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BlackBerry wants to see rivals' phones with BBM preinstalled

Seen as 'not a risk' to own handset sales

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While BlackBerry's latest handsets might not be selling as fast as some of the competition, the Canadian mobile maker is looking to expand its market presence further by having its messaging software come preinstalled on other vendors' phones, according to a report.

In May, BlackBerry announced that it will open its popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) chat software to other smartphone platforms for the first time, by making versions available as free downloads for Android and iOS phones this summer.

On Wednesday, BlackBerry COO Kristian Tear told Cnet that in addition to making its chat app available in Apple's and Google's stores, it is also actively courting other smartphone makers to include BBM on their devices out of the box.

Tear declined to mention which companies BlackBerry had been talking to, saying only, "There is interest from other handset makers."

That interest is doubtless due to BBM's large installed base. While iPhones and Android mobes have largely supplanted BlackBerry in the North American market, Tear said the BBM service still enjoys a global active user base of 61 million customers, and that 70 per cent of those are daily users.

But although BBM remains probably BlackBerry's strongest asset, competitors have already begun to outpace it – which makes sense, given how many more Android and iOS phones sell each quarter than BlackBerry handsets.

Rival chat service WhatsApp claims to have an installed base in excess of 200 million users, and now even Facebook, which claims over a billion users, has gotten into the act.

Meanwhile, market research firm Informa estimates that the number of messages sent each year via online chat apps already far exceeds the number of messages sent via SMS.

By making BBM available on more platforms, BlackBerry clearly hopes to win back some market share from the likes of WhatsApp, WeChat, and Viber. The question is, what will that mean for sales of BlackBerry handsets, which by some reports are moving only slowly?

Pacific Crest analyst James Faucette has estimated that global sales of the BlackBerry's latest devices are selling at a rate well below 500,000 per month, even though the company keeps manufacturing them at a massively optimistic pace.

One possibility might be for BlackBerry to subsidize BBM with advertising on other platforms, but that's hardly likely to bring in enough revenue to prop up its handset business. Another might be to limit the capabilities of the Android and iOS BBM clients, so that users who get hooked will be tempted to buy BlackBerry mobes for their greater utility – but BlackBerry in the past has promised users on other platforms feature parity.

Either way, BlackBerry's Tear doesn't seem too worried. When asked whether opening BBM to other platforms might cause users to drop their BlackBerry devices and go elsewhere, he replied, "We don't feel like that is a risk. Obviously, if we did, we might have acted differently." ®

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