05/14/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Blackberry Q5 Launch Expected This Summer; BBM Goes All-Platform

BlackBerry made a slew of announcements at an annual conference on Tuesday, including unexpected news that its signature BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service will now be available for the iPhone and on Android phones.

The company also unveiled the BlackBerry Q5, a new, lower-cost smartphone with a physical keyboard that the company is targeting at emerging markets.

The announcement that BBM will be available on other smartphone platforms came as a shock to many observers, as the company had long insisted the messenger service would remain exclusive to its own phones.

But it elicited enthusiasm from many BlackBerry users, who have long hoped that BBM, which is known for its security features including encryption of messages, would migrate to other phones.

"Cross-platform BBM is long overdue but is sure to make for plenty of happy BlackBerry users in just a few months," the CrackBerry blog declared.

Initially, BBM for iPhone and Android will feature only chat, but will be expanded to include voice, video and BlackBerry's new BBM Channels. No launch date has been set, but the company expects rollout to take place in the next few months.

The Canadian Press reports:

ORLANDO, Fla. - BlackBerry said Tuesday it will expand its popular BlackBerry Messenger service to Android and iOS devices this year and announced a new smartphone aimed at emerging markets.

BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins said the time was right for BBM, a key feature of BlackBerry smartphones, to be available on its rival devices.

"It's a statement of confidence," he told the audience in Orlando, Fla.

The move is a gamble for the company which has many loyal users who have stuck with their BlackBerry devices just to keep access to BBM.

Heins said the iPhone and Android version of the application, which will be available for free, will start with messaging and then roll out other features including video and channels.

BlackBerry launched the first of its BlackBerry 10 smartphones earlier this year including both a touchscreen version and one with a physical keyboard.

The BlackBerry Q5, which was announced Tuesday, will sport a physical keyboard and a 3.1-inch screen. It will be available in several colours including red, black, white and pink in selected markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America starting in July.

Heins has said he wants Blackberry to create a portfolio of smartphones that expands beyond the higher priced models into both a mid-priced and entry level version of the device.

Sales numbers of the company's new devices have been slowly trickling out from Canada and the U.K., though figures from the U.S. are unlikely to be made public until the company reports its quarterly earnings in June.

The company expects to start selling its previously announced Q10 physical keyboard smartphone in the U.S. in early June. Its Z10 touchscreen model has been available in the United States since March but the U.S. launches of both models lagged other markets, including Canada where BlackBerry is based.

The conference is a milestone for the company formerly called Research In Motion, which was in dire straits last year with its new BlackBerry 10 operating system still in development. Questions swirled about its future and whether it would sell its operations to a competitor.

Since then, the company has aggressively tried to regain its status as a leading smartphone maker with the launch of BlackBerry 10 and the three new smartphones.

"This year feels very very different," Heins said Monday. "We have been on a tremendous journey on the past 12 to 14 months."

"It hasn't been that easy and we also know there is still a lot of work to do, but man we have reached solid ground with this company."

In March, BlackBerry reported a fourth-quarter profit of US$98-million which surprised analysts because they had been widely expecting a loss.

Heins has said he wants Blackberry to create a portfolio of smartphones that expands beyond the higher priced models into both a mid-priced and entry level version of the device.

The BlackBerry chief executive also announced that the number of applications for its BB10 smartphones has grown significantly since its new operating system launched earlier this year.

Heins noted that there are now 120,000 apps available, up from 70,000 on Jan. 30.

He also announced that synthesizer maker Moog would be launching its app for BlackBerry as well as Skype.

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