BlackBerry messaging service rolls out to Android and iPhone this weekend

The free BBM service now reaches 60m BlackBerry users a month

Amid rumors of layoffs and a possible sale of the company, BlackBerry today announced some good news: its growing BBM instant messaging service will be available for Android and iPhone devices in the next several days.

BBM is one of the high points of the failing BlackBerry legacy business, with recent growth in BBM users mainly in Europe and Asia. Until now, BBM has only been available for BlackBerry devices.

BBM has 60 million monthly active customers who send and receive more than 10 billion messages a day, BlackBerry said. Messages are quickly read in seconds, which BlackBerry said is an indication of how engaged BBM users are.

BBM will be a free download in the Google Play store for Android on Saturday and in the Apple App Store for iPhone on Sunday, BlackBerry said.

"With more than a billion Android, iOS and BlackBerry smartphones in the market, and no dominant mobile messaging platform, this is absolutely the right time to bring BBM to Android and iPhone customers," Andrew Bocking, executive vice president for BBM at BlackBerry, said in a statement.

In addition to BBM text chat, users can share files such as photos and voice notes. BBM lets a user know that a message has been delivered and read and shows when a friend is responding.

Up to 30 friends can join in group chats and share photos and schedules. A function called Broadcast Message allows users to send out a message to all their BBM contacts at the same time.

BBM relies on a unique PIN to authorize a user, which BlackBerry maintains is more secure than giving out a phone number or email address to a new contact.

The Android download will be available at 7 a.m. ET on Sept. 21 for Android 4 and later. For iPhones running iOS 6 and iOS 7, BBM will be available in the App Store at 12:01 a.m. local time on Sept. 22.

Later in 2013, BlackBerry is expected to unveil BBM Channels to allow for conversations between users and communities. The conversations can be organized around common interests, brands, celebrities and more. BBM video and BBM voice calling are also planned for Android and iPhone in a future version, but BlackBerry didn't disclose when.

BBM isn't yet available for Windows Phone smartphones, and BlackBerry didn't indicate when, or whether, that would occur. Windows Phone recently overtook BlackBerry as the third-largest smartphone brand shipping globally.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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