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BlackBerry Messenger Faces Up To Apple iMessenger

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RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger 6 supports social apps and faces a challenge from Apple’s upcoming iMessenger

Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) will now support a variety of social applications, increasing the functionality of a core BlackBerry feature targeted by Apple’s upcoming iOS 5.

Available now, BlackBerry Messenger 6 offers users the ability to chat within an application or game, as well as view lists of applications posted on BBM friends’ profiles. It is available for download via BlackBerry App World.

“[BBM 6] represents an incredible opportunity for developers to leverage the viral nature of the BBM service,” Alistair Mitchell, vice president of BBM Platform & Integrated Services for Research In Motion (RIM), wrote in a statement, “and we have already begun working with various developer partners who will be bringing their BBM connected apps to BlackBerry App World.”

Interface To Interface With Apple

RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger update comes at a particularly auspicious time. Sometime this fall, Apple will release the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 5, with a robust “iMessenger” conversation platform designed to take RIM head-on.

“Anyone with an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch can send unlimited free text messages to anyone else using an iOS device,” Peter Misek, an analyst with research firm Jefferies & Co, wrote in a research note in June. “The two mainstays of RIM’s sales have been corporate email users and consumer BBM users. While Apple lacks RIM’s NOC/node infrastructure that allows for BBM-ing without a data plan with some carriers, [iMessenger] is otherwise a direct competitor.”

Apple could increase its competitive profile with RIM, he added, if it launches a “low-cost iPhone in the fall targeted at pre-paid and emerging markets”.

RIM faces some serious challenges in the mobile space. At the end of May, for instance, research firm comScore estimated RIM’s share of the US smartphone market at 24.7 percent, lagging behind Apple at 26.6 percent and Android at 38.1 percent. The company has faced recent criticism about its increasingly antiquated line of BlackBerry devices, which it pledges will be replaced by late 2012 with a set of “superphones” based on the same QNX operating system currently present in the PlayBook tablet.

“RIM needs to focus on how to show why their enterprise-class capabilities are the way to go,” Ray Wang, principal analyst of the Constellation Research Group, wrote in an email to eWEEK. The key to future success will be figuring out “how they can take a consumer innovation and make it enterprise class… safe, secure, simple, sexy, sustainable, scalable”.