New BBM features planned, but not going multi-platform yet

Research In Motion has told Pocket-lint that its BBM messaging service will be getting a stack of new features in the coming months, including the ability to make video calls and huge improvements to BlackBerry Messenger Groups.

"BBM is the marque feature for buying a BlackBerry for many people," T. A. McCann, VP of product strategy and the man in charge of messaging at RIM, told Pocket-lint in an interview at the company's developer conference in San Jose. "Emerging markets especially love it."

McCann, a serial entrepreneur, has recently been bought in to shake up the company's messaging division. A founder of Gist.com, which RIM acquired in February 2011, he hasn't been in the job long, nor been a BlackBerry Messenger user long either, something he admits is an advantage.

"I had an iPhone before," McCann tells us, which forces the PR man in the room with us to cringe, "but you can soon get sucked into using the service."

McCann is right - for many, the Messenger service is one of the key features of the BlackBerry, and one that he hopes will continue to be that way in the future with the new BlackBerry 10 OS, due to be released on new devices at the start of 2013.

READ: BlackBerry 10 and the Alpha Dev B pictures and hands-on

So what new features can we expect? One focus of the many new enhancements promised will be in BBM Groups, with McCann suggesting - but not confirming outright - that RIM will be opening up the ability to have more than 30 people in a group.

Such a move could mean that RIM is looking to emulate the success of Twitter or Groupon in allowing people to broadcast messages or deals to "followers".

Talking candidly around possible features, McCann highlighted to us how people in Indonesia, one of the nations that has really embraced BBM messaging, are already using BBM to alert oyhers of deals in shops.

When we then put a scenario to McCann of someone having thousands of BBM followers - like on Twitter - he simply said: "I like how you think."

But it's not just about McCann creating a Twitter clone. The man in charge is floating plenty of other ideas around the office, such as automatic group creation for when you are at an event, as well as looking at adding video calls in the same way that Apple does with FaceTime.

As for the continuing rumours of whether BlackBerry Messenger will be coming to other platforms, there has been no decision yet: "We are thinking hard, but there are no plans to go on to other devices or platforms at the moment," says McCann.

It is clearly a difficult decision to weigh up. Release an Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone version and you automatically increase your user base, but also automatically take away a key reason to buy a BlackBerry smartphone.

What about What's App, Facebook Messenger, and other messenger services, all of which are on the BlackBerry operating system, or have been promised for the new BB10 OS?

"With BBM we own the experience," McCann tells us, without sounding too worried. "One of our key features is having Ds and Rs and the others can't do that in the same way."

Ds and Rs stand for Delivered and Read. McCann is right, it is one of the key features of the service and stands it apart from apps like What's App, that while offer multi-platform support, only really guess at the fact that a message has been delivered and read.

With a new operating system launch around the corner, McCann is openly excited at the possibilities, so much so we get the feeling he would happily tell us more of his plans, something the PR man isn't going to let happen.

"We've got lots of announcements and new features coming over the coming months for BBM on BB7 and BBM on BB 10," he confirms. The confirmation that RIM is looking to improve the experience for all rather than just those who move to the new devices will no doubt be welcomed, as will the idea that BBM has plenty of treats in store before and after Christmas. 



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