BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) has announced an early holiday present for legions of fans of its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service. The company has announced a version 7 of the BBM app (currently in beta) that supports voice calling over Wi-Fi.
Users can continue to text chat with other BBM contacts while they are on a voice call. Voice calling will not work over 3G or cellular networking, likely as a sop to keep mobile operators around the globe happy.
RIM explained the key features of voice calling via BBM:
- 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 allows customers to talk and text at the same time, so for example, they can send a picture to their contact while talking with them. They can also check other BBM text chats, check email, 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.
- 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.
BBM version 7 also brings integration with a customer's BlackBerry ID, which is designed to back up their BBM profile, groups and contacts so they can automatically be restored in the event they switch to a new BlackBerry smartphone.
"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. 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."
BBM version 7 with the new BBM Voice feature is currently available in Beta for BlackBerry smartphones running the BlackBerry 6 OS or higher with support planned for smartphones running the BlackBerry 5 OS at a future date. The Beta can be downloaded for free from BlackBerry Beta Zone