS or higher, with support for BlackBerry 5 OS planned at an unspecified later date.

BlackBerry Messenger 7 beta

BBM7’s split screen feature allows users to text, send pictures, check other BBM text chats, read emails and use applications while talking and the service will provide a visual indicator to show when a contact is available to talk.

The new version of BlackBerry Messenger will be integrated with a user’s BlackBerry ID. BBM profiles, groups and contacts are now backed up so that they can automatically be restored on a new BlackBerry, including BlackBerry 10 devices.

RIM is positioning the new service as “an attractive way to talk with friends and family near and far,” especially in developing markets, and as a collaboration tool for businesses.

“BBM is the quick, easy way to stay connected to the people that matter to you, and with today’s announcement we’re expanding the capabilities of the service for deeper social engagement and even greater collaboration, beginning with voice functionality,” said T.A. McCann, vice president of BBM and Social Communities at RIM. “The new BBM Voice feature is for when you’re travelling and you want to call home without worrying about phone charges.”

BlackBerry Messenger is one of the most popular features of RIM’s platform, but it has not been enough to convince customers not to defect to rivals iOS and Android as its share of the smartphone market declines.

RIM confirmed earlier this week that it would officially take the wraps off its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system in January, with smartphones running the platform are seen as vital for the struggling company’s hopes of a revival.

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