End of the line for BBM as Emtek pulls plug on consumer messaging app

Brace yourself, BBMers: the company that runs the iconic messaging app invented by BlackBerry more than a decade ago is ending the free version of the service for consumers.

Indonesian media conglomerate Emtek partnered with Waterloo-based BlackBerry in 2016 to expand the company’s BBM messaging service to new customers, and add new functionality.

Invented in 2005, BBM — an acronym for BlackBerry Messenger — grew quickly to become the world’s most popular phone-to-phone messaging service, in the early days of smartphones. It was popular as a safer alternative to text messages because of its robust encryption.

But it was quickly eclipsed by services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and many others, as BlackBerry’s lost dominance in smartphones trickled down to BBM.

As part of the deal, Emtek took over the running of the free consumer-oriented version of the service, while BlackBerry retained control of BBMe, its service for business customers.

“We poured our hearts into making this a reality, and we are proud of what we have built to date,” Emtek said on Thursday in a blog post. “The technology industry however, is very fluid, and in spite of our substantial efforts, users have moved on to other platforms, while new users proved difficult to sign on.”

“Though we are sad to say goodbye, the time has come to sunset the BBM consumer service, and for us to move on,” the company said, adding that the service will be shut down as of May 31.

The decision brings an end to the consumer focused version of the app, but BlackBerry is trying to win over some of those users by opening up their enterprise service to individuals.

Starting today, anyone with an Apple or Android smartphone can download the BBMe app and use it for free for the first year. After that, there’s a fee of $2.50 US for six months of use, or $5 a year.

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