BlackBerry reportedly plans spin-off of instant messaging software

BlackBerry taking steps to spin off BlackBerry Messenger as a separate company

BlackBerry is taking steps to spin off its BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging software as a separate company, as it continues to explore a range of "strategic alternatives" after its new BlackBerry 10 smartphones have achieved only modest sales.

The company is creating a subsidiary, to be called BBM, Inc., transferring some executives to the new unit, and working on adding tools and features to the offering, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, by Will Connors, who cites as his sources "people familiar with the matter."

The move comes as the Waterloo, Ontario, company prepares to release BBM for the first time as an application for other smartphone platforms, iOS and Android, later this summer. Currently, the messaging application has about 60 million users among the BlackBerry faithful.

Earlier this month, BlackBerry's board created a subcommittee to explore "strategic alternatives," including the possibility of selling all or parts of the company. [See "BlackBerry's bleak options: Will suitors really pay for a wedding?"]

A successful spin-off a key BlackBerry application, especially if it can gain traction in the market, could make the company more attractive to potential buyers.

BBM's capabilities have been expanding for BlackBerry users. The basic messaging feature lets them send and receive text messages in seconds with up to 2,000 characters. BBM lets you know when your message is delivered and read. But users can also share photos, videos, voice notes and files up to 6MB; and quickly add other BBM contacts and create groups for multiple contacts at once.

More recently, BBM has added capabilities for video chat and voice conversations with BBM users over Wi-Fi. BBM Connected apps, such as Facebook and Twitter, let you make use of BBM chat features from within those apps.

But at least initially, iOS and Android users who download the BBM app will have only text messaging and some related features, not voice or video calling.

Despite its popularity among BlackBerry users, BBM is entering a highly competitive market, including both paid and free apps. WhatsApp, launched in 2009, claims 200 million active users. Other apps include Skype, Fring, and more recent entrants such as MessageMe and SnapChat.

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