BlackBerry is making the enterprise version of BlackBerry Messenger (BBMe) available for normal end users, following the decision by Emtek to shutter the consumer version on May 31. BBMe is available in the Google Play Store today, and will be in the App Store for iOS devices “soon.” BlackBerry plans to offer the end-to-end encrypted messaging service for free for the first year, after which, a six-month subscription will be available for $2.49.
Blackberry announced its partnership with Indonesia-based Emtek in June 2016 to expand the consumer BBM business, allowing the company to license the BBM API to create applications for “Android, iOS, and Windows Phone,” according to a press release. Under Emtek’s stewardship, the BBM app became somewhat bloated, as it was turned to a social media platform with ads and paid premium features. Emtek noted, in its announcement of the service shuttering:
Three years ago, we set out to reinvigorate BBM consumer service, one of the most loved instant messaging applications, as a cross-platform service where users can not only chat and share life experiences, but also consume content and use payment services.
We poured our hearts into making this a reality, and we are proud of what we have built to date.
The technology industry however, is very fluid, and in spite of our substantial efforts, users have moved on to other platforms, while new users proved difficult to sign on.
Though we are sad to say goodbye, the time has come to sunset the BBM consumer service, and for us to move on.
BlackBerry’s in-house BBMe service is quite a bit more barebones, though business professionals are likely to like it that way–a no-nonsense, lightweight messenger that aims to securely deliver messages, rather similar to the way the free messaging app Signal works. Considering BlackBerry’s attempts to position themselves as the brand for professionals, the prospect of licensing out BBM to a company that tried to make it more cute, like LINE Messenger, was a peculiar move.
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BBMe is available for Android, iOS, Windows and Mac OS, the company touts its security bona fides:
The sender and recipient each have unique public/private encryption and signing keys. These keys are generated on the device by a FIPS 140-2 certified cryptographic library and are not controlled by BlackBerry. Each message uses a new symmetric key for message encryption. Additionally, TLS encryption between the device and BlackBerry’s infrastructure protects BBMe messages from eavesdropping or manipulation.
From a feature perspective, BBMe users can conduct group chats, voice and video calls, as well as edit, retract, or set an expiration time on a single message. They’ll also know when a message is received and read, and have the ability to share files, voice notes, and their location. BBMe for individual use can be used on up to five devices simultaneously.
The move marks another step forward in BlackBerry’s transformation into what is essentially an enterprise software and security company, as noted by ZDNet’s Larry Dignan. However, the company’s name remains a reminder of its past as a phone manufacturer, and as such, it should consider changing it, Dignan argued.