BBM Voice: RIM adds Wi-Fi voice calling to BlackBerry Messenger

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Research In Motion launched version 7 of its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service on Tuesday, adding voice calling to the software. The new feature, dubbed BBM Voice, uses Wi-Fi networks for the voice calls and has a split screen mode allowing users to talk and text at the same time. Sill in beta, BBM Voice is available for BlackBerry 6 OS devices with plans for BlackBerry 5 OS support in the future.

Here’s a rundown of the BBM Voice features, per RIM’s news release:

  • 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.

Adding voice capabilities to BBM is an idea that’s long overdue, but will certainly add value to the service. In areas where voice minutes are still limited or expensive — think emerging markets where RIM still has a loyal, happy user-base — Wi-Fi calling is a perfect supplement to the chat experience.

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