By JOANNA STERN
After years of keeping its once-very-popular messaging system confined to just its phones, this Saturday, Sept. 21 BlackBerry will finally release its BlackBerry Messenger or BBM for the iPhone and Android. The news comes on the heels of reports that the struggling phone maker will lay off up to 40 percent of its employees before the end of the year.
For the most part, the app will work just as it does on current BlackBerry phones. It will allow users to send messages to their friends or groups of friends without using up text messages. The messaging platform, however, once very popular with BlackBerry users, now has steep competition from other popular chat apps that are out for multiple mobile platforms, including Kik and WhatsApp.
But analysts, while they applaud BlackBerry's move to more widely distribute services, say it comes late, similar to the company's other late moves.
"If it's something they should have done earlier, it is pretty far down the list of things they should have done earlier," Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Rectile Research, told ABC News.
"Clearly the world was a different place during BBM's ascendancy and RIM saw BBM as a competitive platform advantage. Now, as customers are fleeing the platform, it's a way for them to maintain a relationship with those former users and plant a seed that might grow into a business should it exit hardware or even leave its OS behind," Rubin added.
BlackBerry, while releasing the new 5-inch Z30 smartphone this week, has been struggling to keep pace with other phone makers. After a series of bad quarters and only shipping 2.7 million of its new BlackBerry 10 devices in the last quarter, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the company was planning to cut 40 percent of its workforce by the end of 2013. The Journal also reported last month that Blackberry's board was looking at alternatives for the company by November, including a possible sale.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company had a loss of $646 million last year as its share of the US smartphone market slipped from 14 percent to 3 percent.